Transferable skills

September 21, 2019, 7:14 AM · Hello,
This may be a stupid question, but its something that I've been thinking about for last few weeks.
I've mentioned recently that I have changed my first study to the viola. So my question is, if I learn a technique on the viola, is it easily transferable to the violin (like bowings etc.)?
The substantial part of my practise is doing scales, pieces and technical stuff on the viola. I only do around 30 minutes a week of scales on the violin (which I think is enough).

Thanks in advance!

Replies (13)

September 21, 2019, 8:09 AM · Bowings should be much the same unless I'm missing something obvious.
September 21, 2019, 8:18 AM · @Gemma, i don't mean to insult your intelligence, but by bowings I mean bow strokes (martelle, stacatto etc.)
September 21, 2019, 8:37 AM · Just for the avoidance of doubt haha
Edited: September 21, 2019, 1:46 PM · The good news is that most of what you learn on the viola is largely transferable to the violin, but there are a number of subtle differences to be mindful of. In addition, you may find many technical things easier on the violin than on the viola e.g double stops, playing in the high positions, making a big sound, etc.

- Regarding bowing (in general): in a nutshell, less weight and more bow speed than on the viola, or otherwise you will choke/crush the sound. For violinists transitioning to viola, more weight and less bow speed are required to make a big, full sound. Otherwise, your sound will be very weak and lack depth, and no one will hear you on stage. While bowing on the D and A strings on a viola is quite similar to violin, differences start to become apparent on the G string and even more so on the C string.
- Regarding various bow strokes like martele and spiccato: the fundational motions/movement patterns are the same for both instruments. For example, for spiccato the fundamental bouncing motion is similar for the two instruments. For violin, you can be a little more in the middle of the bow unless you're looking for a sharp spiccato, but violists tend to make a better spiccato closer to the frog. For martele, differences are in bow speed and weight; violinists use more bow speed and less weight than violists.
- Rules about contact point are the same. Closer to the bridge = more sound.
- Regarding fingering: you can use more extensions on violin, especially if your viola fingering tendencies are different from violin e.g shifting more, more in-between positions, etc, but if you mostly use violin fingerings on viola, things should be pretty similar but with narrower note spacing. Double stops and high position play will feel easier on the violin because of the smaller instrument size. Violinists also place more emphasis on tenths and fingered octaves than violists.
- Regarding vibrato: I do not make a huge deal about the vibrato differences between violin and viola. An effective and varied vibrato is the key to success regardless of the instrument you play. In general, viola vibrato needs to be a little wider to be effective, and a slightly slower vibrato may be nice in the low register. Otherwise, vibrato is basically the same on both instruments. Another factor is what your violin vibrato is like, as vibrato varies greatly among string players. Some have a very fast and dramatic vibrato, others use a rather minimal vibrato, and everything in between.
- I think the key to playing both successfully is paying close attention to your sound quality and being mindful of the differences between instruments.

September 21, 2019, 12:17 PM · Ella, thats what I was going for thanks!
Edited: September 21, 2019, 2:35 PM · Ella's comments are spot on!

May I add a couple of points;
- Their is more wood mass and more contained air to get vibrating; William Primrose describes how each note seems to need a mini martelé attack, even in soft playing; and fast détaché may need a more "massaging" stroke.
- The strings are longer and vibrate more widely; they need holding down more firmly, and the finger drops and lifts need more energy.

I find violin practice refines my bowing, while viola practice strengthens my left hand.


Apart from all this, no problem!

September 21, 2019, 6:28 PM · " I only do around 30 minutes a week of scales on the violin (which I think is enough)."

I don't. 30 minutes a week of anything isn't enough. Except perhaps for playing video games.

Especially as you've been expressing interest in conservatories and employment in foreign orchestras.

September 21, 2019, 7:18 PM · Scott, if viola is his first study, is 30 minutes of scales a week on violin enough? Or am I misunderstanding him?
September 21, 2019, 11:47 PM · No Ella you've got it. I figure if I learn stuff on my viola, when I practise my violin scales I can practise various things while doing them
September 22, 2019, 2:32 AM · After a session on viola, I like to spend 10 minutes on the violin, and vice versa.
September 22, 2019, 10:35 AM · I do 2 hours per day for my viola anyway
Edited: September 22, 2019, 1:05 PM · Ella and Adrian covered everything I would say.
The Viola has more inertia, more resistance, in part because every Viola is smaller than ideal dimensions. If the Violin is a jittery race horse, then the Viola is a recalcitrant mule; every note needs extra persuasion.
When I practiced both instruments the same day, I would do the exercises and scales on Viola, then switch to Violin. I avoid playing both instruments on the same concert. I have done two symphony auditions on both, the same day. For that I asked to audition first on Violin, then Viola.
Edited: September 22, 2019, 8:51 PM · A lot of violin professors have their students do some viola because, well, it's harder to play in nearly all aspects. Not just harder but different. Ella nailed that part so I have nothing to add. But it forces you to be more adaptable. Now, when you pick up a different violin it'll respond differently than your violin, but you'll be better at making the adjustment. This will be a "transferable skill" just by itself when it comes time to buy a new bow because you need to try like thousands of them. Also, playing viola is kind of like standing in the on-deck circle with a lead doughnut on your bat. Take a few swings with that, and then when you get up to the plate (with your violin), it feels so much easier.


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