Learning both Violin and Viola
My oldest student has expressed and interest in learning the Viola as well as continuing with the Violin. His logic is that there is more demand for Violists and more competition for Violinist chairs. He plays well, is quite smart, occasionally lazy (what teenagers aren't?) I have a Violist who is willing to provide lessons. Oh yes, he actually likes the sound of the Viola.
I know there are more than a few double-majors here so I'm just wondering what pitfalls might be expected.
All the violinists in my son's precollege program are required to learn viola. The main reason for this is they only accept really high level students, and often only take 2-3 violists who meet their standards, so they need more violas for chamber music and orchestra. But it is an excellent skill for all of them to have, and I highly recommend it.
Tentatively I say "why not?"
I mean, it's just a big violin in a different clef. Easy peasy.
I'd say there are only benefits, and it's not a hard transition for any student who has reached the point of playing in 3rd position. Many conservatory-level violin teachers require their students to also play viola. The benefits to playing both include a better ear for intonation, because you can't rely entirely on muscle memory when switching between instruments, and better bowing technique, because the player has to maintain agility while digging into the string more on a viola.
I play both equally: violin for solo concerts and viola for chamber music. There are soo many benefits to playing both, so I'm very happy for your student!
Some great advice above. There are no pitfalls to playing both violin and viola unless you're really time-crunched and don't have the time to practice both. There are many people who study multiple instruments on an equal basis and some even play two totally different instruments equally well. The technique is mostly the same with subtle differences, which are important if you really want to sound good. I think it's really important to determine your student's goals as a violist. Unless he's really struggling with the transition or he really wants to study the viola repertoire, a separate viola teacher is not required. I think that playing both is a great idea as others have said above, and it will surely open more doors. It is always possible to study one while playing the other as more “for fun" instrument on a regular basis. I would say let him play with the viola for a bit and see what he wants to do with it from there. Violin teachers can help viola-playing students with viola issues if you can if need be. The clef is relatively easy to teach yourself.
I've heard it said that it's okay for kids to start supplementing violin with a little bit of viola once they are big enough to play a full size, but if a kid is going to seriously play viola in the future, they shouldn't focus on it until their violin technique is already mature -- Romantic concerto level.
Lydia, I'd say that one can give up violin for viola anytime, but if one wishes to play both, he/she needs to wait until he/she is fully grounded on the violin (that means being able to shift and do some vibrato) or otherwise instrument mix-up issues may arise. You do not have to be big enough for a full size viola in order to start playing. There are small kids who do play viola, and they either use a real small viola or a restrung violin. Of course these small violas don't sound as good as full size ones, but they have pretty much the same pitfalls as fractional violins and cellos, anyway.
I'm with Lydia. Also violas less than 15.5" usually sound like crap anyway.
Thanks to everyone for the responses. Now to answer some of the questions:
James you are so right.
After an hour on "one" instrument I like to do 10 minutes on the "other".
I also like to keep a curver 4th finger on viola, as it helps with vibrato and accuracy. Unlike Adrian who has proportionally short fingers, I have proportionally long fingers, so I don't need to do anything special to maintain a curved pinky on viola. I also shift into half position more often on viola because I hate high 4s so much. I can play them, but they just feel plain awkward. I can switch back and forth no problems in any circumstance. adrian previously mentions that he has two separate sets of reflexes in both hands for violin and viola, and I am the same way. When I was transitioning from violin to viola, playing violin did not adversely affect the transitioning process.