Viola FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

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viola FAQ's

Choosing An Instrument

What is a good viola for a beginner?

There are so many viola makers out there, it can be hard to find the right one for a beginner. You have several factors that you must consider. But for beginners, you should get an instrument that you can grow with. For instance, children must go for a smaller size initially, moving to larger sizes as they grow.

For adults, choose a standard size viola that features good, proportionate construction and quality wood, and make sure it’s set up properly. It’s always better to start with a good instrument where you don’t sound good at first, because your playing will eventually improve enough to produce nice, flowing melodies. 

What size of viola should I get?

This applies more to children. For parents, you should know that there are no standard sizes for the viola. Most measurements aren’t one size fits all. There are even instruments that vary in size depending on the craftsman. 

Generally though, adults and teenagers should get something from 15” to 17” (380mm to 430mm). Younger children should get around 11” to 14” (280mm to 360mm).

Should I buy or rent?

Although renting a viola may seem like an inexpensive way of getting hold of an instrument, the reality is that you can buy a basic viola for the same cost as a few months’ rental payments. 

Buying will require that you know how to look for a good viola beforehand, like which brand has the best reputation and where the instrument is made. 

Maintenance

How do you take care of a viola?

A viola is just like any other instrument: it needs regular cleaning for it to be at its best. First and foremost, always keep your viola in its hard case when not in use. Also make sure that it’s stored in a place with moderate humidity and temperature, so as to keep the wood from being damaged. 

For the bow, avoid touching it with your bare hands or to your body. You should also never let it slack too much. Apply rosin around two to three times a week to keep the hair in tip-top shape. And lastly, loosen the bow every time you store it, to maintain the integrity of the hairs.

How often should I replace the strings?

If you see that your viola’s strings are looking frayed or they no longer sound good, you should replace them immediately. But if you’re asking for a definitive time frame for string replacement, there is none. It all depends on your playing style and how well you take care of your instrument in general. It is important, however, to have the strings checked every 6 months at least to see if they need immediate replacement. 

Why is my instrument buzzing?

A lot of reasons can cause a viola to start buzzing or vibrating, due to the mechanics of the instrument as a whole. There might be loose seams in the wood, which could greatly affect the overall sound. The chin rest might need replacement/repair. Or maybe your instrument has built-up dirt in the f-holes. 

Either way, a local luthier or viola technician can identify the source of the buzzing. As soon as you hear it when you play, set an appointment. 

Technique

Does playing viola differ from playing a violin?

Violin players can easily pick up a viola and run with it. It’s because the playing technique is almost identical. In fact, a lot of teachers recommend playing the viola after you develop your violin technique, as the instrument can help improve your tone creation and overall musicality by a good margin. Many professionals also say that picking up the viola will make your playing lighter and more relaxed. Because with the viola, much of the focus is on improving your bowing and intonation. 

Is it hard to play viola as a beginner?

A viola is typically harder to learn than a violin for a beginner, because of its overall structure. Its weight, how much pressure you need to press the strings and a heavier bowing technique make it quite a challenge. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn it! All you need is a good practice routine. Remember to not over-practice: in fact, 10-20 minutes is enough for your body to internalize what you learn. It’s as hard to learn as any instrument out there, so keep practicing and attend lessons. That’s the only way you can improve! 

General

What is a viola and how does it differ from a violin?

Consider a viola as the violin’s bigger brother. It’s slightly larger at around 15” to 17” (380mm to 430mm) long, compared to a violin which is roughly 14” (355mm). But that’s not where the similarities end. 

Try to imagine an orchestra as a choir. In that choir, the violins are sopranos. Violas are altos, or on a slightly lower register. This also means that the viola has thicker strings for that lower tone, which helps it harmonize with the rest of the “choir.” The presence of the alto viola completes the entire sound of the group because of its more mellow sound than the rather boisterous violin.

What does a viola do?

The viola’s purpose in a modern symphony orchestra is to play the “inner voices” in a string quartet and in symphonic compositions. It also serves a major soloist role in orchestral music. It’s not uncommon to hear the viola play accompaniment parts ahead of the first violin parts. You can owe this to the instrument’s tone and timbre that many people say mimics the human voice. Without the viola, the music will sound squeaky and overall unpleasant to the ears. 

Viola FAQ's
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