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7 Steps to Distinguish Between Violas and Violins

The Violin and the Viola are both members of the string instrument family, they look quite similar and are both held under the chin and played with bows.

While the two instruments look alike and in fact are close cousins, there are quite a few differences that make them stand out from each other with equally strong and unique voices.

So let's check them out!

1. Distinguish by the frame size. Is it big or small? The violin generally has a smaller frame than the viola.

2. Observe and weigh the bow. The bow is the long wooden stick that is used to play an instrument. If the end which you hold the bow (the frog) is a straight 90 degree angle it is a violin bow, whereas the viola bow is a 90 degree angle with a curved corner. Moreover, the viola usually has a heavier bow.

3. Listen to the pitch. Is it lower or higher? The violin has a higher e-string while the viola has a lower c-string.

4. Notice the strings. The violin string order from lowest to highest is: G, D, A, E. Violas do not have an E string, but an additional lower note, making their string order from lowest to highest: C, G, D, A.

5. Pay attention to their pitching. Violins generally play higher pitched parts of the music while Violas play lower pitched parts. However both instruments use much of the same techniques in playing and require the same level of training and dedication to master.

6. Know by inquiry.

· If it is a solo, check the printed program to identify the instrument being played.

· If it is an orchestra, the strings nearer to you (the audience) on the left are the violins. The first instruments to the left of the conductor are the "first" violins. The next section is the "second violins". The next section usually contains the violas, but occasionally the violas might be placed directly opposite of the first violins.

7. If you can, check the musical clefs. Violins read treble clef while violas read mainly alto clef (and occasionally treble clef).


  • The most important consideration is love of the sound of the instrument. Love of the sound will carry the student through the hours of practice required.

  • Check for qualified teachers. Both the violin and viola require enthusiastic and knowledgeable instruction to master. However, you may not find a good viola teacher in your vicinity, so look in the phone book to see if there is one near you.

  • When deciding as to whether you wish to learn play the violin or viola, take into consideration the size of the hand. The viola, being the larger instrument, may work better than the violin for someone with large hands. Although this is sometimes helpful when deciding, it is more of a personality thing. For a person who is very outgoing and loves to be the spotlight, violin is usually the way to go, but if you are a bit more laid back and quiet yet passionate, then viola is a perfect instrument for you. If you wish for a very wide range of music to play, violin is the way to go. The viola has a smaller solo music library, but it is still very ample.

  • Check for opportunities to play. A needed instrument will have more opportunities for playing then one which has many available players.

  • If you are looking for a scholarship eventually through music, then viola is great because there aren't many decent players out there. Consequently, you are pretty likely to be put through college just for doing what you love to do. Competition in large orchestras is less for violas because there just aren't as many viola players as there are violinists.

  • If you are in school, you might want to join the orchestra, and learn how to play both of these instruments before deciding which you like better.


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