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Musical Resources
  • Viola Introduction
  • Mary Brainerd
Viola Introduction

The viola is sometimes not as prominent as the other string instruments, it's smaller and larger family members.  Yet it's rich, dark timbre and interesting history deserve a closer look.  Do you know, for example, that Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven all played the viola?  Or that the famed instrument maker, Stradivari, also made violas that are worth more than his violins?

In the popular realm, bands including Velvet Underground, The Who, Van Morrison, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Vampire Weekend have featured the viola prominently on various songs and albums. 

The viola is hundreds of years old. In fact, some reports say that it is the oldest of the string family.The viola is the middle voice of the string family, sitting comfortably between the violin and cello. It has the same A, D, and G strings as the violin with the addition of a C string (an octave below middle C). It has the same four strings as the cello (C, G, D, A), but is one octave higher. As the middle voice in a string section, the viola similar to the alto voice in a choir. In fact, the viola uses its very own clef, called the alto clef.  It is an unusual clef, but it's just as easy to learn as other clefs.

Violas are held almost exactly the same way as violins: to one’s left side, over the shoulder, and under the chin. In fact, the two instruments are so similar that many people have trouble telling them apart! This makes sense considering that they share the same playing position as well as three strings, but the viola’s slightly larger size creates a unique sound.  Violin has a body length of 14 inches whereas Violas found in orchestras generally range in size from 15 to 18 inches, with the most common size being 16.5 inches. The extra size is the crucial element in the creation of the viola’s unique sound, which is often described as being mellow and dark, a chocolaty."  Because it is larger, it requires a wider bow and strings and the body is thicker.

Famous Composers Who Played Viola:

  • J.S. Bach
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Benjamin Britten
  • Antonin Dvorak
  • Joseph Haydn
  • Paul Hindemith
  • Wolgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Franz Schubert

Td earlier, the viola and violin are played in a similar manner. The main difference is that the viola is slightly larger, meaning that you must place your fingers slightly farther apart when playing viola than on the violin. Since the instrument is larger, is it also heavier and requires

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  • Mary Brainerd

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