Violin and Viola

August 18, 2004 at 05:06 AM · When would it be a good time for a violinist to start viola?

I am 14 years old and I have been playing violin for about 2 years. I don't have any urge ever to give the violin up. However, I am hoping to be a string teacher for middle schoolers in the future. Is

there a bad time to start

viola, would it be too soon because they are close?

I have already had some experience in piano (my first instrument) and a couple months on flute.

Replies (5)

August 18, 2004 at 08:36 AM · Hi,
Lauren, there's two main aspects to starting the viola that make it different from the violin

  • a viola is bigger and physically harder to play
  • the music is written in a different key
You can learn to play in the alto clef right away, just get some music written in it (there's a special method for those who wont to change by Hans-Heinz Bütigkofer). If you play it on the violin, it'll just sound a fifth higher - that's the easy part.

The harder part is that distances on the viola are farther, the strings are thicker and less responsive, therefore you need a modified left hand technique (fingerings etc.). On the viola, bowing requires a lot more attention. Yehudi Menuhin (cf. below) recommends that all violinist should practise their whole repertoire on a viola with a viola bow, thus gaining a reserve of strength and flexibility. After switching back, I'm always amazed how much easier (speaking physically, not technically) the violin is to play. Don't be afraid that you'll play out of tune - like playing on different violins, it will only sharpen your intonation precision.

For more information, look up the Yehudi Menuhin Music Guide Violin & Viola (co-authored by William Primrose), the Art of String Quartet Playing by David Blum and the Guarneri Quartet or check out the viola internet links. A good place to start might be the Amateur Chamber Music Players, Inc. link page for individual instruments.

Whatever you do, don't play the viola as if it was a "big fiddle".

Have fun lots of fun playing the viola!

Bye, Juergen

August 18, 2004 at 02:18 PM · I agree with Menuhin all the way, viola playing has helped my violin playing 100 percent.

August 18, 2004 at 03:12 PM · I also agree...I'm playing both...and the viola for only a few months...but my violin playing has improved dramatically ...

...I'll have to disagree with Juergen about reading the alto clef...I'm finding it very slow play to speed (I know where the notes are).

One thing I tried last week was to purchase music in the alto clef that I already was familiar with in the treble...and then play the viola...knowing where to place my fingers made the note reading much easier and help reinforce the learning...

Good luck!

August 18, 2004 at 06:37 PM · One good tip when playing in first position for viola, think (with open strings being an acception) as if you were playing in third position violin. I found that helped tons when I first started.

It does help violin playing a lot, and it's a good skill to have and to be able to switch back and forth between the two instruments. You'll probably find that if you are a decent violist forming a string quartet will be easier and it gives you another auditioning option for youth orchestras as well.

August 18, 2004 at 09:01 PM · I think the first thing to do when going to alto clef (different CLEF not KEY) is learning what the open strings look like on the staff. That helps a lot.

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