Viola Affects Violin?

July 13, 2018, 6:34 PM · Hello!
I am a Violinist that's been playing for three years. In those past three years, I have been pretty okay with intonation. I picked up the Viola about eleven months ago. For about nine months, my viola was the same size as my violin, so transitioning from violin to viola wasn't difficult as all. But recently (about two months ago), I exchanged that viola to a bigger one (Fifteen inch Viola; My violin is a Thirteen inch).
Ever since then, switching from violin to viola has been hard, and it feels like my intonation hasn't been as accurate as before.
If I play the violin, I tend to play flat. When I play viola, I'm either too flat or too sharp. I've been so frustrated and I don't know what to do! It seems like my intonation is getting a little bit better; just a little. But I feel like it's not coming out the way it was before I switched to a bigger sized viola.

Has anybody else struggled with this problem? If so, how can I overcome it?

Thank you for reading.

Replies (8)

July 13, 2018, 9:43 PM · Switching back and forth should not be a problem, unless there are some impediments.

First things first: hardware
1. make sure that both instruments have a proper neck_stop:body_stop ratio. Any experienced luthier can check that for you in 5 minutes. If this is not so, you will very slowly lose your sanity trying to play in tune.
2. string clearance is properly set
3. neck curvature and fingerboard dressing is similar or very close
4. viola is not too big for your physique

Second, until you get experienced, do not switch from one instrument to another on the same day.

Third, have the same or very similar warm-up routine on both instruments; scales, arpeggios, etc. Use the same fingering for scales on viola and violin.

July 13, 2018, 9:52 PM · 2" is a bigger jump up then most people make at one time. Was there a reason you went to a 15" viola rather than a 14"?

I remember struggling but it was more a struggle when I would first start playing one instrument or the other and then after I had played for a few minutes, the intonation would settle in.

Since you are sometimes sharp and sometimes flat I wonder if you have a really good sense yet of just how far your arm needs to extend to be in position on the viola and actually the same question on violin.

My suggestion is to practice dropping your playing hand down, then put your hand in playing position, drop 3rd finger to the string and check it with the open below. If it is in tune then stop to really, really feel what your arm and body feel like when it is in tune. After you get that, then do that, play 3 and then another finger until you get that consistent.


July 13, 2018, 9:53 PM · I play 14 inch violin and 16 inch viola so I assume your 13 inch violin and 15 inch viola have comparable relationships to each other.

What I have observed is that the finger spacing or my viola's 3rd position are about the same as my violin's 1st position. My elbow angle in viola 3rd position is the same as my violin's 1st position. So the angle of my elbow defines finger spacing on both instruments for me. As one moves about higher positions on violin this same proportion of finger spacing to elbow angle seems to continue. Fingers get closer and closer the higher up you go!

Thus with more time and experience you should be able to work with both instruments on this basis. Reading the clefs can get jumbled some times - especially when the notes are fast and the key (and key changes) are furious and you have not seen the music previously. So - practicing with the goal of conquering these problems will help -- PLAY SCALES in tune!

Edited: July 14, 2018, 3:20 AM · On the viola the forearm slants more and we may be tempted to bend the wrist to compensate, which does not help the hand to open more. More elbow swing can help to play strongly (and in tune) on the lower strings

Fourth Finger Rules!
To stay strong and supple it must be curved as on the violin, and be placed first. The others must adapt to the wider intervals: the middle finger may curl more under itself (nice short nails!) and the index may have to lean back, almost on its side. In first position, our thumb and the base of the index will be noticeably further from the peg-box.

For long, vibrated notes with the first finger, we can move hand back to allow a rounded finger shape.

I play viola and violin, and I have short fingers. I find I have learned two sets of reflexes (in both hands..) and can switch easily, but I find it hard to adapt to a viola only slightly different from mine.

July 14, 2018, 9:57 PM · Adrian said something that made me think of something else. A lot of violinists put their left thumb across from 1st finger. Some violists prefer the thumb to be flexible where it is but mainly hang out between the first and second finger. This makes it easier to make the reaches on viola.

Some violists (Kim Kashkashian comes to mind) also will let the left wrist relax a bit. It is very subtle but will feel different.

July 15, 2018, 7:28 AM · Viola will help your violin playing. Like warming up in the on-deck circle with a lead donut on your bat.

I agree with Andrew about scales, but scales often neglect low positions. Studies that work the lowest positions will help more in my opinion. Especially is you are playing the viola only in community orchestras, like me.

July 15, 2018, 5:15 PM · Remember intonation isn't really in your left hand, it's in your brain. Whether you're playing violin or viola, when you play you are constantly making adjustments to be in tune -- and that starts with your ears and is governed by your brain. That's why slow precise practice with very good concentration works -- you're literally training your brain how to hear, and once you know exactly what you want to hear, your fingers will figure out how to give it to you.

I play violin and viola, and I used to have trouble switching between the two in the same session. If I started on viola, my hand frame would get stretched and intonation would be challenged when moving back to violin.

But here's the interesting part. As I got more experienced at switching back and forth, the problem just kind of went away. I can go back and forth between the two instruments without too much difficuty intonation wise.

So I guess my advice would be, just follow good practice for developing intonation. The violin/viola adjustment is a problem that may solve itself as you just improve your intonation and shifting.

Slow scales, constantly checking intonation against open strings and harmonics. Schradieck and Sevcik etc. And as your left hand develops, play a lot of double stops, beginning with octaves and sixths and then thirds and, especially, fourths (because fourths are very unforgiving). Ruggiero Ricci maintained that the single most valuable study to develop a violinist's left hands was to play scales and passages in thirds.

And of course play unaccompanied Bach, Suites, Sonatas and Partitas.

You should definitely develop three octave scales and arpeggios on both instruments. Yes you'll be playing mostly in lower positions, but higher position work has an impact on your lower position work. I.e. the precision needed to play in tune in high positions (and shift) will help you when you're playing in 1st position.

July 17, 2018, 3:19 AM · How long does it take you to "adjust" when switching between the two?
I think it's normal to have a period of time where your brain and fingers need to adapt to the size change. I don't believe anyone just seamlessly changes between the two and can play difficult repertoire immediately and accurately right after switching. Buffer time is needed.


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