December 4, 2015 at 03:25 PM · I just bought my first viola this week. So far I really like it. I am not "switching" but rather expanding my capabilities so that I can play more chamber music, etc.

I have a couple of questions for violinists who have transitioned to viola:

1. Do you find that your violin setup (CR/SR) served as a starting point for your viola setup? Or did you start over from scratch?

2. Does the button of the viola rest at the same horizontal position (at your neck) as the button of the violin, or is it a little to the right or to the left of where your violin button would be?

Replies (38)

December 4, 2015 at 04:45 PM · I started with my violin setup on the viola, but worked with the shop where I purchased it and ended up switching both the chinrest and the shoulder rest out. My chinrest went from a Dresden to a Brandt, and the shoulder rest went from a Bon-Musica to a Kun. I'm not really enjoying the Kun though so the Bon-Musica might come back.

Honestly, I haven't taken any note of where the button falls.

Also of note, I'm using a similar string set as I do on my primary violin - Visions. The only difference is that I switched out the A-ing for a Larson, which seems to suit the set nicely.

December 4, 2015 at 05:25 PM · I'm a violist who has played a lot of violin..

I have short fingers, especially the pinky.

On violin, the button points to the hollow between the two collar-bones; on viola, a little to right of this hollow, and a side-mounted chinrest a little further to the left.

To reach the lowest string with a supple vibrato on the pinky, I have a tilt of 30° on violin, but 45° on viola. My chinrests are much carved and modified.

My Kun rests are in front of the collarbone, except for the curly bit at the shoulder, where the wide part of the Kun rests; I balance the weight of of the fiddles with the weight of my head, see-saw fashion. No raised shoulder, no festering stigmata, no injuries in half a century of viola!

Most important, on viola my pinky has the same curve as on violin: it's the other three fingers that lean or curl back out of the way.

I make conscious use of all the half positions, even rounding my index for a better vibrato.

December 4, 2015 at 06:47 PM · I bought the viola sight-unseen. It's a good instrument and I think I got a good value. It's a Ming-Jiang Zhu "AA" model (16-inch size) that was picked out for me by a professional that I know and trust. He traveled recently to shop for instruments for his students, and I asked him to help me in this way. The viola has a nice rich low end. The treble is slightly tight but will hopefully open up.

December 4, 2015 at 07:23 PM · Welcome to the dark side!

1. I use Viva la musica Coda Diamond SR on violin and viola. The reason is that it can be adjusted quite low, almost touching my viola. Another is that it does not affect the sound. On some days I use a home made wedge (have to take a picture one of these days) to relax even more.

I do not use CR on viola at all - do not need it. Perhaps one day I may use CR and discard SR. The height of viola is sufficient to fill the gap.

2. I would not think of the button, but about the best position of your viola. It takes some time to find it comfortable (if at all). Depending on the length of your bowing arm, you will meet viola (or viola will meet you) on the center (right above the tail piece) or left side of the tail piece.

December 4, 2015 at 07:35 PM · Thanks for those insights Rocky!! I can't imagine playing without a CR, I know some people do, but it's not really in my world view. The viola came set up with a Guarneri chin rest which essentially serves as a "hook" for the jaw right above the tail piece. But then that's too high and I can't really put any padding underneath the viola, which I need because my collar bone will get sore too quickly (there is a bone lump on it from my childhood violin teacher forcing me to play without an SR). I'd like a lower chin rest but wasn't sure how much farther to the right I can go before the viola starts to slump down off my shoulder too much.

December 4, 2015 at 08:17 PM · I changed the chinrest on my 16" viola from a Guarneri-style..to a Flesch centre mount (with the hump).

Made an obvious difference. Much more balanced now, so less 'gripping' to hold the viola in place.

I never use a shoulder rest, but I do need a sponge to protect my collar bone...same as with the violin...

December 4, 2015 at 08:21 PM · I have a Flesch CR with hump, it's for violin, maybe it will fit (with the longer screws). Actually it's the one I used as a child. My experience has been that it is very high, my neck is not very long, but it might be more comfortable than the Guarneri. Keep the suggestions coming!!

December 4, 2015 at 08:29 PM · Paul,

you are welcome. Oddly, no CR in fact gives a lot of freedom. Unless CR is completely flat, it always "locks" me in a certain position and to some extent. Yes, with no hook, viola tends to slide until you find the spot. No rules, as always... whatever works for you.


December 5, 2015 at 09:03 AM · I thought I felt a great disturbance in The Force...as if a million slightly out of tune notes were played all at once and suddenly were silenced....

I'm just a beginner, so you don't need any advice from me. But the viola is a lovely instrument. I'm in love with mine. Enjoy it !

December 5, 2015 at 09:19 AM · I find the "hook" gives me more freedom to move my head, e.g.to see if my desk partner noticed mywrong note..since it means even less head-weight for my balacing act.

I use a Teka-style CR modified as follows:-

- the base is filed so the the left screw is shorter than the right one, giving me the tilt I described above;

- the edge is ground away for half its length (the half away from the tailpiece) to avoid denting my poor jawbone;

- all this means that the "dish" of the Teka overhangs the tailpiece with no risk of it's touching.


Folks love it: I should have tried fo a patent, but now I've let the cat out of the bag!

December 5, 2015 at 09:25 AM · Wellcome to the world of viola! I think all violinists should play the viola also - after playing viola for a while everything becomes much easier on the violin.

I use slightly different setups. On the violin I have an extra tall teka chin rest and a Viva la musica Diamond shoulder rest. I find that this shoulder rest has much less tendency to slip off the instrument than the Kun rest. The curvede shape of the rest itself is very similar to the Kun. I tried a similar setup on the viola but I tend to want the viola more tilted forward and so the teka rest is not optimal. At the moment I use a Stüber chin rest and a Diamond shoulder rest. Om both instruments I keep the shoulder rest as low as possible without touching the back of the instrument. I use mostly arm vibrato and the shoulder rest is mostly to keep the instrument from moving too much with the vibrato :)

I have not paid attention to the position of the button, but I think it may be slightly to the left on the viola in order compensate for the bridge beeing further away.

December 5, 2015 at 01:25 PM · Adrian, I will check out the Teka. I also carve up my CRs. No shortage of head weight for me. College professor. 20 pounds of pure fertilizer.

December 5, 2015 at 03:36 PM · My perfect violin chinrest is an Original Stuber (made in Germany over 40 years ago, not the more recently Asian-made ones). For viola I use a lower chinrest so the fit between my jaw and collarbone is very similar.

When I use a shoulder rest I use a Wolf Standard Secondo on violin and a Wolf Super Fleixibel for viola.

I find Pirastro Permanent strings to be BEST on this particular 16" viola - I coud not wish for finer sound. Before that Dominants were pretty good. Evah Pirazzi Gold were much too harsh. Spirocore were bad - but they were great on a reworked German factory viola I previously owned but gave to my granddaughter a decade ago.


December 5, 2015 at 11:10 PM · Ah yes, viola STRINGS....

They cost a wee bit more than violin strings, now don't they?


Permanents are nice. As are Kaplans, if you're interested in steel strings.

"Budget" synthetics that sound very good:

Zyex (the larger viola handles the power often better than a violin).

Warchal Brilliants--My total favorite. Not bright like the name implies, but very full and rich sounding.

December 5, 2015 at 11:17 PM · I noticed Zyex strings were ca. half the price of Obligatos, I'm not destitute but I don't need yet another expensive hobby. But looks like I have one already, so ...

I understand why viola strings cost more, they're longer and you take away a simple wire E string and replace it with the low C, that's got to add to the cost. Not as bad as cello strings though.

I do need a spare set so I think I will make those the Zyex and use those to replace the Dominants that the instrument came strung with once they wear out.

December 5, 2015 at 11:34 PM · I find Zyex harsher and tighter than Obligatos, which are in turn warmer and tighter than Dominants.

I suppose fewer sales affect the price of viola strings.But then we are reputed to practice less so maybe they last longer?

December 6, 2015 at 12:28 AM · I started all over from scratch because the viola's dimensions are different from the violin's. My viola came with a standard to-the-side (Guarneri?) CR and I was planning to switch it out because I like my violin's Ohrnform(?) CR. But then when I was reading about viola fit, I realized that I need the viola more tilted in order to reach the C string securely. And one of my luthiers recommended the Everest SR (I had one of the Kun's on my violin) and I really like it. One bonus of the viola is that I can use a much lower SR than on my violin. Bow: I was on a budget and decided this was the time to by a CF bow, no matter what. (So far, all my violin bows have been wood.) I'm happy with it for now.

December 6, 2015 at 01:20 AM · Thanks Francesca for your insight! My neck is short, even with my violin the Kun and Everest SRs are too high. I noticed that the Guarneri CR is much better now that I am using a "medium" PolyPad (minimal foam type SR) and it helps stabilize the viola so that I no longer have the fear of dropping it. The "hook" of the Guarneri is better innthis context but just a little too much wood, I may have to carve it down some. I think I'm on the right track.

December 6, 2015 at 07:28 AM · By the way, congratulations. The upper registers might open up, but you might also find that eventually you're bowing differently for a better sound. Who can tell which is which? Warning: the viola is addictive. Unless you have a good reason to play a lot of violin, you may find your mix changing.

December 7, 2015 at 12:55 AM · Yes I see your point. My next task is to get comfortable. I had a mini lesson today dealing with the position of the instrument, the angle, etc., he made some recommendations regarding chin rest that seemed logical.

December 7, 2015 at 06:05 PM · I play a completely different setup on violin and viola. On my violin, I have a Tempel (Germany) chinrest which is a hybrid design that blends aspects of the Guarneri and Flesch models, and provides me enough height to fill the space between the jawbone and collarbone exactly. It has a very soft, rounded curve where it meets my neck and is very comfortable. For the viola, with the taller ribs, I have a much flatter, low, chinrest (forget the model name) with a very slight ledge over the tailpiece. I don't use a shoulder rest on either instrument, but use a soft cloth between my neck and the instrument. I have a fairly pronounced collarbone so there aren't any issues with the instrument slipping.

December 8, 2015 at 01:53 PM · Do any of you find those gel chin rests more or less useful on viola?

December 11, 2015 at 02:13 AM · Paul - welcome to the select group of lots of violinists who have expanded their horizons. What I tell people is that I was having a mid-life crisis and instead of a fancy sports car or a mistress, I got a viola.

My violin has a Bieber CR and a Sostenuto SR. My viola has a fairly standard type of CR and a Kun SR. You probably should try different combinations with the help of a teacher who can really judge how they work for you. Viola playing has a lot in common with violin playing, but the similarities can be deceiving or misleading. As the teacher who started me off said, "you will find yourself in half and 2nd position a lot more than on violin," and he was right. But he also knew my violin teacher and said that I didn't need him and could teach myself as long as listened carefully to everything my violin teacher told me about my violin technique issues.

Good luck and have fun! You will be in great demand as a chamber musician.

December 15, 2015 at 09:42 PM · When I first started playing viola I found it noticeably thicker than my violin - and with a shoulder rest cranked up high by the previous player I found it didn't really fit under my chin. So I tried playing without a shoulder rest for a while. It didn't work out all that well, though - the instrument tended to slide around on my shoulder, especially when wearing a slippery tuxedo jacket. This was quite entertaining for the audience, but not much fun for me. So off I went in search of a shoulder rest. I tried about half a dozen different styles - Wolf, Everest, Bonmusica, etc. - but in the end I settled for a good old Kun, just like on my violin but slightly larger.

I've been playing viola for about three years now and really enjoy it. It has more of a heft to it than a violin, which means I can really dig in without crushing a note. Now, when I play violin, I have to be careful to maintain a lighter touch - except when I'm fiddling, when I can cut loose.

But definitely, if you're at all interested in viola, give one a try. One stroke of the bow across that C string and you'll be hooked. And there are few enough violists that we're always in demand. That's how I came to play viola - by being dragged into an orchestra that was desperate for anyone who could play one. And you should see people's faces when you sneak your viola into a fiddle jam...

December 16, 2015 at 03:47 AM · That's what I'm doing on Sunday! Actually, I'm nervous about the attention I might get.

December 16, 2015 at 05:09 AM · Tell them you fed it steroids. Wear camo.

December 16, 2015 at 06:24 AM · Thanks, Paul. I was thinking of asking for a snappy reply but not sure what remark I would have to reply to.

December 16, 2015 at 05:21 PM · Actually, these are Scottish Fiddlers. I'll say oats and and whiskey.

December 16, 2015 at 07:41 PM · If they are scottish you'd better say whisky. ;-)

December 17, 2015 at 05:51 AM · I think I'd better just say Scotch.

December 17, 2015 at 06:08 AM · No, Scottish folks say whisky, not Scotch. To say Scotch would imply that there is some other drink that deserves to be called whisky. Speaking of which, the Laphroaig is calling me ...

December 17, 2015 at 11:46 AM · Ooh Laphroig, my all-time favourite alcoholic drink ...

December 17, 2015 at 02:45 PM · Switching to viola drives people to drink, apparently.

December 17, 2015 at 04:40 PM · My Scottish father-in-law calls it "An inch of Pinch". Of course, that's brand specific.

December 17, 2015 at 07:24 PM · Dimple Pinch is a blended whisky. Some of those are good, I've not had that one.

Seraphim it's all a symptom of the same thing: joie de vivre.

December 22, 2015 at 09:17 PM · If people remark on the size of my viola, I tell them I left it out in the rain and it swelled.

It's the time of year to break out that bottle of Dalmore I brought back from Scotland...

December 27, 2015 at 03:37 AM · I went to Shar today and checked out some chin rests. The Wittner fit me the best. It's plastic, and it's black so it doesn't match the jujube fittings of the Zhu violin, but that's okay for now. I'll probably get gear pegs eventually and then they'll be black too.

January 4, 2016 at 05:42 AM · I started anew. I used a centred chinrest on my viola because it is a 17" until I figured out the centred chinrest was promoting some bad habits, and I switched it to one much further along to the left. I use a bonmusica shoulder rest that is very very bent. As for strings, I don't know off the top of my head what I use. I use the combination my teacher used -- she gave me about 4 sets of slightly-used strings that I haven't gone completely through yet.

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