Comparing violin and viola sizes in inches
I'm a lifelong musician who plays a number of instruments. I've been playing viola for a few years, and recently started teaching my first student, who's played guitar with me for a year, on viola. I teach privately at home.
I play a 16" instrument and, after asking around, bought a 12" viola for my student, a young man in the 4th grade who is small. (He weighs 55 lbs.)
I see violins specified in fractional sizes and would like some way to compare, e.g., what size viola is the same body size and scale length as a 4/4 violin?
Thanks in advance.
Here's a guide:
That's good, thanks - so a 14" viola is essentially the same size as a full-sized violin. Is the scale length the same, i.e., if you learn on a 14" viola, would switching to a full-sized violin be a pretty small adjustment?
Thanks very much.
Beware of descriptions of "3/4" or "1/2" size violas: there is no universal correspondence in inches
@Adrian Heath, it does seem odd that violins are specified in fractional sizes but violas are specified in inches. I play double bass and those are also specified in fractional sizes.
Not really Steve simply because there is no agreement on what constitutes a "full-size 4/4" viola. The range of "full-size" violas played by adults can range from about 14.5" all the way up to 18" or so. It comes down to personal preference more than anything. I'm sure there's historical reasons for why there's such a range of viola sizes. Or at least thats my take on it.
I think full size violas start at 15", since that's larger than a 4/4 violin. The reason why there is no standarized 4/4 viola (but a standarized range of sizes) could be because of the acoustical imperfection and how each player would tolerate it.
For me, instrument "scale" has to be considered in "context." I see three contexts:
All very interesting. As a double bass player, we often talk about both the body size and the scale length of our instruments as a way of accurately describing them or predicting if someone can play them. I've seen similar in classical guitars, too, another instrument I play, where one can have a standard body size but a variety of scale lengths. And you'll definitely find basses with atypical scale lengths for their body size because someone is trying to strike a compromise between sound and playability.
When it to sizing kids for violas, I would generally size them the same way a violinist is sized to prevent strain injuries, unless they demonstrate their ability to play a slightly larger instrument with ease and comfort (e.g child using 1/2 violin can use a viola the size of a 3/4 violin, but nothing larger than that).
I guess this is a question I should ask - will two violins or violas of the same nominal size have the same scale length?
Good question. Answer: Maybe!
I Googled for like...at least 10 seconds and couldn't find a reason why there's no standardization for viola sizes. Lots of articles on how to "pick the right sized viola for you..." Violins and Cellos didn't have standard sizes until Amati came along (I think...?) so why did the viola get the short straw? Is there some engineering reason why a "correct" size can't be nailed down?
There are fractional violas available for children. Please--and this is not directed specifically at the OP--please do NOT restring a fullsize violin as a viola for a child. Fractional violas have more depth between front and back plates than do violins. They play differently and sound better than a fullsize violin tuned A-D-G-C.
Michael, violists have to compromise between a deep, rich tone (17-18"), and playability (15-1/2 to 16-1/2"). So there is no "full size", and therefore no fractional sizes.
But can't the same be said for other stringed instruments? They make smaller violins that sacrifice tone for play-ability, but somewhere along the way, everyone agreed on 14" for a standard length on a violin.
I'm not exactly sure. I do believe fractional violas can have more depth or projection/carrying power than a restrung violin of the same size. I don't know how much more complexity a fractional viola will have compared to a restrung violin of the same size. I do not believe there is anything wrong with restringing a violin as a viola for a small child. Fractional violas are available, but unfortunately, restrung violins are still common because there are places in the world where fractional violas are scarce (where I live, for instance). I think 3/4 and 4/4 violins restrung can sound okay, but anything smaller than that will likely sound pretty bad. Just think of it like fractional violins and how they're lacking compared to full size violins. I also believe that the quality of a violin strung as a viola largely depends on the individual traits of a violin, especially in the low register. The more depth, complexity and carrying power/projection, the better e.g one 3/4 violin restrung sounds terrible, while another sounds fairly nice. I have also heard of violins converted into violas by drilling a hole in the front body plate near the bridge, and I have heard good things about them.
Michael, the acoustically "ideal" viola is ca.20". Carleen Hutchins proposed such an "alto violin" or "vertical viola" with a spike! Anything less is a compromise to make the d*mned thing playable.
Definitely heard of those online, but I don't think they're available in my area. It would be ideal to have more fractional violas, but child-aged violists (especially under 12) are fairly uncommon.
There are plenty of 10- and 11-year-old student violists in my city; they start in fifth grade strings. One of the local violin shops rents fractional violas. The other well-known local shop sent at least one student to me with a 4/4 violin strung as a viola, and that is when I quit recommending that shop entirely. It is not an adequate substitution.
Well, if there's fractional violas lying around, use them, but if that's not an option (fractional violas are unavailable/scarce), you're stuck with restrung violins and you'll have to make do with them. Alternatively, you could get a tech to drill a hole in a student violin's body and officially make it a viola that way, but only techs with knowledge on how to do this operation should do it. In terms of violists under age 13, they're most common in strings programs near my hometown. Violists under 10 are quite rare where I live, and I'm quite certain that many were forced to use restrung violins until they were big enough and I never heard, unless
"drill a hole in a student violin's body and officially make it a viola that way"
Don't do this at home......
I grew up playing guitar in the 1960's, and wow, were low-end instruments terrible! I recall being able to fit my hand between the strings and the fingerboard of my first guitar, which happily I didn't keep for long.
Aren't violins 14'? Then that means a 14" viola would be the same size
No...a 14" viola is proportioned differently from a 14" violin. The ribs can be as much as 20% higher on the viola.
Mary Ellen is right, but the length is the same.
Isn't the neck thicker as well? I've played on fractional violas (tuning them for beginning students)--they do not feel like violins even if they are 14".
The body is, obviously, thicker, and maybe wider, but why would the neck be thicker? It should be the same as a typical full size violin, although neck dimensions vary from instrument to instrument. How does a 14" viola feel different from a full-size violin?
I can't explain it in words; it just has a very different feel.
Adrian Heath, belated thanks for that answer. That's what I was looking for; makes sense playing a 20" viola isn't going to work. (Although I'm 6'6", I bet I could play one. Anyone make them? Mwahah.)
Rob Spear at singingwoodsviolin com. Really nice chap, too.
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