Newish viola owners: Have you jilted your violin?

January 12, 2016 at 03:35 PM · Reading all these entries by v.commies who get their first viola and say "I love my viola but the violin will still be my first instrument." I would love to know how many of them still say that after having their viola for awhile. I'm embarassed to say that my violin bow had bow bugs for the first time, probably because I was spending all my time with my viola. I can imagine that there are many who are unable to switch to viola as their primary instrument because they have made commitments to play the violin or don't want to leave their violin teacher, but what about those of you who have no such commitment? I'd love to hear stories! Even stories from people who stayed steadfast despite the lure of their viola.

As for me, I guess the stars lined up. I never got a new violin teacher after mine passed away a bit over a year ago. My luthier had a viola just my size that he evidently had had for awhile. (He makes violas but I guess he doesn't usually sell violas made by others.) As it turned out, this viola, a Kremona made in Bulgaria, is actually a better instrument than my violin. How could I not fall in love with it? My only violin activity was San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers, and they don't mind violas. I committed myself to switching to viola at our last meeting and discovered that a lot of members play 5-string violins. Two good friends belong to the Scottish Fiddlers and were open to playing with me. Some day, if all goes well, our goal is to rope in a cellist to try quartets with us. Meanwhile, I have been given references for local teachers who teach both viola and violin.

Replies (24)

January 12, 2016 at 04:32 PM · I've had my viola for a month and initially I really put a lot into it because I wanted to learn the clef and get ready to play in a local orchestra. But to be honest every time I play it I remind myself why I prefer the violin, and every time I go back to the violin it's like a huge relief, like coming home after a vacation. Vacation is great, but there's no place like home.

January 12, 2016 at 04:54 PM · Love my gorgeous rich Viola sound. But being a longtime violin player it's so hard to be relagated to simple harmonies and rhythms while hearing the 1st violins play fun and challenging music. Guess I'm just one of those snooty violinists ??

January 12, 2016 at 05:07 PM · After more than 2 years since I started playing viola, I still find it quite enjoyable to keep playing violin.

As mentioned before, playing both instruments is very beneficial for overall music skills, chamber music playing, but also for string player's transferable skills. It is such a good awareness tool, and it brings into the focus the weaknesses of one's technique one often neglects due to sensory habituation. Just like smelling a jar of coffee beans in a perfume shop to reset your sense of smell!

Right now, I play 50-50% or 40-60% viola-violin and have ventured to more challenging chamber music repertoire. My current viola is an advanced student instrument, just good enough to keep me motivated, but still not good enough to abandon my violin.

Also, my many chamber music friends still rely on my violin skills, so I can not disappoint them, can I?

January 12, 2016 at 10:40 PM · I started to play the violin over 4 years ago and added a viola (restrung violin) after 2 years. I kept switching back and forth. I was not happy playing the violin because I hated all notes on the E string. But the violin-with-a-C string drove me nuts because I couldn't get a pleasant sound out of that, either.

So I decided to have a viola built especially for me.

A 15" body for good resonacne, with a 14" neck on it for playability (I have very small hands).

The first time I bowed this new viola I fell in love with the sound. Have the violin still hanging on my wall and don't want to part with it for sentimental sake, but I don't ever play it longer than 5 minutes before deciding that it's just not my cup of tea anymore.

January 12, 2016 at 10:54 PM · Thanks, everyone! Catherine, I quite agree with you. When I listen to a piece of music, I try to identify the viola part to see whether or not the viola has an interesting role. It's not easy even when it does--sometimes I pull up the scores on IMSLP to check. Often I think cellos have a more interesting part than violas!

I really wonder how much the quality of my viola is influencing my preferences for it over my violin. I actually paid the same for both of them, from the same luthier. If I were younger, I'd consider upgrading my violin--still might if I decide it's worth it.

Paul, can you elaborate on your last statement? Is it the physical dimensions, or something else? I've had my viola since March and have finally overcome the size differences.

January 13, 2016 at 02:36 AM · Linda, what is the string length on your viola? I have very small hands, too. The body of my viola is 15" and string length is 14", which is just a slightly greater stretch for me than my violin. My (own) neck is long, though, which may contribute to how comfortable the viola is for me. Yeah, I think it's the sound that sustains me, too. In comparison, my violin doesn't seem to have a soul.

January 13, 2016 at 04:46 AM · I switched to viola about 4 months ago. Can't see going back to violin. Will never stop listening to violin but when playing viola its richness fills my body and enriches and energizes my life. When supporting with middle voice am in the heart of whatever we're playing. It's a gorgeous sound that refreshes and fits my personality. Am getting tremendous joy from it. Got a good viola from Robert Cauer and found a wonderful viola teacher (Matthew Witmer in LA). Heck, if viola was good enough for Beethoven to play...

January 13, 2016 at 06:18 PM · I find that they have complementary roles in my life. I prefer violin for orchestra because I can play violin 1 parts, which are more interesting than viola parts. I prefer viola for chamber music because I am more in demand and am probably a better violist for that purpose than violinist. The final advantage is that I only take violin lessons, because the teacher who started me out on viola knows my violin teacher and said that I did not need him. He explained as long as I did everything my violin teacher said, I could teach myself viola.

January 13, 2016 at 07:39 PM · I got my viola this Fall, but violin remains my primary instrument. I feel much more of a connection with the violin sound than I do with the viola. The purchase was largely the result of laziness, in that I didn't want to have to transpose everything to help my viola and cello playing children with their lessons. I asked the conductor of our string ensemble if I could moonlight on the viola for one piece this session, but was told that I had to stay on the same instrument for every piece. Since I'm neither a confident player, nor do I have a firm grasp on alto clef, I stayed in the violin section. Perhaps I may change my tune after a bit more adjustment time. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm firmly in the violin camp and only dally with the viola on occasion.

January 13, 2016 at 09:14 PM · My violin teacher plays 3rd chair Viola for the Richmond symphony. She still pulls out her violin almost every lesson and plays it with ease despite switching over to Viola quite some time ago. It seems she loves both equally and gives them both the equal attention.

January 14, 2016 at 02:01 PM · I bought a Viola at the of the summer last year on a whim (mostly). I saw a reputable student brand Viola on craigs-list in the area I was vacationing so I made contact, bought it at a great price and took it home with me on the plane. I really love the instrument. I didn't take long for me to learn the basic of Alto clef, but ultimately I decided not to make a more permanent switch. For now, I like to go over the music I'm working on with my viola without transpsing the clef. I play the finger patterns and in doing so, it helps train my ear.

January 14, 2016 at 03:27 PM · I have the bug really bad. I restrung a cheap violin as a viola, and I even play that more than my violin now. I just love the C string, and the deeply resonant sound of the C+G string played together, so much.

So now I in a hunt for a proper viola, but I suspect it will take some time to find the right instrument.

January 14, 2016 at 03:51 PM · I have a violin strung as a viola and the C string is reasonable. Quite honestly I want a real viola, but I have to wait. I still love playing the violin, and I have had absolutely no intention of quitting whatsoever.

January 14, 2016 at 08:55 PM · I took up viola three years ago to help out a local orchestra that desperately needed more violas. (They still do - doesn't every orchestra?) I still play fiddle at bluegrass jams (although I've occasionally pulled out the viola and turned some heads). Our chamber group already has a violist, so I play violin there. So although I consider my primary instrument to be the viola (I'm now taking viola lessons, not violin lessons), I still play my violin a lot.

January 14, 2016 at 09:13 PM · I used to be a violinist.

Then I got a viola.

I was man without a country for awhile, a foot in either world.

Then I moved from a 15.5" viola to a 16.25"

Then I got a 17"....

I now have a 17.5", and the only time I play my violin is when I travel on business and take that instead of the big viola.

However, I recently just purchased another 15.5" viola that I modified my violin case to fit into....So, now I have my old violin up for sale.

Viva Viola!

January 15, 2016 at 05:16 PM · I managed to play five really nice violas during the week, ranging from £1500 to £1800. They were so nice, in comparison to an £800 student kit I have previously tried, especially the ease and clarity of playing in the higher positions.

And then I made the mistake of trying a £3000 instrument, and they all seemed very inferior in comparison ...

January 16, 2016 at 12:49 AM · Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful and thought provoking answers. It should have been obvious to me from the beginning that people with expensive violins who buy a student-level viola wouldn't be jumping up and down to switch to viola. One idea I got from your answers for myself is that I should listen to and study Scottish fiddle pieces which are played by a fiddle and a cello (e.g. Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas). That tradition honors the cello contribution.

Seraphim, I'm curious as to why you are playing both a 15.5" viola and a 17.5"?

Stefan, best wishes finding your viola. I'm glad my original price range was set fairly low so that the next step up wasn't too outrageous.

January 16, 2016 at 04:50 AM · I play the 17.5" because it is big and awesome sounding. And because I can, being 6'2" (and this particular one doesn't have an extremely long vibrating string length).

I have a 15.5" simply because that's all that would fit in my travel violin case that I take with me on business trips to Japan. For the past couple years, I'd bring my violin, as that's all that would fit as carry on. Then on my last trip I realized that if I modified the case it could accommodate a 15.5". So I'll be able to keep in my C G D A viola sound now even when traveling. It always took some adjusting back to the big viola after being away with that little violin for s week or two trip ( I travel an average of 6-8 weeks in Japan yearly).

The fingers certainly don't have to stretch nearly as much on the 15.5", but the SOUND out of the 17.5" is worth the effort when I get it right.

January 16, 2016 at 06:23 AM · It must be pretty powerful.

January 17, 2016 at 06:39 AM · That makes a lot of sense, Seraphim! I forgot that the violin is even smaller than a 15.5".

Anyone know what size viola Paganini played?

January 18, 2016 at 12:54 AM · Seraphim I have a small fractional cello if you want to put that under your chin next. Just be careful about the end pin...

January 18, 2016 at 11:37 AM · Francesa - thank you! I am enjoying the experience of playing lots of instruments and learning about the differences between them. To me, it seems that the range of "characters" in violas is much greater than that in violins, which is one of the fascinating aspects of this instrument.

January 18, 2016 at 03:23 PM · I'm enjoying viola now that I'm getting a little more comfortable with it. But the thing is that it will never be as comfortable as the violin, and I'm someone who has always struggled with tension and stress in my hands, wrists, etc., even though my teacher has helped me with that quite a bit. So my viola has a purpose: To allow me to play in the viola section of a local orchestra and maybe a chamber group once in a while, but as for "switching" entirely, I can't see why I would want to make my work that much harder and more stressful, all for the sake of a substantially inferior repertoire.

January 18, 2016 at 07:53 PM · Paul, I experienced tension and stress in my hands for several months. I think it came from being nervous about its larger size and struggling with alto clef, but I worked on both and the tension went away. I no longer feel like the viola is some clumsy overgrown violin. Of course, I haven't played my violin recently to compare :-)

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