Why we should stop viola jokes

Edited: February 26, 2019, 5:02 AM · I play the violin and a bit of viola.

So, I had a chance to talk to a handful of teens about classical musical instruments, strings in particular.

When I came to viola, they said no, it sounds terrible. I was stunned. Why would you say so? Turned out they're all subscribers of a very popular violin comedy channel who routinely perform viola-shaming acts.

I felt so bad as an educator. This would discourage young viola learners. And it's giving violist unnecessary pressure. The joke is real.

I watch that channel too. It's good. Except the viola part. I think by shaming viola, you'll shame violinists too. I look at all the weird viola comments by young people down there and honestly it's quite disturbing.

Replies (134)

Edited: February 20, 2019, 5:30 PM · There was a time when those jokes had a kernel of truth to them, because at one point violists were infirm or failed violinists; Haydn used to complain that orchestras couldn't scrounge up two violists capable of playing his viola parts. But that time ended 200 years ago with increasing professionalism and wider access to competent teaching.

As for the kids: if they're actually believing what this particular comedy channel says about violas, then there's a good chance you can sight-read their 1st violin parts on a viola better than they can play them on a violin. That's a pretty good way to shut people up about the viola and violists.

February 20, 2019, 5:57 PM · I think we need to find a way to make the viola look like a beautiful instrument, and we need to learn to ignore these jokes. I suspect the commedy channel you're referring to, TwoSet Violin, actually appreciates the viola, but they're probably just trying to make some commedy show or something.
Edited: February 20, 2019, 6:05 PM · I play viola, and I used to enjoy the cleverer viola jokes and even told a few on occasion. However, since the advent of that "comedy" duo who tell viola "jokes" in an incredibly mean-spirited way then yes, I've lost my willingness to accept viola jokes.

That sophomorish duo, who I'm ashamed to admit come from my home town, seem to think that being actively disparaging of the viola makes them look funny. They either lose sight of just how influential they are on younger players, or don't care as long as it gets them views, or are simply ignorant arseholes.

Needless to say, that despite being one of the early subscribers to their channel, and to their Facebook page, and Reddit page, I've since unsubscribed from all their social media. I also actively avoid any and all of the publicity they get here and on The Strad and the like.

Oh and you can guarantee there will now be an influx of people with the usual bully's message of "it's just a joke" or "you need to get a sense of humour." This is despite having said in my opening paragraph that I've long enjoyed clever, light-hearted viola jokes.

I'd also point out that at 60+ years old, I've seen plenty of humour in my life and love words and the ability to create humour out of them. Don't come that "it's only a joke" bullshit with me. Especially if you haven't even noticed just how mean-spirited those talentless pricks deliver their viola put-downs.

Edited: February 20, 2019, 6:34 PM · I don't think they actually believe what they're saying about violas; they both played in major orchestras before becoming comedians and have undoubtedly been around some excellent violists. But what annoys me is: it's clear they're deliberately targeting the age 12-17 crowd by playing up all the stereotypes kids hear around those ages, and by doing so they're reinforcing the stereotypes. They're just as bad about adding to the stigma of playing second violin.
February 20, 2019, 8:22 PM · TwoSet's content has taken a huge dive in quality lately, and their fanbase is more of a cancer on the face of the earth as ever. If you've seen the subreddit, you've seen just how low comedy can go. They've gone from creating fun, original content to regurgitating the same 4 jokes ad nauseam, to the point where it's just indescribably bleh.
For example, Ben Lee. That video of him on the BBC was a fun little gem for violinists to chuckle about together. Now, after 6 months or so of constant, unceasing repetition, it's lost all of its charm. And the fans still won't let up.

I think TwoSet underestimate just how much they influence the younger kids. They're like parrots; anything the duo says becomes gospel, even if they don't really understand what it means or why it could be funny.

Edited: February 20, 2019, 8:25 PM · Ella and Andrew: Yes maybe they actually think otherwise but that's not important, isn't it? And exactly, if they know music, why are they reinforcing absurd stereotypes to the general public? With great influence comes great responsibility.
February 20, 2019, 8:54 PM · Cotton, yeh that was one of the other things that also made it easy for me to unsubscribe from all their stuff. I'll stick with the truly talented and original Igudesman and Joo for my musical comedy fixes.
February 20, 2019, 10:59 PM · That's your opinion, Kiang. Maybe instead of complaining so adamantly about how violas are discriminated against, take some action and make a difference in the community that you say is so anti-viola.

Start blogging and talk about the problem orchestras face. Display the positives of violists, if there are any. Be a guest speaker at local schools and advertise the viola. Play some viola displaying it's tone for orchestras and groups. Learn about its history and maybe teach it to some of these youngsters.

You won't stop violinists or anyone else for that matter, making fun of a historically-bashed instrument, however you can do something positive to portray the instrument in a different light.

February 20, 2019, 11:35 PM · Horace, what I said about TwoSet Violin’s viola comments is certainly not important, but I said it for your information. I heartily agree with Alex’s post about giving the viola a good name.
Edited: February 21, 2019, 12:01 AM · Hey Alex, thank you. You’re right that we can all contribute to destigmatising viola. Sincerely, I am doing that in real life in my occupational setting. I am personally not even a violist myself, tho I play a bit of it. I consider raising awareness here a tiny part of it too.

I don’t really think the music community is anti-viola. Yes, there are viola jokes around before the channel and they were largely harmless jokes. What the channel was doing is a bit different. They successfully stigmatised viola to the younger population. At their age, they need more positive guidances than groundless mocking of specific instruments and musicians. I don’t think a lot of violinist would / could bring the same harm. You need to be very mean to do it. I know I can’t stop them.

Once I had a chance to play to my students the sound of a violin, a viola, a cello and a bass. And I ask which sound do they like the most. Each has its fans. Imagine like I tell them that, say, bassist are failed cellists, they would probably be affected. It’s not the innate quality of the instrument. It’s how people talk about it. Or bully it. I would avoid blaming the victim. It doesn’t has to be someone’s fault to be bullied.

February 21, 2019, 1:19 AM · @andrewh: "Haydn used to complain that orchestras couldn't scrounge up two violists capable of playing his viola parts. But that time ended 200 years ago" so you're saying these viola jokes are more than 200 years old? The old ones are the best, lol.

On the one hand, every instrument has jokes made about it, so people should suck it up. On the other hand, twoset seem to dominate the market. But I agree that everything I've seen by them lately has been dull.

February 21, 2019, 1:45 AM · this is a little bit similar with drummers in rock music, there are thousands of jokes about drummers, even the same as on violists (fall from building etc.) but every rock musician knows that good drummer is heart of the band and even me (like a solo guitarist) almost cannot play without perfect drummer and my solos sounds like shit without him making phrases and so on, but the jokes are here. When not drummers people will find another. Every normal musician who even played just one time knows this.

But this is not about abusing trend, I am not inside it. I know just a few old school classic jokes. But Viola is a great and equal member of the string family (every instrument of that family is equal for me, even that they are playing different roles).

Edited: February 21, 2019, 2:15 AM · What strikes me most about Twoset is how hysterically funny they themselves think they are. The Viola Jokes video is mostly two kids laughing hysterically at their own jokes. Some people find this infectuous. I don't.

Maybe this is a generational thing. I find Jimmy Fallon insufferable for various reasons and one of them is that he always "breaks" because he finds his own sketches so hilarious. I prefer the Seinfeld / Conan straight faced type of comedian. Maybe kids born in this century wouldn't recognize the humor, because no one is laughing?

Of course Hilary Hahn doing the hula hoop wihile playing the violin is special, but Hilary Hahn is a pro in her use of social media. There's a video in which Twoset say they're impersonating various famous historical violinists (Oistrakh is one), and Ray Chen is asked to identify these. He doesn't get a single one right, because these kids have zero comedian / impersonation skills. And of course they're laughing all the time. They're basically wasting Chen's time.

They don't seem very good violinists either, and I doubt anybody born for the viola is kept from finding his or her natural instrument just because of these two amateurs. I doubt they'll go very far, because they're lousy comedians.

February 21, 2019, 2:08 AM · Has the viola shaming actually gotten worse since TwoSet have been around? Especially in the US there seems to be a lot of competition among young string players around seating, and the stereotypes regarding second violin have been addressed by Ms. Niles just recently. In such a climate, I wonder, is viola bashing really that new?

Regardless, I fully agree that TwoSet could use their influence on the youngsters to help eliminate such silly stereotypes instead of nurturing them.

February 21, 2019, 2:16 AM · Occasionally, one finds a good new one: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pTKSPQmu7xc.

And the classics are well-crafted. But they do wear thin pretty quickly.

February 21, 2019, 5:37 AM · In this and other contexts, I believe that the cathartic quality of humor resides in its freedom and chances that it might be offensive.
Comedy is to remind us that we are short, ugly, pathetic, full of gas... humans, in short. I worry that the trend to stop comedy from touching any topic that might hurt sensitibities, is one we will regret eventually.
Memento homo.
February 21, 2019, 5:45 AM · in order to do this reminding, comedy needs to be funny first and not full of itself.
'memento homo' are two Latin words, but together it is no Latin.
February 21, 2019, 5:55 AM · Carlos, I am afraid that your romance might not apply to this case. Their humor, as you referred to, has defeated its own purpose. You must also agree that there are good humor, bad humor, and non-humor. You may watch some of their viola episodes, and decide by yourself.
February 21, 2019, 6:07 AM · I'm with Carlos. You might as well try to hold back the tide as regulate humour. And as with music, I don't believe humour is objectively present or absent, good or bad. If anybody laughs, it's humour. The only thing you can do is set an example of what you think acceptable and hope others follow it
Edited: February 21, 2019, 6:25 AM · Maybe I simply don't agree that it's ok to bully or to reinforce unfair stereotype as long as somebody laugh
February 21, 2019, 6:53 AM · @Horace: have you considered writing them a letter? They may get a number of fan mail, but they seem to read through their mails and their comments. I work around many teenagers, it does seem like they have a huge influence on the moldable minds of the teens.

I agree with many posters here, their jokes now revolve around 4-5 main jokes (i.e. Lingling, Ben Lee, little girl, ??) I liked their old videos where they talked about the ins and outs of being in a professional orchestra, or making a living as a musician. But nonetheless, I think their popularity helps the world of classical music. I just wish they go towards the educational humor rather than the “Logan Paul” kind of humor.

February 21, 2019, 7:05 AM · I'm with Carlos on this one. Forbidding bad jokes - or jokes that we think are bad - is a dangerous path. Who gets to decide what is OK and what is not? I am all for freedom of speech. (Where I live there are political parties going in the direction of limiting free speech).
But you could contact them and let them know the effects you see their bad jokes have on young people. They might listen to you!
February 21, 2019, 7:32 AM · Hello Bo and all, thank you for the responses. I think no one would say telling jokes is a bad thing. But insisting on repeating a joke even if it went wrong because of the principle of "jokes are good" sound unreasonable to me. I really don't see why their viola jokes shall be worship on such a moral high ground that nothing should go against it. To me, they are just bullying the convenient victim. Just being lazy to innovate.

Yeah, I should write them something.

February 21, 2019, 7:53 AM · I watched about three "two set" videos before I was entirely sick of it. But then, I could not bring myself to watch "Saturday Night Live" either. After a short while it's just all the same. Rather like pro baseball: The highlight clips are enough for me.
February 21, 2019, 9:10 AM · I think I am in the minority here... I love viola jokes (despite being a viola player). There are even violin jokes out there! I share viola jokes with people I know can take it, and likewise with me. Its funny, and that is all they are meant to be. I certainly don't see viola jokes as viola bashing, at least not in the context I experience viola jokes. Perhaps others have received viola jokes in a more sinister way? They give me a giggle, and kept me entertained on a 12 hour coach ride back from a Paris tour (most of the bus was sharing in the fun).

TwoSet I enjoy some of their content, perhaps it is because they are aimed millenials and generation Z audience wise (which is where I fall into). If you take objection to their content, you don't have to watch it? Or perhaps contact them and express your concerns?

Edited: February 21, 2019, 10:14 AM · Mary I agree, my high school-age part-time violist son (and cellist daughter) enjoys the viola jokes, and proudly wears his TwoSet "It's a Viola" t-shirt :-). They poke fun at pretty much anything related to classical music, with varying degrees of success. If I wanted to be bothered by something it would be the Ling Ling sort of Asian stereotyping instead.
February 21, 2019, 10:21 AM · @ Stan, I never found the Ling Ling references especially funny.

A great t shirt choice though!

February 21, 2019, 10:45 AM · The Ling Ling reference is very relatable to us Asians. I was always compared by my parents to my “perfect” friend growing up. I just didn’t realize it was actually more prevalent than I thought.

But I do get Horace’s point. Some kids can start thinking that viola = bad/ stupid, especially the younger ones. For the rest, it can be just for giggles. Perhaps they should do a more balanced approach? I’m sure they’ll understand.

Edited: February 21, 2019, 11:58 AM · I agree. The viola is a wonderful instrument, and while there's nothing wrong with a little humor, let's not cross the line.

But why pick on the viola and violists?

Remember the famous story about Sir Thomas Beecham? A woman came up to him and told him she had a young son and wanted to start him on a musical instrument, but that she hated the way they sound for the first year or two, till they can make a decent sound. Could he recommend a suitable instrument? Beecham replied, "Yes, the bagpipes." She asked why. He said, "Because they sound exactly the same after you've learned how to play them."

Edited: February 21, 2019, 1:13 PM · a very large bra, apparently, that just happened to be unoccupied?
Edited: February 21, 2019, 5:04 PM · Stan and Mary, this is the thing. Those jokes won’t hurt if it’s told among musicians, they all understand it’s joke. Problem comes when it’s told repeatedly by some KOL to outsiders or beginners, esp young people.

Also, sometimes they do viola shaming (not joke, E.g. randomly calling people and “serenade” them with scratchy viola sound, viola as a birthday gift to prank etc.) which would easily give people a feeling that the music community (as they represent) are hostile towards viola because of their ability/sound.

Edited: February 21, 2019, 5:57 PM · I just checked one TwoSet video about viola jokes. It's downright insulting. Basically mocking a group of musicians, singling them out as talentless and awkward.
I'm surprised that some of us still think it's acceptable given the subtlety and class I frequently observed on v.com.


Not every joke is funny.

Edited: February 21, 2019, 7:03 PM · For your reference.

What Does Viola Say

Violin vs Viola

2 Types of Violists

It's Okay To Play The Viola

I wasn't even aware until my students told me viola sounds awful and I asked why. I am not personal. I just think these are bad education.

February 21, 2019, 9:41 PM · You're never going to change this. Stop pretending you have an audience that is so sympathetic to your opinions. Get out there and change it yourself. The computer screen is not going to provoke overnight viola adoration.
Edited: February 21, 2019, 10:29 PM · Thanks Alex. I am doing that already. I am here simply wish all of you who are educator like me aware of the situation. I am happy to listen to opposing views too. I think that's what a forum is for - talking. Talking is very important. I am glad to be a part of the talking.
February 22, 2019, 1:33 AM · The shame of it all is the duo's Eddy Chen actually has the makings of being a fine teacher. He was making some nicely done teaching videos on ewechube before he decided he was "funny".

As for the comments of Alex A and others, the issue is the way in which the viola jokes are presented by that duo, and how that attitude is then absorbed by their very young audience. And yes, it has clearly been having a negative effect. I don't care if you don't like us complaining about it, it is something that deserves to be brought to this group's attention.


February 22, 2019, 3:20 AM · Like them or not they have contributed to the idea that playing a string instrument is 'cool' and in particular for boys.

Since they seem to have run dry on material perhaps they would be interested in a theme of 'why the viola is cooler than the violin'? This would do more to reverse the 'viola shaming' than any protestation.

Edited: February 22, 2019, 6:57 AM · I am a living viola joke.
I auditioned for a local semi-pro orchestra as a violist (I'm a real violist, not a "moonlighter"); they chose someone else who was even better.. and the next day they rang to ask me to play violin.
I think the lead viola, very "old school", didn't like the way I held my viola high, and vibrated on all four fingers?

In the amateur world, good violists are still rare, but professional violist standards have risen a lot since I started over 50 years ago.

February 22, 2019, 4:09 AM · I am not disagreeing with the view that some viola jokes are vile and counterproductive to young people. For those who never heard any viola performance, I can see how they come up with the idea that "viola sounds bad" because someone online say so. However, for kids with music education? Especially if they are trained in string instruments and they don't know better? If this is the case, I have to say the teachers share the blame for not finding opportunity to demonstrate how beautiful the viola can sound. Assuming the kids are not totally stupid, the myth should dispel itself once they get access to good viola performance.

So far none of the viola jokes give me bad vibe on this instrument. Instead, I find it amazing people take those jokes seriously. Just out of curiosity, is anyone with small frame, small hands or hand medical issue, feel discouraged to pick up a viola because there are sayings that "the bigger the viola the better the sound", or "if you can't hold on to a 17" viola, it is not true viola sound", etc? Does these kinds statement giving people negative effect that you will never be as good as the guys bigger (size wise) than you than any of the viola jokes?

February 22, 2019, 4:33 AM · The crux of the matter here is not whether we like TwoSet or not, but whether their public shaming of an entire group of string players is acceptable. It clearly isn't, IMO.

'Why the viola is a joke compared to violin' seems to be their interest as of now. It's unlikely for them to change direction unless it costs them fans and subscribers, but I'll wait.

February 22, 2019, 4:52 AM · I do, because it was the viola I wanted to play first; I started on violin only because there was an old violin in the family that I could get for free. Because I have almost no neck and my fingers are the shortest of any adult I know (I have friends almost a foot shorter than me who have larger hands), my 15.75" viola is the largest I can possibly handle and an octave in 1st position is almost full stretch.
Edited: February 22, 2019, 8:51 AM · "Philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato alluded to the idea behind the superiority theory thousands of years ago. It suggests that all humor is derived from the misfortunes of others – and therefore, our own relative superiority."

Good luck changing human nature.

The modern concept of "victim status" is pathetic. Where does it stop? Is the name of this forum discriminatory towards violists? VIOLINist.com!!! oh my! I'm being oppressed! And if it were changed to violin&violist.com, what about the cellists, and the bass players? And the wind and brass? We should probably stop chuckling at the tuba players as well while we are at it.

Here's the age old wisdom: to beat a bully, you must stand up to a bully. That doesn't mean violent confrontation. It simply mean to not give a wet slap about what other people may say if it impinges on your free will and choices. The modern, warped concept is that "we must all not be bullies" sounds great, well, again, human nature rears its ugly head. The only people who will follow that advice are the people who are not bullies in the first place.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to suffer a humorless existence because jokes have been deemed universally offensive.

I'm a violist. The love I have for the deep resonant tone of a viola drowns out any squawking of poor taste jokes that may be had at my expense.

Violas are big, imperfect, and beautiful. If you don't have the intestinal fortitude to weather the headwinds of adversity, then you don't have what it takes to be a violist.

I will close with a quote from The Bard himself as he contemplated what to play in his 8th grade orchestra:

"To be, or not to be (a violist): that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and jokes),
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles (jealous violinists),
And by opposing end them? "

February 22, 2019, 8:59 AM · Another simpler solution.

"When I came to viola, they said no, it sounds terrible. I was stunned. Why would you say so? Turned out they're all subscribers of a very popular violin comedy channel who routinely perform viola-shaming acts.

I felt so bad as an educator. This would discourage young viola learners."

It would have been quite simple to immediately disprove their assumptions by whipping out a viola and playing some Telemann, or a Bach cello suite.

Did Jack Benny discourage a generation of aspiring violinist with his outrageously bad violin playing? We best censor all old Jack Benny videos from YouTube?

Edited: February 22, 2019, 9:26 AM · Thank you, Craig.
IMHO, I believe that the instrument can speak for itself. So get your gear out and make the best out of it. No need to give a stage to someone of whom you think he's a bully.

I'm a 80% violist / 20% violinist. Only a late starting amateur, and every single violinist, cellist or solo pianist playing at that beneficial event a few weeks ago played better than me. However, most of the compliments went to that guy with that big violin which played a little bit deeper than the rest.

I'm exaggerating, but most of the people, including young violinists and advanced amateurs, have next to no experience with the viola. I'm comfortable with that role. And my luthier is comfortable with selling some violas to those people who couldn't resist to try out mine...

Edited: February 22, 2019, 1:12 PM · Bullies? Lighten up people. They are called jokes.
February 22, 2019, 1:53 PM · Hi Timothy, I've never seen TwoSet Bullies, and think I will pass now. I thought this was about Viola jokes.
February 22, 2019, 4:59 PM · I do think some of the TwoSet jokes crossed way over the line. Therefore I was surprised at the amount of tacit approval they get for shaming the instrument and the people who play it. I think one of the reasons seems to be that in classical world there has been a culture of viola jokes all along. That said I'm really curious why the viola was singled out as the target of ridicule among all other instruments.
P/S I just quote just some jokes from the TwoSet video to illustrate my point. They generally are in bad taste. The guys said some of the jokes they made up themselves.

1:18 Doctor: 'Here we have the violist’s brain. It’s totally unused.'

2:30 - What does a violinist say to a violist?
- You’re sh*t

- What did a cellist say to a violist?
- You’re sh*t

4:59 - What’s the difference between a viola and a vacuum cleaner?
- The vacuum cleaner has to be plugged in before it sucks

5:26 - What’s the only thing a violinist can do better than a violist?
- Playing the viola

6:37 - Why do violinists switch to viola?
- So they can park in the handicapped parking spots.


February 22, 2019, 5:20 PM · I'm a violist and I think those jokes are funny! I completely understand why violinists make fun of violists. The viola is physically more difficult to play, so of course many more terrible sounds are going to come out of it if we assume equal input of effort invested in comparison with playing the violin. The thing is, violinists also really notice when there is an outstanding viola player, and they show the utmost admiration.
February 22, 2019, 5:27 PM · Yeah James, I think there's a culture of jokes going on. Having said that I also think not every violist is a fan though. Such as the girl in this video:


Edited: February 22, 2019, 5:41 PM · The thing that bugs me the most is that tacit approval they get. They're not going to offend much of their audience for mean-spirited viola put-downs because their target audience is so young and actually believes them. When your audience is mostly children, you have to be cognizant of what happens when people believe you; it's not just about avoiding offense to your audience.

Matt, the culture of viola jokes exists because violists really were mostly failed or semi-retired violinists at one time. But that time was over by the early 19th century.

Of course, there are easy ways to shut up the kids who believe TwoSet -- chances are, they're not advanced players simply as a function of age, so it shouldn't be too hard to sight-read their violin parts on a viola. At one point I actually have responded to condescending lower-intermediate-level violinists in a casual community orchestra by playing both their second violin part (by ear) and the viola part of one of the pieces we were playing, simultaneously in double stops, quietly but well within earshot. I know showing off during break is generally bad form, but maybe it's justified once in a while.

Edited: February 22, 2019, 5:50 PM · Yeah Andrew, I think any joke that portrays someone as being handicapped with a non-functional brain isn't funny.

While some violists laugh along, I really don't think we should unfairly trivialize or suppress those who, understandably, aren't as delighted.

Edited: February 26, 2019, 4:56 AM · I do agree with you guys that it is not so nice. I guess the reason why I go along with it, is because I honestly think violists still have a long way to go before the *MEDIAN* skill level is equivalent to that of violinists and cellists. I actually do believe that the peaks and lows of both violin and viola skill levels that are currently attained are roughly similar, which I'm sure you guys will agree.

My personal belief (which I know pretty much everyone is going to disagree with) is that:

A: Since viola is physically more difficult than violin, more time and effort is required to achieve the same results. Unfortunately spending more time in the practice room can be physically harmful for a violist's body. Also, violists are generally friendlier and less competitive people and as a result, tend to have less competitive drive and urgency to 'improve at all costs'.

B: The average good viola teacher is nowhere near as strict and scrutinizing as the average good violin teacher. I say this based on watching many lessons of dozens of violin and viola professors. Violin teachers are savage as hell and won't let you stop until it's perfect. Viola teachers tend to concentrate on other important things such as phrasing/musical details, but often are not militant on intonation, sound quality, and shifting. For example let's take the top professor of each instrument at my school: Pierre Amoyal and Thomas Riebl. The difference in the 'quality control' and expectation that these teachers have of their students is honestly laughable, even though both are fantastic players.

Edited: February 22, 2019, 9:58 PM · The "Three Stooges" unfairly pokes fun at knuckleheads and numskulls.

I will henceforth no longer embrace the unfairness of their mirth.

(EDIT) Apparently, Larry was an accomplished violinist:

"As a child, Larry’s left arm was badly burned from acid used by his father in the jewelry business. Larry required immediate attention, and a skin graft was done on his arm. Larry’s doctors recommended that he be given violin lessons as a form of therapy. Playing the violin was supposed to strengthen his damaged arm muscles. Larry’s skill as a violinist became so impressive that eventually, he began to play professionally. Larry played in local theater amateur nights usually taking the top prize."

February 23, 2019, 5:15 AM · the main problem with TSV's humor is that it's lazy and dumb.
February 23, 2019, 4:53 PM · To the people yet again missing the point of most of this discussion, almost none of us who play the viola dislike viola jokes! Can you firstly get that into your heads please?

However, what we do intensely (in my case at least) dislike is the absolute lack of humour or light-heartedness in how that idiotic duo attempt to tell their "jokes". They do so with an over-riding air of superiority and mean spiritedness. They do not make their snide little quips as a bit of fun, but instead utter their crap with an atmosphere of this being indisputable truth. And as already noted above, for their very young audience the nonsensical statements do indeed become fact.

Oh and as predicted there was at least one moronic typical bullying comment of "get a sense of humour". Screw those idiots.


February 24, 2019, 6:11 AM · Even the joke about throwing two violists off a cliff I had heard from my violist friend a few years ago, although perhaps she was just being illustrative with that particular one. Her boyfriend is a trombonist. I asked her, "didn't you fancy going out with a musician?"
February 24, 2019, 12:54 PM · In the end, all we're talking about is just memes in general. They're not just funny anymore, but very offensive. And these Twoset memes are really some of the least offensive ones out there. Memes are just part of pop culture now. There's nothing really we can do about them. If you haven't noticed, Twoset Violin is basically trying to become the PewDiePie of classical music. I think Twoset should do a video on how they REALLY feel about the viola. And they should probably come up with some new material, they've been recycling the same stale material for months now. They say the goal for their channel was originally to motivate peoe to practice, but I don't see them doing much of that anymore. They should start a practice challenge like Hilary Hahn's #100daysofpractice, which was really successful on Instagram. A lot of young kids look up to them, and starting something productive like that would be beneficial to everyone, and the whole world of classical music.
February 24, 2019, 1:26 PM · Yes.

I don't care about offensive jokes. Cancer, natural disaster, war, assault—all fair game.
But stale jokes? That's a crime. Plain and simple. I think that's all TwoSet is guilty of at the moment.

Edited: February 24, 2019, 7:01 PM · Some types of jokes, e.g. on women, slaves, and minorities not only got stale, they also got irrelevant in today's age. Moreover, many 'acceptable' jokes nowadays aren't that safe for broadcasting on social media and flaunting to the world.

I guess those viola jokes are more likely to be ok for the violists who are also violinists, playing viola as the second instrument. Even in the circumstance that they were still broadly 'acceptable' (which I think is unlikely), TSV has chosen not to lead but to pander to their fans' baser instincts.

At any rate, jokes are only funny to the people not being hurt by them.

February 24, 2019, 4:58 PM · I am sorry for those who have strict or repressive regimes, tbat wish your freedom of speech to go away. Very much hope all of those efforts against your freedom fail.

That said, while I am am advocate for freedom of speech, at least in the USA *all-too-often* it's used as an excuse for q
all sorts of vile personal expression against others. There is a 'common sense" line of what's right to be "free" to state, yet it's almost constantly violated. Personal animus against "political correctness" is often born out not of a desire to be "free", but more a willingness to spout any sort of sick thoughts with the basest of language. Remain Free, be True to Yourself, but also Respectful of Other Selves.

In this case, I really don't find the few jokes stated above funny. Agree it's all absurd. These individuals just feed on what "sells" for them, and mocking others unfortunately sells well.

As serious as I appear in this forum, in real life I am rarely that stone-faced. However, I do not enjoy viola (or trombone, bass, etc.) jokes, and my humor tends to be a bit more respectful, even if perhaps less showy and more "boring". I believe one can have a laugh without offending general groups or others (and regardless whatever famous philosophers have stated in the past.)

And for those that claim these fellows are "important for classical"-today is the first time I read this thread, and I had never heard of this duo at all. To my dismay I see they have "sold out" shows, when some of the world's best musicians sometimes do not fill every Hall seat. Who are they that should be more "world renowned" than many greats? Though again, I had no idea who these were until today, so likely I am out of the loop.

"Youtubing" of this type, whether it's music, headphones, phones, video games, sports, etc. is irritating to me, especially as an introvert who can't relate to the loudness, showiness, and spectacle of it all. It's all a race for who cab say the most outrageous things, making "funny" faces, "memes", and whathaveyou. And again, I say this coming from a rather not-too-serious real life persona. I rather have youtubers be themselves (and yes, consequently sell less) than be all show for its own sake (even when that means $$$).

Make money and be happy, "TwoSet"-I am not being envious. Just know that every word you say has consequences, and it's often wiser to lose a dollar than just saying out loud whatever comes to your mind. Getting laughs at others' expense is perhaps not as funny as you are led to believe.

Please disagree, but do not argue/debate with me, as I have said all I needed to about the subject.

Enjoy your music, and be happy.

Edited: February 24, 2019, 5:17 PM · Well, violino actually means little viola, so Brett and Eddy are really playing viola themselves.

I suppose a little viola is better than no viola, while a viola is of course the best. :-)

February 25, 2019, 7:40 AM · @Sander Marcus I loved the bagpipe joke! I've been a piper for about 39 years now and that's one of the best I've heard :)
February 25, 2019, 8:23 AM · Diana Moon Glampers approves this thread topic.
February 25, 2019, 9:56 AM · I agree with Adalberto. His comments about the fallacy that these jokers bring a young audience into theclassical music fold are especially salient.
February 25, 2019, 10:23 AM · Regarding the positive effects of a young child being influenced by the beautiful sound of a viola, see this delightful Ted Talk :
An Imperfect Instrument: Jennifer Stumm @ TEDxAldeburgh
February 25, 2019, 11:39 AM · Couldn't possibly read through all the above comments, but I love viola jokes. I'm a violinist and receive classical music jokes directed at me all the time--not much different. I've also spent 2 years in the distant past playing viola. So I'm not truly anti-viola.

Regarding the original subject: we adults don't have to do every thing in our lives to make it special for teen agers or younger children. Kinda sick of that thought process.

Regarding Two Set Violin. I'm 62 and love their stuff. Still. They are not targeting 12-17, more like the 20s and early 30s. And it is working. They are still extremely popular, their concerts are very popular, and they've introduced successfully classical music to non-classical people. They both play viola upon occasion. They are not truly anti-viola, and would not wear shirts that say 'viola' if they were.

February 25, 2019, 12:46 PM · I started as a violinist and learned the viola as an adult. Nowadays I am mostly a violist and I love it. In my community viola jokes are told but it's almost always in fun, and often by other violists. In my experience, it makes the community of violists a more close-knit and supportive of each other. I enjoy being in the viola section more than I have most violin sections. And there's always the comeback that the violin isn't really smaller than the viola, it just looks that way because the violinists' heads are so big . . .

But I'm coming to see your point about that comedy duo. I started out liking them, as did my teenage cello-playing son. We even went to see them perform and enjoyed the concert. But he said it's starting to go too far among some of the kids he knows. Some of these kids slavishly imitate the duo without any critical thought and act really obnoxious towards each other. On one hand, this is understandable and to be expected. We're talking about Middle schoolers and they are just not that mature yet.

But I think adults and educators have a responsibility to point the way to better behavior. I agree with what was said above about writing the comedy duo a letter. If you send them your concerns and the tone is serious and thoughtful, I think they might actually listen to you. I don't think they would stop telling viola jokes, but they might tone it down or add something to their act, or say something during it to mitigate the worst behavior.

Now that you mention it, I might write them myself. They seem like their hearts are mostly in the right place and they want to do right by their fans.

Edited: February 25, 2019, 7:50 PM · The Two-Set guys are actually darned good players, as revealed in their hula hooping challenge with Hilary Hahn.

At least violas don't have spit valves like most brass instruments do. ;-)

No matter who you are, what you do, or how good you are, there will be jokes about you. No need to get all OCD over it. It's better to learn to be smart enough to roll with the punches, than obsess on whether someone claims that your ear lobes might not be ideally shaped.

Jack Benny, the famous comedian often made jokes about violins and his playing, his Stad and such. I was working in the Weisshaar shop when he was a customer. He was actually a pretty good player. The horrible playing was just part of his comedy schtick.

February 25, 2019, 11:41 PM · I've never met a TwoSet fan who wasn't already either a musician or an avid classical listener before seeing TwoSet. Perhaps they encourage kids who play a string instrument to stick with it longer. I don't see them bringing in a lot of new people.

Here's the thing: I don't mind viola jokes told to my face by peers. I tell them almost as often as I hear them, and I play viola 99% of the time. But an innocuous joke is not nearly as innocuous when delivered with a big power imbalance or with a certain air of superiority, or when the target has no opportunity to retort. Good comedy doesn't punch down, especially not good insult comedy. Is it really that hard to see the difference between TwoSet viola insults and a roast? Insult comedy is "festive abuse" and TwoSet stopped bothering with the "festive" part a long time ago.

And it's especially bad when the audience is young and impressionable. It's occurred to me that maybe TwoSet think they're parodying self-important high school violinists, but if that's the case, they've made it extremely hard to tell it's parody.

Edited: February 26, 2019, 4:05 AM · I've got no idea why I bother posting this. I guess I'm thinking out loud.

I completely agree with repeated criticism of Ben Lee, but perhaps more importantly with criticism of the morons who think he is cool, including the BBC reporters. But I think there's a bigger world of foolishness that we can be unaware of if we only subscribe to violin channels (i.e. if we are too tribal). The viola jokes are mostly generic and are told about banjos on uke forums and about basses on drumming forums and, you name the permutation, it exists. They were told about violins 50 years ago, but on different media.

If twoset overdo it at times, well, they aren't professional comedians, so they maybe mistime something or misjudge their ability to "pitch" a joke. Maybe too there's a continuity misperception - they have private lives which involve making a video twice a week, maybe involving a viola joke once a week which we perceive differently because we blot out the half a week of life we have lived since the last video and look for continuity between videos?

If kids think viola "sounds" horrible, play them Bashmet doing the Telemann concerto or something. Yes, education is difficult. The interweb is miseducating them, but the viola miseducation isn't even the tip of the iceberg in that respect!

This video is kind of interesting (but it's only musical records, because it's a music channel). The male singer is using what's called the "whistle register" (above falsetto). Little kids have it, then they lose it, usually, but clearly not always. I can still remember experimenting with it when I was small. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistle_register

February 26, 2019, 4:08 AM · If many of the duo's fans are high school kids who bring such viola jokes (good or bad) to their schools, then we have got a big problem. Bullying and teasing in schools is a real issue and such jokes could only exacerbate the problems for kids who play or want to play the viola.

The only thing positive about viola jokes that I could see is that they create an artificial scarcity of good amateur violists who are in high demand in many places.

Edited: February 26, 2019, 4:24 AM · I would guess the problem is much smaller than our tribalism imagines.
How many kids in any one high-school will have subscribed to twoset and be influential there?
"The only thing positive about viola jokes that I could see is that they create an artificial scarcity of good amateur violists who are in high demand in many places."
Agreed, but in addition is it possible that there's a very high violin drop-out rate that needs combating?
February 26, 2019, 4:38 AM · The reason I started this thread is exactly viola shaming going to school, an insider joke popularized.
February 26, 2019, 4:50 AM · @Horace, this thread has popped up on their reddit now I notice
February 26, 2019, 5:01 AM · Oh, sincerely, it was all out of goodwill. I tried to be as calm and objective as possible. Wish nobody is offended…
February 26, 2019, 7:38 AM · Is it a problem that for small kids it's much harder (nonsensical, even?) to find a 1/4 size viola than a 1/4 size violin?
I was trying to think about my community orchestra in the 1970s. I can guess we had 20 violins and 4 violas, but it's only a guess. Maybe there were only 2 violas on a bad night?
Edited: February 26, 2019, 10:25 AM · The smallest common viola size is 12", which is the same size as a 1/2 size violin. (There are no fractional viola sizes because there is no standard "full size" viola.) What this means, though, is the minimum age to start on viola is probably 8 or 9. To start younger, you have to start on violin and then switch.

I'm guessing there aren't ever going to be many good violists at middle schools because everyone is either a beginner or a recent switcher.

Edited: February 26, 2019, 11:35 AM · Despite the trash fire that Reddit tends to be, it seems to be going ok at the moment. The complaint here isn't really against TwoSet, I would say it's against some of their more impressionable fans (and yes, at their channel size, they have a great many idiot kids who don't know better), who make viola jokes because they want to be "in" on the joke. Humor unfortunately doesn't work that way.

I mean, just look at the number of posts about "TRUMPETS LOUD GUYS, RIGHT?", to the point where they upvoted some trumpet player's dream to play as loud as possible (my comment there actively wonders why a trumpet player's dream is to play loud, and not, say, the opening of Mahler 5). It's a lot of morons who don't actually know music trying to make music jokes. And failing horribly.

Two Set actually are decent violinists, and most of their humor is only funny BECAUSE they are good violinists. Middle school kids don't get that and I argue, lack the nuance to understand how their "humor" (in quotes, because, again, it's not funny unless you actually know what you're talking about), and it just becomes mean spirited non-medy.

Take as a counterpoint their joke about Mendelssohn being the "best student violin concerto". See, it works for THEM, because they are students who played it, and understand the pedagological (is that even a word?) humor behind that statement. I'm playing a student concerto now too and I think the joke is funny. But some twerp who can't saw out early Suzuki saying that? There's no joke here, just putting down of rep that they can't understand or play.

Edited: February 26, 2019, 3:39 PM · IMO many, if not most, jokes are like pornographic materials; they should be circulated only among adults, not impressionable children.

And I’m referring to the jokes which are still ok for adults.

February 26, 2019, 4:58 PM · In line with your analogy, the channel would be a popular site with tons of distasteful porn, aiming at children

You can imagine how bad it would be for children to grow up in an environment full of distasteful porns. Oh I mean jokes.

February 26, 2019, 5:57 PM · Andrew H, have you ever heard of violins strung as violas? They're fairly common for kids playing viola. Sometimes, a luthier may even take a small violin, pierce a hole in the top plate under the bridge, and make it a viola (this operation makes violins better suited as violas, but the operation is not reversible). I have to agree that good violists under 13 years of age are not that common outside of school string programs. Plus, not that many people pick the viola compared to the violin and other popularly-played instruments, and the viola gets little public attention compared to the violin and other popularly-played instruments.
Edited: February 26, 2019, 6:34 PM · I've seen violins strung as violas, and even violins with the pierced top, but never anything smaller than a 1/2 size violin (which is 12"). Are the strings available in smaller sizes?
February 26, 2019, 6:35 PM · Hear hear! Tasteful porn for our children! Lesniak 2020!
Edited: February 26, 2019, 7:06 PM · Andrew H, for violas smaller than a 1/2 violin, you can use violin gda strings, just like you can on a 14" or smaller violas. I don't know exactly about the C string, but I guess you use the shortest C string you can find and cut it to length if necessary. Some people put another string, usually a G string tuned to C, in place of the C string. Of course none of these solutions are ideal, but they are better than nothing.
February 26, 2019, 11:38 PM · How does drilling a hole into the top plate affect the instrument? Is it rather about tone color, or also the way it responds? Never heard of this...
February 26, 2019, 11:45 PM · A hole is drilled under the treble foot of the bridge and the soundpost is attached to the foot of the bridge directly. This makes a small instrument sound darker and more like a viola. The technique is called "the hole in the heart", or some such thing. I've seen it done, it works.
February 27, 2019, 3:37 AM · Here's the fiddlerman forum thread on it. I can't remember if it's public or not. https://fiddlerman.com/forum/fiddle-violin-repair-making-and-set-up/hole-in-heart-fractional-viola/
Edited: February 27, 2019, 3:48 AM · Wow, talk about weird procedures! This hole would mean that the treble foot of the bridge is at a lower point than the bass foot.

Good luck with bowing that instrument.

I can't help but notice that the violin pictured is painted blue, and by that time I guess you're really talking about a joke viola.

February 27, 2019, 5:26 AM · Herman, I suspect one makes a longer soundpost...
February 27, 2019, 5:43 AM · Forging a hole to an expensive violin is a lot more costly. So that blue violin makes sense to me. I remember seeing this colour, and bright red, purple, lime green violins etc. for less than $100 on Amazon.
February 27, 2019, 7:44 AM · The fiddlerman website reference to the hole-in-the-heart modification is in fact about a viola invented in Finland. In the comments I noticed these apposite observations:

"Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing". — Werner von Braun

"I consider any plane that I design a success if it rises high enough to crash". — RA Heinlein

As someone who once worked in the aero engine business I recognize the relevance of those observations, and, incidentally, why we still need viola jokes!

Edited: February 27, 2019, 10:05 AM · Thomastik violins had one foot of the bridge directly on the sound post as part of their design - Can't remember which foot.
For the record, there were 2 "S"-shaped bass bars, one on each plate, so the parts played by the plates (and the wood they were made of - generally, they tended to be made of the same wood throughout) were reduced. When I heard one on record (he was playing Bach unaccompanied), I didn't particularly like the tone.
February 27, 2019, 10:17 AM · If the “hole in the heart” helps make a violin sound more viola-ish, what happens if you do it to an actual viola? A cello? Will it turn a double bass into a triple?
February 27, 2019, 1:07 PM · Herman, One guy in England does this kind of conversion. You can see some images on his website, and the "new" sound post is longer.


March 5, 2019, 10:32 AM · If you are brave enougth, tell a viola joke to Pinchas Zukerman...
March 5, 2019, 10:48 AM · Without knowing him I am sure he can appreciate a good viola joke.....
March 8, 2019, 10:21 AM · Speaking of viola, in honor of International Women's Day our local NPR station is playing a lot of music by female composers and I heard this piece, and I thought it was really beautiful. I'd like to try playing some of it -- the part that's not obviously too hard for me.

Three Pieces for Cello and Piano
COMPOSER: Nadia Boulanger
ARTIST: Marina Thibeault, viola

March 8, 2019, 12:55 PM · Re: women composers, the viola is unique among all orchestral instruments in that its most frequently played recital piece over the last decade is by a woman. That would be the Rebecca Clarke sonata.
March 9, 2019, 6:18 AM · Thanks for the Nadia Boulanger pieces, Paul. A quick listen suggests it's beautiful. Will have to take the time to look into it more. Thanks again.


March 10, 2019, 5:45 AM · Tim, I'm a little hazy about the relevance of your Dr F. to the viola..
March 10, 2019, 2:52 PM · We must cease any form of communication which might possibly offend anyone, so henceforth, there shall be no communication. :-)
March 11, 2019, 10:56 AM · David, it's pretty sad that this is what society is coming to.
This really happened: I said a table was brown, and a girl told me I was being racist (she was not joking).
Yeah, let's go. Generation Z. Great.
March 12, 2019, 2:01 PM · So it's not a viola, it's a "differently-sized" violin.
March 12, 2019, 7:43 PM · "Different"? Someone might take that as being pejorative. How about "special" violin? ;-)
March 12, 2019, 8:33 PM · "What is the one thing violinists can do better than violists? Play the viola." Now that's just funny. After a few seconds you start to wonder who the joke is really on.
Edited: March 13, 2019, 7:43 AM · Charlie, the violin ("violino") was designed as a "small viola" for children and other people with short arms, too short to reach out on a real one. Out of sensitivity with short men with hurt ego (since this type regularly caused trouble in the history of mankind...) they were given most of the solo parts and the first seats in orchestra. Unfortunately this type of "mini-viola" was too small to produce the pleasing rich, warm and vibrant sound of a real viola, so they had to be strung up differently and get tuned to a higher pitch, which is still problematic in a large portion of these instruments.

So finally, a violin really isn't anything else than a modified, different-sized viola!

(... in the mood for making friends today...)

March 13, 2019, 9:33 AM · So violins were originally invented as a way of dealing with toxic masculinity?
LOL, I like that theory!
Edited: March 13, 2019, 10:29 AM · Sure David! And it emphasizes your important role in making this world a slightly more peaceful one. How could you shoo Mr Bonaparte back to the triangle...
Joking aside, I'm still waiting for the first incensed calls to order from the better informed and much more serious amateurs section.
Edited: March 13, 2019, 6:19 PM · As a non-white person I think political correctness has sometimes climbed to unreasonably high levels in American and Western societies. That said people can still get offended when you tell them they're plain stupid clowns - while they aren't, and you're only half-joking. Which is why I still find TSV's viola jokes to be bad.

Off topic, this satirist video on getting offended is funny :)


March 14, 2019, 3:37 AM · Hmmn I'm torn on this. On one hand I'm a firm believer that comedy shouldn't be censored no matter how offensive it is, on the other hand I know that kids tend to take things like this too far and have a hard time defining the line between playful rousing and serious bullying.

That being said, I think all TwoSet has to do is come out with an anti-bullying video or something explaining that their viola jokes are just lighthearted and fun and not to be taken seriously. Maybe showcase some beautiful viola pieces or something.

They have a lot of influence on young musicians and I think they should take some responsibility for things like that. Would be nice to see. I would gain a lot of respect for them if they did something like that.

March 14, 2019, 5:04 AM · Censoring jokes?
1984 much?
Edited: March 14, 2019, 5:36 AM · I approve of political correctness and health and safety. The alternative is lack of them, i.e. the past, and no-one wants that, except for a few English politicians.
But I detect a potential problem in certain people whose attitude is "I think someone ought to be offended by that."

In Germany in the 1980s chocolate-covered marshmallows were still known as Negerküsse (negro-kisses). I'd be interested to know if they still are, or if and when the term was banned.

March 14, 2019, 5:42 AM · I think it's fairly easy to see if the jokes are OK by imagining someone projecting them onto you.
March 14, 2019, 5:59 AM · @Gordon: The term has long been banned, they have been called "Schokoküsse" (chocolate kisses) for many years now.
March 14, 2019, 11:39 AM · Mattt wrote:
"I think it's fairly easy to see if the jokes are OK by imagining someone projecting them onto you."

That's hit or miss. People have wildly differing thresholds.
One time I said to someone who was leaving work, "Have a nice weekend". She responded angrily, "Don't tell me what to do". LOL

Edited: March 17, 2019, 2:19 AM · There are so many jokes that people find offending. But to prevent them being told is a way to a very rigid society in which some chosen ones set the boundaries. And that is not good for the most of the people. Like in Russia there are a lot of things that cannot be joked about and its closing into totalitarianism.

I can clearly see that Im too old for many of the Twoset jokes, generations are different, but I really dont thing that the jokes do anything harm for the young violists which are the generation that the jokes a made for. I do think they are just jokes and not ment or taken badly.

They do make classical musical popular and cool and that is a very important thing.

The ways of the newest generations often seem ugly and incomprehencible and annoyig and hurting to the older ones, but that is the way life is.

Gordon, the ”negro-kisses” are not anymore named that at least in my country. There was a lot of discussion when the name changed. The thing is, that here In Finland, negro-word has never had the same connotations that it does in English-speaking countries. It has just been a name for people with very dark skin. So in the name ”negro-kisses” there was not the same offence that in the USA. But, alas, times have changed, so things must chance too.

In my country there are so many countless jokes about our own nationality which are spread about through finnish comedians even in the USA (for example Leikola joking about all of us just being quiet and drunk) so self-irony is a very common. Maybe that is why jokes about violists dont seem so bad,

March 20, 2019, 12:41 PM · So Timothy, are YOU a Creme owner?
March 20, 2019, 3:15 PM · When I was little in dear old England, it was rude to say a person was "black", we had to say "negro" (but never n*gg*r).
March 20, 2019, 7:38 PM · Timothy wrote, '[the joke] is definitely more fun on the giving end than the receiving end.'

I totally agree!

March 21, 2019, 12:58 PM · @Adrian - would that have been in about 1966? I can reliably report that a prominent member of our dear old government recently got it wrong while in the act of defending her opposite number in Parliament against racist abuse. Opposite number proceeded to take deep offence at the wrong choice of well-meaning words.

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