Viola pedagogy recommendations?

July 30, 2023, 9:53 PM · My daughter is now fully a violist. She will be a freshman in high school this year. She is loving viola and really motivated and excited.

My one concern is making sure she is on a good pedagogical path if she chooses to go into music at the college level. Her teacher is wonderful, but she is fundamentally a violin teacher. She always has multiple viola students and teaches violin to viola classes and plays viola some, so not viola-inexperienced at all. But she's not a professional violist and my guess is that my daughter will get further than all her previous viola students. Her teacher acknowledges this limitation, and we don't want to change teachers, especially since the only really great viola teacher in the city doesn't take precollege students anyway.

From a technical perspective, I think everything is fine. Her teacher is holding her to very high standards for a pre-college violist, working on double stops, bowing technique, comprehensive scales, etc.

What I am a little concerned about is making sure my daughter moves through the viola repertoire in a sequence that makes sense and covers everything she really SHOULD know before college.

Currently she is doing a bit of repertoire remediation, picking up some of the important viola repertoire she missed, much of which is below level. This calendar year she has done JC Bach/Casadesus, Bach Suite 1, von Weber Andante e Rondo (Primrose), and is making her way through Schubert Arpeggione. She learned the first mvmt in just a few weeks to a really high level and is starting to learn the rest. She's also looking at Hoffmeister Concerto (again easy for her) since it is a required piece for something she has coming up.

Does anyone have any recommendations about sequence of repertoire? Or just a list of pieces you think every precollege violist should know? I googled a bit and found a lot about the repertoire up to where she is now, but not so much thereafter.

Replies (24)

Edited: July 31, 2023, 3:00 AM · I'm primarily a violinist, but I play viola as well and have studied viola with viola professors at UNT and SMU in addition to my violin studies, so until a full-fledged violist answers I reckon I'll do for now.

Eventually, she'll want to get to this repertoire before college auditions:

- One of the three big viola concertos (Bartok, Walton, Hindemith Der Schwanendreher) especially if she does a performance degree. This will be her go-to for college auditions if she already has one learned by then. I'd say the most approachable one would be Walton followed by Hindemith and then the Bartok.

- At least 1 other Bach Suite. The most popular ones are probably suites 1 and 3 with 2 not far behind. Most people (and teachers) save the last 3 for college since they are considerably harder especially 5 and 6.

- At least one other sonata, but Schubert Arpeggione is a good one. Others could be Brahms (1 or 2), Marchenbilder, Clarke, or Vieuxtemps.

Besides that other repertoire that would be good to learn would be the following:
- Hummel Fantasie
- Stamitz viola concerto (Typically learned after Hoffmeister)
- Bruch Romanze
- Glazunov Elegy
- Vieuxtumps Elegy
- Hans Sitt Album Leaves (Not necessary, but she might like it; it's a short work of 6 movements)
- Bloch Suite Hebraique
- Zelter Concerto (not always studied, but it fits between JC Bach and Hoffmeister

These are the ones I could remember off the top of my head, but there's other repertoire out there as well.

July 31, 2023, 2:58 AM · Oh, also some etudes written especially for the viola like Campangnoli and Lillian Fuchs probably wouldn't hurt.
July 31, 2023, 12:21 PM · Christian, thank you so much! That is very helpful and it looks like she is on track. She's probably ready to start Walton soon. When do you think the sonatas should be learned and do you have a preferred order?

I am really familiar with violin repertoire through her brother and familiar with the earlier viola repertoire through my own study (though I never got that far!). Does anybody know where the big 3 concertos would fall technically compared to some of the usual violin concertos? (If it helps, she played Bruch on violin at age 12-13 before switching fully, so she has a pretty decent technical level.)

Zosia - thanks so much for the lists! It is interesting to see what other countries do. When are these diplomas usually obtained? Precollege?

July 31, 2023, 12:25 PM · As a Canadian who is familiar with graded systems like RCM and ABRSM, those diplomas are usually pre-college.
July 31, 2023, 3:38 PM · Apologies everyone, I managed to delete both posts by mistake . Please bear with me.
Here it is again -

Zosia Cocker
July 31, 2023, 10:27 AM · Im a UK based violinist with a violist daughter. I’m not very familiar with US pedagogy and repertoire progression, however can I suggest you use the diploma repertoire lists for ABRSM and Trinity as a starting point ?
ABRSM ones are here ( keep scrolling down , viola is near the end)

Trinity viola lists are here -

These are of course syllabi rather than curriculums .
Hope that helps

July 31, 2023, 3:53 PM · Susan - In terms of standard / expectation, UK conservatoire entry standards have risen enormously since I started teaching. Historically, first level of diploma ( DIipABRSM , ATCL ) were viewed as equivalent to first year conservatoire standard ; second level diplomas equivalent to undergraduate graduation recital standard, and Fellowships as considerably higher.

Nowadays it would be very unusual in the UK for a student below first level diploma standard to gain a place at one of the top tier conservatoires . Many, if not most will be at or close to second diploma standard.

July 31, 2023, 4:37 PM · It's hard to compare the big 3 viola concertos to violin concertos technically, because the viola is simply a harder instrument to play and the pyrotechnics you see in the major violin concertos aren't physically possible. My best guess is that they're more difficult to play than Bruch/Mendelssohn, but not quite up to the difficulty of Beethoven/Brahms/Tchaikovsky/Sibelius. The typical age at which conservatory-track violists tackle one of the big 3 concertos would seem to track with that.
July 31, 2023, 9:12 PM · Might as well start now on the last movement of the third Rasumovsky quartet (Beethoven Op. 59 No. 3).
August 1, 2023, 7:21 AM · LOL Paul, my son played the Beethoven around her age -- it was crazy! I think he played it on violin, though.

Thanks everybody else for the information. It helps a lot!

August 1, 2023, 7:58 AM · Online is such a gift these days- maybe finding someone special regionally or nationally with occasional meetups? I am sure you being you are already thinking of this, but just adding it to the thread....
Maybe someone on here will come up with some names of outstanding viola pedagogues.
August 1, 2023, 8:09 AM · The CSO viola section...
August 1, 2023, 11:00 AM · Surprisingly, very few of the CSO section violas teach, and only one to my knowledge has any precollege students. I guess they earn enough money from the CSO!
August 1, 2023, 11:06 AM · Off topic - If your daughter has some spare time, she might enjoy reading William Primrose's autobiography, "Walk on the North Side: Memoirs of a Violist." As I recall, he describes his journey from violin to viola at some length. The book is out of print, but you might find it in a library, and there are [pricey] used copies available out there.
August 1, 2023, 5:12 PM · If she's already doing Schubert Arpeggione and is flying through it she can start learning the others once she completes it. The next one I would do would be the Schubert Marchenbilder followed by the two Brahms Sonatas. I found the E-flat one to be more approachable than the F minor, but your daughter could start with either one. After that the Vieuxtemps and then the Clarke. For the Vieuxtemps the 1st two movements aren't too bad, but the 3rd movement is considerably harder. After all those, there are many other sonatas she can do, but these I would say are among the most widely known and once she learns these the world is basically her oyster at that point in terms of sonatas.

The Max Reger Suites for solo Viola might also be worth a look, but I would probably wait on those until she has some more Viola rep under her belt.

And one final recommendation would be the Vieuxtemps Capriccio for solo Viola. It's a beautiful short work with a really captivating melody accompanied by multiple-note chords. Your daughter should have no problems with it with how fast she's catching up on viola repertoire

August 1, 2023, 5:38 PM · Slightly unrelated curiosity question: let's say you're an accomplished violinist, I'm talking learning repertoire equivalent in difficulty to Mendelssohn Concerto or above, and you decide to make viola your primary instrument. How important is it to catch up on viola repertoire that is much easier than that? I mean, playing easier pieces for the first little while to get used to the viola, but once you're past that stage, is going straight for Walton or Der Schwan kinda thing a reasonable move?
August 1, 2023, 5:58 PM · Ella, very good question. I would say it varies by age. If you are in college, I would probably jump right in to the big stuff. My daughter has the benefit of starting viola at age 12 (and switching fully by 13) so she has time to work through more of the repertoire, of which there is, of course, comparatively less. We also used the easier repertoire as a way to continue some remediation in her left hand position.

She didn't go back and do everything. She did some of Telemann, most of JC Bach/Casadesus, then jumped ahead to Weber because she needed something bigger for her precollege audition (she did the virtuosic version with the crazy hard last page and the added double stops). Then on to Arpeggione. With Bach, she just started with the first suite because you have to learn all of them no matter what!

August 1, 2023, 6:40 PM · Thanks for the answer. Yeah, I agree it depends on ability and age. I was mainly thinking of those who decide to switch focus later in high school, as I suspect that is quite common, or students who play both for several years before picking viola as their main focus (which could very well have been me, but I ended up pursuing a non music post high school trajectory so I can do whatever I want, which is playing both as much as I can).
August 1, 2023, 7:05 PM · I wonder if anyone (viola) in the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra teaches?


Edited: August 1, 2023, 7:24 PM · On the subject of repertoire remediation: the Bach suites are necessary, and it's also important to learn either the Hoffmeister or Stamitz concerto because they fill the same role in viola auditions that Mozart does in violin auditions.

I'm actually in the midst of some repertoire remediation myself, because I started taking regular lessons for the first time in 2021 after more-or-less teaching myself all the way from zero to Walton prior to that, with only a handful of lessons focused on bowing technique in 2016. I had skipped the Classical concerto repertoire entirely in the late 2000s because I was not comfortable with the style and especially with the demand for quick and even string crossing at the time. I also had a poor physical setup back then, which didn't help; everything is easier with my current chin rest and shoulder rest combo. In any case, once I started taking lessons, I revisited and polished the second Bach suite, and I am currently working on the Hoffmeister concerto (alongside other repertoire).

August 1, 2023, 8:47 PM · Yes, Hoffmeister, like Mozart, is a different animal to try to play elegantly with the appropriately style. And, to be honest, very few violists get even close. My daughter played Mozart 3 on violin (as well as Haydn and Viotti 23) so she has some decent skills in this area -- but still needs more nuance.

Mary Ellen, to my knowledge only one of the Lyric Opera orchestra violists teaches and she is pretty early career. We are really comfortable with my daughter's current teacher, and we do have the ability to consult with Mr. Vamos as well, as much as he is able. (His memory for listening and music is just fine.) We also have the benefit of getting advice from a couple Curtis violists my son knows well, so I think we will be OK on that front. Being the overly involved parent (LOL), I just want to make sure we are not inadvertently missing something.

Christian, thanks for the additional info on sonatas. Of course she wants to play Clarke and Vieuxtemps RIGHT NOW (and Hindemith op. 11 no. 4)! I actually tried to order her the Capriccio on her request and have found it a little tricky to find. There were a couple pieces on her list I didn't find straightaway, so I will have to do some sleuthing.

Edited: August 2, 2023, 12:59 AM · Do try to get some coaching with an experienced viola specialist , even occasionally. When my daughter switched to viola at a similar age - at a similar if slightly lower standard - the thing that took longest was viola sound production. It’s such a different beast to violin, and it will be a lifetime’s work in progress.

Many violinists - myself included - know where to start, but you really need a specialist to ignite her interest in the possibilities and techniques to really bring colour to all those lovely heavy strings.

Has she played Kol Nidrei ? My daughter loved this. Lots of opportunities for exploring sound colours, and plenty of scope for imagination.

August 2, 2023, 4:41 PM · For the Vieuxtemps Capriccio:

August 3, 2023, 7:22 AM · Thank you!
August 4, 2023, 4:48 AM · You can read the Primrose at

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