Each musical instrument has a unique voice in the way they sound and are played, all adding invaluable beauty to any piece of music. But what is the difference between a viola vs violin?

Both are string instruments that originated in Italy in the 16th century and are held under the chin and played with bows. All the instruments in the violin family come from the term ‘viola’ – violin, violoncello, viola. Within that, there are two families of violas whose names refer to if they are played on the arm, like a violin, or by the legs, like a cello. These families are, the viola da braccio (of the arm) and the viola da gamba (of the leg). The modern-day viola and violin evolved from the viola da braccio and came into their own in the 18th century.

So, while the two instruments are in fact close cousins, there are quite a few differences that make them stand out from each other.

Viola vs Violin on Size

While their shape looks pretty much the same, a full-size violin is generally about 36 centimetres long whereas a full-size viola is somewhere between 39 and 41 centimetres in length. The viola is also wider than the violin.

The Bow Frogs

 The frog, the decorated part with a colourful slide and small circle that you hold at the end of the bow, is generally a bit heavier on the Viola bow. It is also sometimes curved instead of straight-edged.

The Strings

Both the viola and violin primarily use just 4 strings although electric ones can have up to 6 strings. The viola has slightly thicker strings, requiring a faster bow tempo and more bow weight than violin strings.

The string order from lowest to highest for the Viola is C, G, D, A. The violin strings, on the other hand, go from G, D, A to E.

Viola vs Violin on Pitch

The top string on a viola is the ‘A’ which is five notes below the top string on the violin which is an ‘E’. This makes the pitch of the viola a lower and more mellow one than that of a violin and is often the reason why the viola attracts more fans.

The viola is used as more of a harmonic type of instrument rather than a solo type whereas violins most often play the melody line in orchestral and ensemble music. The violin has the closest resemblance to a soprano voice and thus qualifies more as a solo type of instrument – think of violins as the lead singer in a band.

The Clef

Violinists usually read their music from the treble clef, whereas violists have to learn the slightly less familiar alto clef. Sometimes, however, viola music contains notes that are also in the treble clef, so many violists actually know how to read both clefs.

Viola vs Violin in the Orchestra

Violinists generally sit near the front on stage right, unless they have been split into two sections, whereas those wielding the viola are always in the thick of things somewhere in the centre of the orchestra, next to the cellos.

Ease of Play

The violin might be the most popular and versatile of the string instruments, but it is also one of the hardest instruments to play and takes some serious practice and dedication. While learning to play the violin at a young age is encouraged, should you want to become an accomplished and possibly professional player, this is not to say that one cannot derive great enjoyment from learning at a later time in your life.

The viola is easier to play than the violin and many people find they progress faster when playing the viola but it does have its limitations, which should be taken into consideration.

Now that you have a better understanding of a viola vs violin, give us a call on 011-425 35 09 or visit us at keyboardmagic.co.za so we can assist you further in your journey of learning to play the instrument that will rock your world.