Violinist seeking viola

December 31, 2011 at 11:19 PM · I'm hoping to try the viola in 2012. When arranging music for string orchestra earlier this year, I realized I really ought to be able to read alto clef; I keep reading how viola playing can help violin playing; it would be a dream come true to be able to take the viola part in amateur quartets; and despite the jokes, the sound of the viola is gorgeous. In short, I'm not switching instruments by any means, but I would like to branch out a bit. Or try, anyway.

I'll be renting at first. There is one viola at my luthier's that I know for sure is in stock, but there may be more. If there's more than one instrument, is there anything in particular that I should be looking for in a viola that's different from what I'd be looking for in a violin?

Alto clef tips? I figure I should start by getting the note names down, so even if I don't know where said notes are, at least I know their names...

What are some similarities and differences between the two instruments besides the obvious ones that I may not know about?

Anything else a violinist who has been playing for 10+ years should keep in mind while starting viola? Besides the sad realization that I may now have to give up telling viola jokes?

Replies (53)

January 1, 2012 at 12:05 AM · You absolutely don't have to give up viola jokes- most violists love them, and enjoy a good violin joke, too! We'll see how long this "I'm just dabbling" thing lasts. That was what I thought, and now play way more viola than violin.

Have you thought about size? Looking at your photo, my guess is that you are on the smaller side? Try some out and see what seems comfortable, but err on the side of smaller rather than larger. You can always move to a bigger one later, but you don't want to get hurt right away. Look for a deep sounding C string, and aim for an instrument that truly sounds like a viola and not a violin with a sinus problem.

I found Harvey Whistler's book "From Violin to Viola" to be helpful. It presumes that you have some competence on violin, and presents gradually harder pieces. I also worked through the Whistler position books. Having used them for violin centuries ago, they were somewhat familiar, which helped me connect the printed page, the sound, and the fingers. They also cover half-position, indispensable for viola but a foreign concept to violinists. Play a three-octave C scale, saying each note name out loud as you play it- sounds dumb, but it really helps. If you have a printed scale in front of you while you do it, all the better. I don't have the link at the moment, but online alto clef flashcards are available and helpful. Finally, force the issue. After you have gotten some familiarity with it, spend an evening playing the viola part in chamber or orchestra music.

If you can, take a few lessons with a violist. That's the best way to make sure you are doing things that will help rather than hurt you, both physically and musically. From your latest blog it looks like you are getting ready to make a lot of changes this year. I hope they all are for the better, and that learning viola brings you much pleasure.

January 1, 2012 at 12:12 AM · I'm also playing both...and yes, I think the viola really helped my violin playing.

I'm currently playing the viola in an adult beginner string ensemble...while I can read the alto clef, I still can't read 'to speed' or totally automatically. That's what's holding me back there. It's coming though!

Good luck! I know you'll love it!

January 1, 2012 at 04:04 AM · My son picked up the viola after 10 years of violin, and now plays both, and reads both clefs. Go for it; the viola is awesome!

January 1, 2012 at 01:32 PM · I started the viola about 5 years ago, when I started playing again after a long break when my kids were small. I have a teacher who plays both instruments. I learned alto clef by doing Wohlfahrt etudes on the viola, and then some Bach suite transcriptions. Barbara Barber's "Solos for young violists" series has some nice short pieces to get you started, too.

January 1, 2012 at 02:26 PM · You might want a teacher to help you have a smooth transition. One of the local conservatories in my area offers a one semester course for violinists who want to take up viola. I don't know enough about viola to know whether there are issues aside from learning the alto clef. I do know that the violist in the Shanghai Quartet was originally the second violinist, and when the previous viola left, he was able, without any previous experience, to make the switch in five weeks in time for a recording date. So, it cannot be that tough for someone really good. Good luck!

January 1, 2012 at 03:04 PM · There are "tricks" for reading alto clef as though it is treble clef, but I'd advise you just learn it. Get some student books, including something like the old workbook, "Note-Speller". Not too long ago I traded a nice old Swiss viola for a contemporary one with a wide lower bout. I don't practice viola enough to build up the right muscles, I think, and had pain down through the top of my shoulder. My new viola shifts the extra weight towards the body, not the hand and forearm. It has good inside volume w/o so much extra length, so the sound is dark & rich. Sue

January 1, 2012 at 05:04 PM · Thanks all for your thoughts!

@Lisa - I'm very small boned, 5'5" and 90 pounds. But my arms feel fairly long; I oftentimes feel a tad scrunched with the violin. So...we'll see. I'll keep what you said about viola size in mind. Thanks for the other tips; actually last night I was going through some alto clef flashcards and I think I'm getting the hang of the note names already. It really helps to have a basic knowledge of piano and to think of the middle line as the center of the grand staff. And yes...a lot of changes are in the air. I'm sure the viola will bring me great joy.

And thank you everyone else for your thoughts!! Especially after hearing what you guys have to say, I'll try my best to get a lesson or two. Luckily I think I know someone who will help.

Looking forward to this!!

January 1, 2012 at 07:07 PM · I'm a beginner who started with the viola almost a year and a half ago. Then, three months ago, my mother gave me her old violin that really needed to be played.

My teacher wasn't sure I could learn both. Heck, neither was I. But, as crazy as it sounds, it actually works.

I used flashcards that I made to memorize reading both. I also had the same books written for each. At first, it was awkward, but now, I can go between the two easily. I do, however, try to practice each in it's own session. I haven't tried one right after the other.

I hope that helps. Please don't take offense if you are far more advanced than I in pkaying. I'm new here. ;)

January 1, 2012 at 07:44 PM · ...remember too...you also play the viola in treble clef...which means rethinking where everything is...

January 1, 2012 at 08:09 PM · I started playing viola in college, at the behest of my violin teacher at the time as there was a student chamber group that needed a player, not to mention the school orchestra. A few weeks after picking up the instrument for the first time, I had learned to read alto clef, gotten accustomed to working with a heavier bow and thicker strings, and played a performance of the Dvorak Piano Quintet, followed by an orchestra concert with the Brahms Haydn variations. Trial by fire! :)

I would say that despite the number of tricks out there for dealing with the clef, you're better off just learning to read it. It really isn't that difficult once you've done it enough (sight-reading lots of chamber music helps).

I think the greatest challenge moving from violin is to understand that you can't play a viola exactly the same way as a violin, with the same bow hold, bow speed, etc. The response time is different, the depth and lower speed of vibrato on the lower strings must be developed (that super fast E string vibrato is not going to work here), and the left hand needs to learn to reach back (without stretching) to cover a wider span of the basic intervals.

I was fortunate to have the assistance of teachers who played both instruments extensively as soloists and chamber musicians, and I cannot stress enough how invaluable taking a few lessons from someone knowledgeable can be in the initial stages of picking up a new instrument.

As for the instrument itself...look for one with a thinner neck. It makes getting around a lot easier! Some of the necks I see on new violas these days are so chunky they feel like baseball bats.

January 2, 2012 at 05:13 PM · Since you fancy 'taking up viola on the side', go for it. Gene's observations on the technical side of doubling up on viola are pertinent. In fact, I remember the slower, deep and particularly steady vibrato necessary for playing on the two lower strings of a viola, if only because getting used to it gave me initially an ache in the left forearm. If you should find that doubling up on viola doesn't come up to your expectations, be ready to move out of it again without putting any element of blame on yourself. I moved over to viola in 1971, in the days when violists were harder to find than now, mainly in the hope of being able to play in a better quartet than would have been the case if I had stayed on violin. However, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the violin. So, when I restarted in 2009 after a long absence from playing, I resumed the violin instead. So go for playing both but don't think any the less of yourself if things work out any differently from your present hope.

January 2, 2012 at 05:41 PM · I have no plans (which is indeed true, not as top management and politicians say when they dam' well do) to play the viola, but my cello teacher Arthur Alexander played both professionally in symphony orchestras, and obviously coped well. The one thing that would worry me as a cellist - and I never thought to ask him - is how does one transfer easily between the cello tenor clef and the viola alto clef, which are one line apart on the stave, on different instruments that are tuned the same but an octave apart. Think about it.

As a cellist I was once asked in a SO rehearsal a long time ago to play a viola solo (mixed alto and treble clefs for a few lines) when the player concerned didn't show and the conductor needed to rehearse the orchestra through that bit. That came out of the blue, and afterwards I felt I needed the kind ministrations of those nice people who wear white coats!

January 3, 2012 at 01:56 AM · I have the opposite issue, a violist who occasionally plays violin. Once you learn the clef, the next challenge is switching back and forth and playing on the correct string and in the correct clef.

Generally, a wider and slower vibrato and a weightier bow arm is needed. Also the left hand needs to really open up at the base joints.

January 3, 2012 at 02:03 AM · Obviously the size of the equipment is an issue-- and lots of violists disagree on the correct model. Do be careful, though. My wife (5'2") was "encouraged" to move to a large Otto Erdesz viola in conservatory. It fit her personality but gave her horrible back pain and arthritis.

Alternatives to the large models include the Rivinus (very distinctive, to say the least), Hiroshi Iizuka's version with shoulders scooped out, and a really nice one by Ed Maday that is short but has exceptionally deep ribs and a very arched back. It isn't so big a deal to move to from a violin, but it still sounds like a good viola.

January 21, 2012 at 09:17 PM · Things are going along well. Will blog about it in the near future...

But for right now, I was wondering if anyone knows of any pieces that have relatively easy viola parts that would be good for cementing the clef in a girl's head? I'm thinking something on the level of the Mozart first violin and viola duet (I think it's in G-major). Would any old Mozart or Haydn quartet part suffice, or are there certain ones that would be more beneficial than others?

I do have to say that the clef is way easier than I thought it would be and I personally have no problems going back and forth from alto to treble. So take heart, violinists! However, I'm playing both instruments about equally, and I imagine if I went a few days without playing one or the other, my brain might get a little confused.

At this point I can't imagine giving either up. We'll see how long the infatuation lasts, but at this point, they're perfect complements in my musical life. :) Thanks for the help, guys.

January 21, 2012 at 09:51 PM · I'm glad you're finding learning the alto clef so easy...

I, on the other hand, am not...and I've been at it for a while (off and on). I'm very slow apparently...

January 21, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Greetings,

`Tips wanted for a violinist thinking about taking up viola on the side.`

Well, my tip is to learn it standing up first.

Always glad to help,

Buri

January 21, 2012 at 11:03 PM · Oh, that makes sense!! Maybe I'll get a better tone now. ... I love you, Buri.

N.A., it doesn't mean you're slow. We all absorb different types of different information at different rates. Plus I'm putting the hours of Sevcik and Schradieck in...

January 21, 2012 at 11:15 PM · I have quite a bit of trouble sight reading the viola parts in Mozart's quartets. Since you're quite a bit more advanced than me, I think these should do fine for your learning the clef. I know they're not meant to be played solo, but I don't think that should matter if there used for learning the clef. Or, you can play in a quartet:)

John

January 21, 2012 at 11:20 PM · some of the Bach Cello Suites aren't too difficult and sound great on viola.

January 21, 2012 at 11:27 PM · About the instrument:

Avoid choosing an oversized viola, mainly if you are not all that tall and if your arms are not all that long. Sound quality and power are not necessarily related to the size of the instrument you may find a 16 inche viola that sounds better than a 17 inche one.

Try to avoid an instrument with a too long string length, I find around 375 mm. a good one.

Playing confort is not only related to the viola size, rib height, how wide are the upper bouts, string length, weight of the instrument, how if feels under your chin etc. may have more influence than body length alone.

It is hard to find a viola with a powerfull C string that sounds good up to the 7th position. Dynamic range is a problem also with violas, try to find an instrument that sounds good from ppp to fff and all between in all strings and positions.

Good luck!!!

www.manfio.com

January 21, 2012 at 11:51 PM · I came back on to recommend the cello suites, but I see I was beaten:) And didn't you already get a viola?

January 22, 2012 at 02:45 AM · Thanks for the thoughts and opinions, guys. I took a lesson from a great player a week ago, I'm learning the first Bach suite (a task made easier by the fact I've learned it on violin), and now I'll be poking around IMSLP for Mozart and Beethoven viola parts (thanks for the suggestions). I also just received word I'm going to be able to switch back and forth between violin and viola for different pieces in my string orchestra, so things are looking good.

And I do have a viola, a 14-inch rental. 14-inch because my lessons will only be once every couple of months, if that, and I'm prone to injury and tension due to chronic pain, so I just thought I'd avoid that can of worms for a while. Maybe in future I will be able to handle a 15 or 15.5...we'll see. I do hope that starting on a smaller instrument doesn't impede progress later, but like I said, I'd rather take that than deal with injury and get discouraged. But the tips of what to look for in an instrument are still appreciated because I wouldn't be surprised if I end up buying this year, albeit a low-end model.

I'm blogging about the experience, so keep an eye out for those entries if you're interested in the transition/addition... I've had some technical difficulties getting the most recent installment up but it's coming! It discusses my lesson in quite a bit of detail. :)

January 22, 2012 at 04:27 AM · Are you asking about solo or ensemble repertoire?

January 22, 2012 at 11:28 AM · Well, I find a 14 inches viola just too small... my smallest model is a 15 1/2.

www.manfio.com

January 22, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Jokes? I like to get in first (British self-mockery?)

Size? Even if you can manage a 16-1/2 or 17 inch viola, with the forearm leaning further out it is difficult for the fingers to hold the strings firmly, or to have a vibrato of sufficient variety and intensity. The whole instrument has a stiffer and slower response than a violin, and a deep but dry as dust tone will please neither you nor your friends. Stay with 16 inches, or less: their are some excellent 15-1/2 around.

Fingers? To keep the 4th finger curved, all the others have to adapt: the 2nd must curl more under itself, the 1st leans back, even for a B-natural on the A-string. I borrow cello-style fingerings (fingers 2,3&4 close together, more frequent shifts without the 4th finger, full use of ALL the half positions, no extensions, etc.)

I set my chin- and shoulder-rests to have a tilt of 30° on my violin, and 45° on the viola, to get a decent vibrato from my short pinkie on all 4 strings

Bowing? Even pianissmo needs a slight martelato attack, and spiccato tend to "chug". I have adopted a lower bow arm (watch Oistrakh or Perlman) to deepen the stroke without tightening the muscles. The bow is usually 10 grammes heavier for the same reason.

Clef? At the beginning I found the notes on the piano and then played by ear (heresy?). But I should recommend churning through a real beginner method, a line a day, saying the notes.

Playing violin and viola? I have to alternate when teaching, but I try to avoid playing both in public in the same week. The change in tone production is almost harder than adapting the left hand.

Tone? If the violin sounds like sky-blue silk, the viola should be like deep red velvet (and not like cheap carpeting!)

Enjoy the adventure,

Adrian

January 22, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Emily - so far you have had a lot of good advice, so perhaps ignore anything I add.

Having played the viola for many years in professional orchestras though, I would definitely advise you to get an instrument of 15" or 15 1/2 inches. It was all the rage to play on instruments from 16 1/2 inches to 18 inches a few years ago, and I played on a 16 1/2 for years. Now the thinking is more intelligent and I would certain go down the 15 to 15 1/2 road should I be playing again - which I won't be.

I was originally a violinist and I agree that you have to just learn the cleff and not use gimmicks. The instruments are different, but close enough to be manageable. I think I must have played the viola a bit like I played the fiddle. But I was never a good viola player and my temperament is really skewed towards the violin.

I found it frustrating that the viola could never produce enough sound and cut through enough. I also found it difficult because the response was so slow compared to the fiddle. Easy passages on the fiddle are harder on the viola, and hard passages on the fiddle are almost unplayable on the viola. I think many viola players wanted the same result as on the fiddle, at least I did.

It is a tiring instrument to play, so be warned. After your fifth complete Ring Cycle you won't want to pick it up again! I can play first violin in a quartet and still feel OK after two or three quartets - but that nearly kills me on the viola. So a small instrument is essential.

January 22, 2012 at 02:56 PM · Clef reading aside...I have a 16", I was told that there wasn't a point in playing anything smaller since it loses it's violaness (tonal quality).

I'm very glad I got one. No regrets getting the 16" either. It is harder to hold up for long periods...so I need to break more often. But the sound is awesome...

I wouldn't go bigger though, that's for sure...lol.

It's also made me a better violin player...just experiencing the differences between the two instruments has raised my level of awareness of so many of the technical aspects.

January 22, 2012 at 03:16 PM · Sorry to contradict many comments/suggestions, but don't go for a bigger viola then you can manage! This will only be detrimental to your health and your playing even if it produces a better tone.

John

January 22, 2012 at 03:31 PM · Other than ease of playing, is there any advantage to playing a violin-sized viola?

Maybe I'm missing out on some important information...or I was given the wrong information...

January 22, 2012 at 04:45 PM · Easier to get the right intonation but other than that, I can think of no real advantages.

John

January 22, 2012 at 04:59 PM · Adrian, thanks for your hints, there's a few in there I hadn't heard before and will keep in mind.

Interesting discussion about viola size here! Keep in mind I'm not espousing a 14-inch for everybody, and I'm not even saying that's the size I want to stick with. It's just that between fibromyalgia, a connective tissue disorder, and not having a teacher I can see more than a half dozen times a year, it just doesn't seem worth it to play something that's more likely to cause injury, especially since the viola is a side-thing and if I forever sound like "a violinist plays the viola on the side" in community orchestras and string quartets, I'm okay with that. (It would be nice if someday I could shed the label, and actually sound like a Genuine Violist, but I'm not holding my breath that I ever will.) Would I actually buy a 14-inch? Heavens, no. At least not until I tried other sizes at length and consulted with a teacher and decided that was, honestly, the biggest I could manage. Will I use a 14-inch for three to six months as a rental while I get acquainted with the instrument and decide if I want to take it any further? Yes. Just wanted to clear that up for anyone jumping in on the discussion who thinks I think 14-inches are a great idea...

@ Peter - I can't imagine I'd ever be good enough to be in an orchestra that plays a Ring Cycle, but thanks anyway...

Once again, thanks all. I love you guys, even when you contradict yourselves. lol ;)

January 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM · Hi Emily, again!

OK let's stick to 14"! At least you will play in tune!!

I have anumber of eager 11-12 year old female violists with fine (sometimes asian) hands. Their "luthiers" (this is Paris) rent them 14" (34.5cm) violas with higher ribs than a violin, to get a (slightly) deeper tone. The wood resonances depend on body length, though.

To check on the inner air resonance, blow across an f-hole: on a violin you hear c#-d; on a viola it must not be higher than C-natural to get that specific tone colour. This deeper resonance comes not only from the air volume but also from the f-holes: smaller openings give less power and a less even but deeper resonance.

You could try putting some cotton wool in the "eyes" of the f-holes on your violin to appreciate this effect.

Strings: 3 violin strings and a fairly strong "C".

I am personally allergic to a metal A: I like a violin-like sweetness in my viola A, even on my 16" viola (which has B-flat air tone)

My luthier in Paris (Bernard Sabatier) has developed two special designs for small violas which are selling like hot cakes..

Good luck! Quartet-playing is especially rewarding.

January 22, 2012 at 07:12 PM · Try to avoid the Nokia Ring-Cycle,

Cheers,

buri

January 22, 2012 at 11:52 PM · If you want "dali-esque" violas, check out David Ravinius' instruments. I've only played a couple; they sound nice, and are very easy to play (about like playing a violin), just startling for anyone watching.

January 24, 2012 at 06:52 PM · I'm having urges to venture into the, "dark side" but not sure what size or model viola to try. This thread seems to suggest that going with shorter sizes is a pragmatic decision. What's the feeling about the, "Tertis." Shar Music has a Carlo Lamberti 15.5 ins. The only other model that seems to be recommended (not a Teris) is the K.J. Schneider 16.5 ins. Thoughts, opinions?

January 24, 2012 at 07:18 PM · The Nokia ring tone has already been re-cycled ... maybe its Reingold now ... or just plain cheap plastic.

January 24, 2012 at 08:49 PM · Robert, Emily weighs 90 lbs. (!) and lives with a chronic pain problem. You probably don't need to be as conservative as she does. 15 1/2 might be a good place for you to start looking. Arm length is part of it, but hand size is even more important. If you can't reach octaves, you won't have any fun. I tried a couple of Tertis models and found them uncomfortable. It may well have been the chin rests they had, but I found a Strad pattern I like and didn't pursue the Tertis.

January 24, 2012 at 09:18 PM · Lisa, that's useful information. I'm just over 6.0 tall and 190 lbs. I can easily reach octaves, that's not a problem. Thank you.

January 24, 2012 at 10:03 PM · Oh yeah, I'd think you could start with a 15 at least. As I mentioned in a blog about the subject, I tried a 15 in and it only felt inconvenient, not painfully big. With your frame, you should be able to go bigger than that. :) But who knows, try it and see!!

January 25, 2012 at 02:15 AM · Emily, I'm resisting saying, "bigger sounds better" but that's really what is in the back of my mind. I'm addicted to the violin, but as I started out by saying, I'm getting these urges to go viola. Maybe I won't stop until I hit cello?

January 25, 2012 at 02:22 AM · When I started viola, Got a 16.25 viola. I'm also 6ft but I weigh substantial less(144) I would probable start with a 16 instead of a 15. If you do start with a 15, then when you move to a 16 (maybe?) intonation would be wacky again.

John

January 25, 2012 at 07:27 PM · Robert, are you looking at buying mail order? Violas are so different, it would be good for you to go play a bunch in person if you could. Besides the length of the back there's also a lot of variation in width, depth of the ribs, string length, width of the neck, and probably a few other dimensions as well. All can make a difference on how comfortable or not a viola is for you. There's no right or wrong with any of these things, either, just differences.

January 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM · It would be nice to have a variety of violas to test - but around here it's hard enough to find more than one violin in a certain price-range never mind a viola.

You're lucking if the one big chain-store has more than one in stock (of any quality).

I ordered mine by mail, never even having held one before. I was lucky. I like mine. Since I bought it (about 7 years ago) I've played only one other...and mine is considerably better...so I feel good about it still.

March 2, 2012 at 07:07 AM · My daughter is 12 and has been playing the viola since September. She has been playing the violin for 9 years and is at the Mozart Concerto level. She is continuing on the violin. The transition to viola, including reading the different cleft, was very quick and easy.

She is playing viola on a restrung full size violin. The problem that has cropped up is that when she plays with the intensity and expression that she is developing, the "viola/violin" can't handle it on the lower strings and is cracking.

My daughter plays violin on a 1/2 size violin. It is a very good old violin that can play at a concerto level. She is a very small 12 year old.

She needs a high quality sound on a small instrument. Any suggestions? Is there anything to avoid? What kind of price am I looking at? Where should I look?

March 2, 2012 at 04:39 PM · Sharon, as you probably know, violas are sold by the inch. (A violin has a length of 14".) Looking for a 14" viola rather than using a violin strung as a viola will help. The ribs will be deeper, for one thing, and there will be other differences that will improve the sound. If you can find something in that size built on the Tertis pattern, which has wider than normal lower bouts, that will help also. Other than that, just wait for her to grow. There's a limit on how much viola sound you can get out of 14 inches.

As far as where to look, start with a local dealer if you can. If that won't work, Shar, Southwest Strings, Johnson, are all reputable mail-order dealers.

March 3, 2012 at 06:56 AM · I went with a 16.5 inch viola which I can handle okay with no discomfort. Now I'm just fussing with chin and shoulder rests and trying to find the right combination of strings. The viola came with all Dominent strings but my teacher things the G is too, "twangy" The other strings she says sound good, especially the C and A. How about Piastro Obligato?

March 3, 2012 at 08:27 AM · I have a talented younger student, also twelve years old and quite small, who finally moved off her smaller violas (in the 12"-13" range) up to a 14.25", which is only slightly longer than a violin.

She is able to play it without straining though, and what made the difference is the instrument having a small neck, the smaller the better.

March 3, 2012 at 09:34 AM · Why do they make violas with a large neck ? I thought the necks on a viola were the same size as a violin until I started reading this thread. I have always loved the viola. I love the sound and it is my favourite instrument but I have found that even a 15 inch viola gives me all sorts of physical problems so I have stuck with the violin. Do the 14 inch violas really 'work' ? I have never had the opportunity to try one.

March 3, 2012 at 05:24 PM · Anyone - even non-music-lovers - can tell the difference when I play my violin and when I play my viola, even though they are the same size (14"). (I did a blog entry in December or January about this subject; I included video audio. The mic was awful but it gave a general idea of the differences in sound.) But does the 14-inch give as good of a sound as a 15-inch? No. That was a compromise I was willing to make to not have pain while I played. Each player has to decide if that's a compromise they're willing to make. Some people will be ok with it; others would rather not play viola at all if they can't navigate a 15-inch with ease and efficiency.

Also, I bet you anything that if you can get regular lessons with a really well-trained violist who's also a really talented communicator, you'll be able to play a 15-inch. I know I could, and like I've said on this thread, I'm 90 pounds and double-jointed. It's all in the instructor and their ability to show you what you need to do to get around the instrument without pain or tension. But, as I can tell you, finding such a teacher who you can take from regularly is not always easy...

March 3, 2012 at 06:03 PM · Robert, most of the violists I know are using Obligato strings and liking them, whether the instruments are large or small, old or new. They seem to have become the new standard. I have a set of Evah Pirazzis on mine at the moment, but I think I'll go back to Obligatos when they need to be changed.

March 3, 2012 at 07:05 PM · Thanks for the word on Obligatos. What about switching out just the G string until I need to change a full set?

March 4, 2012 at 01:52 AM · All I can say is that I started on a 15" viola when I was 9 and it was comfortable. It was only when I moved up to a 16" when I started having issues (and I'm not a tall person). As Mr. Manfio has stated before, it is more about how the instrument is constructed that contributes to comfort other than just the length.

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