Viola to violin

Edited: May 28, 2019, 1:14 AM · Hi all!
I’ve been playing viola for a while now and after years of envying the violin repertoire I decided to try out playing the violin. I’m currently studying the walton on viola right now, and my question is what piece on the violin would be about the technical equivalent of that concerto?

Replies (19)

May 28, 2019, 6:10 AM · Why would you want to start out with the violin (a different instrument in spite of all the obvious similarities) at the level you are at on viola?

I suspect that choosing something easier might make the transition smoother. I would just choose a good piece of music that I like and that is quite accessible technically. After that you can still piggyback on your viola skills and up the technical antes quite rapidly.

OTOH maybe the best place to start are scales....

May 28, 2019, 8:17 AM · At the level of the Walton, you've already long since passed the point where there begin to be significant technical differences between the viola and the violin. The violin is not just a smaller viola, and the viola is not just a larger violin.

I would suggest starting out with the Flesch three-octave scales and arpeggios and some Rode etudes to get a feel for how violinists move up and down the fingerboard.

Edited: May 28, 2019, 8:38 AM · I don't think there is a major technical issue switching between the two instruments. The real problem is in the mind, being able to focus on reading notes for the instrument under your chin (and as a violist you have already been reading treble clef - up to a point).

Scales and arpeggios, of course, all of Mary Ellen's advice, but if you are hoping to play the violin in sight-reading sessions with others, I suggest you go to the local music store and look through the Suzuki books and see from a quick look if any of them present a challenge to your sight reading and read through the lowest book that challenges your mind and buy it and the others above it, up to book 8.

OR - The Handel sonatas, Bach Double Concerto and Mozart Concertos are also reasonable things to read through - and you can find them on If they present no problems - forget about Suzuki books.

A fun thing to do, if you have already viola-ed Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante would be to take a look at the violin part. If you can play that you are in! The violin part is a good bit more difficult to play.

May 28, 2019, 9:09 AM · Is the "Walton Level" on the viola the same thing as the "Bruch Level" on the violin? I think that's what the OP wants to know.
Edited: May 28, 2019, 9:32 AM · I disagree strongly with Andrew Victor. If you have not played the violin before and have reached the Walton, be prepared for large differences in technique. The main difference will be in bowing: the same force you would use for a mezzo-forte on viola is enough to choke a note completely on the violin. I find that bowing, rather than note reading, is the single greatest obstacle to switching to violin. You may also find that the left hand can reach much farther on violin, which means the violin repertoire routinely uses left hand techniques that would be physically impossible for most people on viola.

That also means it's hard to translate difficulty. I'm studying the Walton concerto too, and I'm almost exclusively a violist having switched from violin as a Suzuki Book 3 level beginner. In December, while my viola was in the shop, I tried reading Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 and found it to be an appropriate challenge. It's much easier than the Walton once you're used to the violin, but it's the level where you begin to notice significant technical differences between the instruments, and Mozart in particular will force you to play like a violinist. It's probably a good idea to spend time on a Mozart concerto before going on to anything else.

Edited: May 28, 2019, 9:45 AM · I’ve been fooling around on the violin and got the spacing and reading pretty much figured out already. I will take a look at the Mozart. I didn’t find bowing to be a problem on the violin except I keep whistling on the e string which is a new phenomenon for me. Paul, yes that was my original intention with the question haha
May 28, 2019, 9:50 AM · I do not agree with Andrew Hsieh about the bowing challenges. I paly violin, cello and viola. I was able to start cello on my own at age 14 (having stated violin at age 4) and had no trouble bowing - you just have to feel the bow grabbing the strings in the same way. By noon I was playing my violin pieces on celo, reading my treble clef music. The next day I got some cello pieces (bass clef only). A month later I had my first cello lesson - fixed my bow hold and my left hand position but did not change the grip on the string.

Adding viola for the first time, when I was 40, required no change - the extra 10 gram weight of the viola bow helps and again, it was a matter of the feel of the bow on the string. Playing viola was a very rare thing for me after that, 7 performances and (maybe) 100 total playing hours over the next 40 years. But 4 years ago it became my primary instrument (at least for now).

May 28, 2019, 11:02 AM · The Walton Viola concerto is about on par with the Walton Violin concerto. Hah. Too obvious?

Having been in your shoes, I would definitely start with some things that will quickly highlight skills that don't pop up on viola as much -- ie playing really high, lots of double stops, playing fast crazy runs, all sorts of crazy bowings. Maybe check out some Bach Sonatas and Partitas. Some good accessible concertos are probably Bruch, Lalo, and Mendelssohn. Or Wieniawski. They may not be as technically hard as the Walton, but they will introduce you to a lot of these more violinistic techniques.

Edited: May 28, 2019, 1:50 PM · I think going from viola to violin differs greatly from moving in the opposite direction. It seems much easier to increase bow weight when accustomed to a lighter bow stroke than it is to decrease bow weight when accustomed to needing a heavier bow stroke. It takes me half an hour or more to adjust to the violin bow if I haven't played violin for a while, because the bow stroke required on a violin feels absurdly light; I am instantly comfortable switching back to viola even after playing only violin for several weeks. I think my experience, as someone who has been almost exclusively a violist since I was a beginner, may be more relevant to someone who started on viola and is looking to add violin.
May 28, 2019, 1:34 PM · Walton violin and viola concertos are not even in the same area of difficulty. Walton’s violin concerto is so difficult it makes the viola concerto seem easy by comparison.
May 28, 2019, 9:07 PM · I'm not qualified to advise in this department as my experiences do not lie in this area. I would love to know: how is viola left hand technique different than violin? I imagine it's mostly a matter of getting used to the spacing, more fast passages and runs, more high position play, and more double stops and adding in some extensions. How would a violist planying the violin sound playing a Mozart concerto besides choking the sound? Once the transitioning player is able to play the violin without choking and can make a smooth tone, what other bowing adjustments need to be made, especially in the context of a Mozart concerto? To me it doesn't seem like anything you can't get used to with a few weeks of practice. Maybe I'm just underthinking it...
May 28, 2019, 10:33 PM · Agree 100% with Andrew Hsieh's analysis of the differences between violin and viola technique. Mozart concertos are a brilliant suggestion. I would suggest starting with #3 or #4 before tackling #5. (#4 is my personal favorite.)
Edited: May 28, 2019, 11:37 PM · Regarding the left hand: I find, even as almost exclusively a violist, that playing in high positions is mostly easier on violin than viola (though I dislike counting ledger lines).

Fingered octaves and tenths simply do not exist on viola unless you have giant hands. But mostly the difference is that violists get used to different fingering patterns: fewer extensions, less use of 4th finger, and less playing in high positions on the low strings, because those are awkward and in some contexts impossible on the viola. (For me, a 1-4 octave in 1st position is already an extension except on the D-A strings.) Often it takes quite a while for me to realize I have better fingering options on the violin than what my instinct tells me as a violist. In addition, there is a subtle but significant difference that affects agility: violists are used to needing more left hand finger weight to stop the string. The last is something that takes me several days of practice to fully adjust, though it doesn't affect the sound as much as bowing too heavily.

May 28, 2019, 11:56 PM · Thanks Andrew for the details. I have certainly heard many things about violists using less extensions and such. The funny thing is, I mostly use violin fingerings on viola without problems, even though playing an octave on the C and G strings is a slight stretch but nothing unreasonable, at least for me. The thing is, I have never really studied the viola, just violin, and I mostly play viola more for fun and in ensembles, though I do play it quite regularly. I'm guessing that fingering choices are partly dependent on the size and shape of the player's hands relative to the length of the viola's strings and the size of the neck. I'm gugessing that some can get away with more violinistic fingerings while others cannot. I ironically have rather small hands (narrow palms but proportionally long fingers), and somehow I'm managing with violin fingerings... I have to use a rather small viola anyway because of my arm length. I don't find viola strings any harder on the fingers than violin strings, but then again, I've only really tried and used one viola, and it has an unusually low bridge. Totally agree with you on the bowing differences and the fingered octaves and tenths thing.
Edited: May 29, 2019, 12:20 AM · Certainly -- but experienced violists, even those with larger hands, may still avoid violin fingerings in order to prevent repetitive-stress injuries. The strain adds up over hours of practice. As for finger weight, I don't find the viola especially hard because I'm used to it, but the main effect is that when switching to violin I'm less agile for a few days because I press too hard on the strings.

Of course, as I've noted above, the biggest and most universal adjustment when moving from viola to violin is bowing. That changes regardless of hand size, and I'm quite sure going from heavier to lighter is harder than going from lighter to heavier. That's the reason I suggested learning a Mozart violin concerto as a transition piece. Note that OP seems to be saying he started on viola and has never played the violin before.

May 29, 2019, 3:01 PM · As a violist who sometimes plays violin, I agree with the statements about the bow being the biggest difference between the two. The viola bow generally requires weight, and one teacher put it this way: "the viola hates a fast bow" - sure, an exaggeration, but the point is valid. Next is the fingerings - there are things you can, and probably should, get away with on the violin that are not as likely to work on the viola. Extended 4th finger in a low position, as an example.

When I've been playing viola a lot (which is usually the case) and switch to violin, I'm always pleasantly surprised at the reduced effort required. Then it hits me: the violin parts are correspondingly more difficult, or at least there are more notes, than in the viola parts.

Since the Walton concerto is a fairly difficult piece on viola, but the viola is harder to navigate and produce a "sparkling sound" - there may be no directly comparable repertoire on the violin. Prokofiev 1, maybe? Sibelius? That's what comes to mind.

May 30, 2019, 2:42 PM · Andrew Hsieh's points are good. As someone who took up viola after playing violin most of his life, I can make a couple of observations. One is that a viola player must move his left hand a fair amount to reach notes and be comfortable even when staying in position on a particular string. On violin, you can comfortably reach almost any note in a position while keeping your left had stationary. The other is that as a violist, you can use open strings without sounding bad, whereas violinists prefer to avoid open strings, particularly E, because it sounds better to finger the note on the lower string.
June 1, 2019, 9:29 PM · I started on viola and added violin as an adult.

I wonder if playing some first violin parts in an orchestra would be helpful to you, at least at some point after you get started.

Especially if you have a good stand partner, you will quickly pick up on a lot of the differences - for both hands.

The left hand can easily cover more area on the violin, and the ability to stretch a fifth low on the fingerboard might be a nice surprise!

Edited: June 3, 2019, 3:56 PM · I've looked at the first violin parts in my school orchestra and it does seem like playing in the first section will be helpful, however the director isn't allowing me to switch due to the ever present shortage of violists who can play and I don't think I have the technical ability to make it in to the first violin section of my youth orchestra.

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