Differences Between Violas and Violins

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When it comes to reading music, people are sometimes unable to distinguish between a note and a line, be aware that the violin and viola have different keys. Violin, who lives in the G key, is able to play things either in C or in the F key. The C string that is found between these two keys is used by cellists and bass players.

Learning to play the viola is not overly difficult. It does require about 2 weeks worth of time for you to learn how to read music, meaning when you know that the “standard” position for a musician is having their left arm positioning the scroll upwards and fingers playing across the strings on their right hand. By adjusting your scroll so that it’s coming from your left shoulder.

Viola vs Violin: What’s the Difference?

The violin and viola are stringed instruments played using the bow technique, and for many people they often look and sound exactly the same. Despite their similarities, there are several key differences between the two stringed instruments. Both serve a different purpose in music which makes them complement one another.

What is the difference between a violin and a viola? We are often asked this question when presenting our electric violins with 5 strings. These instruments have an additional string, which is the C-string, and can usually be used on violas.

The violin and viola are part of the family of bowed string instruments, along with the cello and double bass. The viola fares well in the lower register of the string family and is tuned the same way as the violin, just that it’s in a different location.

The violin and viola look the same at first glance. It can be hard for an average Joe to identify them, even if they are not side by side. The confusion is one of the reasons why people have a negative perception of them, there is a lot in common between viola and violin:

  • They are held in the same way: on the shoulder
  • They have the same number of rows (4 rows)
  • They have a similar shape
  • They are played by rubbing the strings with a bow

And yet, even externally, the first difference between the violin and viola is immediately noticeable: their size is significantly different.

History of the Two Instruments

The history of the violin and viola are very similar as they both share the same origin story.

Part of the violin family, a family of stringed instruments which also include the cello and double bass.

The violin and viola were developed in Italy during the early 16th century.

Over time, with changes in orchestral sounds, technology, and stringed techniques, the violin family developed into the four-instrument family it is today.

The violin family is made up of 4 different instruments. The violin is a soprano; the viola is an alto; the cello is a tenor, and the double bass plays the bass part.

The violin, viola, cello, and double bass are all related instruments and make great complements. They all have the same range. Now-a-days, the word viola has been applied to an instrument that used to be called the violone. The violin family currently has 12 instruments that have this word in their name: the bass violin, cello, contrabass, double bass, string quartet and so on.

While they may appear the same to the untrained eye, the violin and viola are actually different sizes with the viola being the larger of the two instruments.

There are six sizes that are available for the viola, with the sizes ranging from 12 inches to 16 inches.

Violins are available in nine different sizes. The largest violin size has a body that is 14 inches long.

Differences Between Violas and Violins

As mentioned above, the violin and viola belong to the family of stringed instruments, they look very similar, they are held under the chin and played with bows.

The very first manufacturer of these two instruments was Andrea Amati, who began making them in the early 16th century.

It wasn’t long ago that violas, and even violins, were used to copy voices. Soon they transformed into the modern versions we know today.

Although these two instruments look very similar, there are quite a few differences between them. They each have their own unique and sometimes forceful voice.

Let’s take a look at the 8 main differences between violas and violins.

1. Strings

Both instruments have several string types, but the notes are all the same. The D-string on each instrument is about one-third shorter than its G-string, and the A-string is a full octave lower.

Depending on the sizes of the violin and viola, the G, D, and A strings can even be switched between the instruments. They can both play the same pieces on their three common strings with minor differences in their tones as well.

Violins have 3 strings, while violas have 4. Viola strings are thicker than violin strings.

The viola uses the strings:

  • La or A (the highest)
  • Ré or D
  • Sol or G
  • Do or C (the lowest)

The violin on the other hand uses the strings:

  • Mi or E (the highest)
  • La or A
  • Ré or D
  • Sol or G (the lowest)

The sound of a viola is therefore lower than that of a violin. The physical distance between the strings is also different. When a violinist changes to the viola and vice versa, they have a harder time locating their fingers. The violists strings are also thicker and require more strength on the part of the viola player.

The viola is exactly one octave higher than the cello and has a lower scale than the violin.

2. Ranges

Due to their different strings, violins and violas are capable of playing in different ranges.

Violins have a higher string than violas and have a range of more pitches. Violins, with the lower C string, can play lower pitches than viola.

However, there is a crossover in the ranges that both violins and violas play in due to the fact that three of the four strings of each instrument are the same.

The form or style of writing in Common Notes feels more familiar to one another than that of individual notes in other services.

3. Clefs

Violinists and violists, for the most part, have different ranges but play in the same clef. Violinists play in treble clef! This makes it possible for them to read high notes without having to read all the ledger lines too much.

Violists play in the alto clef because they’re able to read notes within staff lines as well.

Viola music is written in treble clef when higher notes need to be played.

So violists must be able to read both alto and treble clefs.

As a result of their different sizes, the tones that violins and violas produce are different than one another.

Violas are larger and have thicker strings, which make them capable of producing louder sounds that can fill a room better.

Violins and violas produce different notes. But they’re both great!

4. Playing Style and Techniques

Violins and violas are both played by placing the instruments underneath the musician’s chin and using a bow to play their notes.

When it comes to vibrato, the same technique is applied on a violin as it is on a viola.

One technique that is often used to add a “vibe” to an instrumental performance involves the use of vibrato or tremolo-like movements. Violinists and violists both use these techniques by moving their wrists in a back and forth motion.

For a cello and a bass, however, vibrato is done by a player vibrating their wrist in an up-and-down motion.

Violinists and violists have a lot in common. They both use pizzicato, ricochet and staccato, three playing techniques that can be used for either instrument.

5. Accessories

Violins and violas are available with a range of accessories and most of them can be used on both the violins and violas.

The accessories mainly differ in size and proportions, but violin and viola accessories can often be interchanged with one another.

Violins and violas have a lot in common. They both have a body that sits on top of the scroll and what would look like an additional, thinner half to this body at the bottom called the “shoulder.”

A shoulder rest provides support for a violin and a viola, allowing the instrument to fit more comfortably underneath a player’s chin.

Viola and violin shoulder rests cannot typically be switched since they have similar dimensions, but viola and violin might also have different construction style.

Violinists and violists can use each other’s bows when needed because of the larger frog sizes. However, the greater weight on violin bows tends to make them easier for violinists but harder for violists.

For players, there may be a slight difference in sound quality depending on the player’s technique. The difference may be unnoticeable to the untrained ear.

A viola bow is slightly heavier than a violin bow and works to draw out the higher tones of the thicker C-string.

The viola is smaller in size than the violin and requires less weight to produce a great sound.

Rosin is a sticky substance that violinists and violists use on their bows to produce sound. It makes sure they get the right sounds out of their instruments.

Violists and violinists may prefer to use different types of rosin, depending on the sounds that they would like to achieve, but each type of rosin can be used on either instrument.

The rosin that is sold for violins and violas is also often used by cellists as well but not double bassists as these require a softer rosin.

6. Size

The first difference is the size of the two instruments. In the 15th century, violas had very different sizes. A tenor violin once existed, it had excessive dimensions which made it difficult to play. People’s understanding of what size of violas is normal has been changing over time. It isn’t always a set number, but we’re talking about bodies between 38 and 43cm in diameter.

To define which viola or violin size an instrumentalist needs, it is necessary to measure the distance between the neck and the palm of the instrumentalist’s hand by keeping their arm extended in a parallel position to the ground.

For instance, a viola must be at least 67 cm long. In this case, we’re talking about an extra-large viola (16 inches)! For the violin, you’ll need at least 60 centimeters of length. Different size violins are designed for different players. This size is called a full-size violin and is the perfect size for many adult violinists.

You might have noticed that violin and viola sizes are measured in different ways. The former has 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4, while the latter goes from 12″ all the way to 16 1/2″. Here is a table showing the size of each instrument in comparison to each other.

Violin size Length from neck to arm Violinist age
1/16 From 35 to 38 cm From 3 to 4
1/10 From 39 to 42 cm From 4 to 5
1/8 From 43 to 46 cm From 5 to 6
¼ From 47 to 51 cm From 6 to 7
½ From 52 to 56 cm From 7 to 8
¾ From 57 to 60 cm From 9 to 11
4/4 More than 60 cm More than 11
Viola size Length from neck to arm Violist age
12″ From 53 to 55 cm From 6 to 7
13″ From 55 to 59 cm From 7 to 9
14″ From 59 to 63 cm From 9 to 12
15″ From 63 to 65 cm From 10 to 12
15″ ½ From 65 to 67 cm Adult
16″ or 16 1/2 More than 60 cm Adult

4/4 Violin vs. 4/4 Viola – sizes: a violin is smaller than a viola by about 2 inches in length, or 3 centimeters. It’s possible to transform a violin into a viola with the use of proper tools. To make this switch, simply replace the violin strings with viola strings.

Controversies over appropriate child sizes have been ongoing for quite some time now. Typically, there are four different styles that a child can practice in: crawling, cruising, climbing, and jumping. And in all of these styles the sizes vary significantly from child to child which is not surprising considering that every child grows at their own pace.

7. Weight

Even just by looking at the violin, you can tell it’s lighter than a viola. They’re also similar in playing modes, but because the viola’s material is thicker, it feels heavier to hold and support. Violas can weigh up to 580 grams, while violins generally weigh around 460g.

8. Finger spacing

There is a large difference in size between the viola and the violin. The violin has wider string spacing so there is a larger gap for fingers. That positioning of fingers allows for greater dexterity in plucking or pizzicato passages, where the player’s hands are closer to one another.


As you can see, violins and violas are both great instruments that have a lot more in common than they have differences.

Violins and violas are both exciting to play with, but some violinists/viola players will switch instruments.

There are also many professional violinists who used to be violinists, professional violists who used to be violists, and professional musicians who choose to play both instruments.

Learning either instrument involves learning how to read the different clefs, more than it involves learning how to play the actual instruments. The technique is the same.

FAQ for Dfferences Between Violas and Violins

What is the difference between a viola and a violin?

The viola is a stringed instrument that can be used in both the violin and the viola da gamba family.

The difference between a viola and a violin is that the viola has a lower, more mellow sound than the violin.

How can I tell if I am playing a violin or a viola?

Violins, violas, and cellos are all different instruments. A viola is bigger than a violin but smaller than a cello.

A lot of people might not know this since they don’t play either of these instruments, but there are some key differences between the two that can help you tell what type of instrument you’re playing.

The most obvious difference is the size of the instrument. Violas are larger than violins and smaller than cellos. They also have a different shape because they have more strings on them and they’re made to be played with a bow instead of being plucked like a violin or hammered like a cello.

What is the size of a violin versus a viola?

The size of a violin is slightly larger than its relative, the viola.

Violins have a larger body and the sound is richer. Violas are smaller but have a more focused sound.

What is the sound of a violin versus a viola?

The sound of a violin is more expressive and lively than a viola.

The sound of the violin is softer and more mellow, which makes it easier to blend in with the orchestra. The viola has a higher pitch and sharper tone, which is difficult to blend in with the orchestra.

A violin also has thicker strings, which give it a fuller sound than a viola.

Why are there two different names for this instrument?

This instrument is known by two names, the “flute” and the “oboe.” The flute is a conical tube of wood with a flared bell at one end and two cylindrical holes bored near the other.

The oboe is a type of woodwind instrument with an oval-shaped body, two keys and a single reed.

The name oboe comes from the French word for mouth, which describes how it sounds when it is played.

What are the types of violas?

Violas are a type of flower that have many varieties. They can be found in the wild, but are often cultivated for their beauty and fragrance.

There are two main types of violas:

  • Dry-seasoned violas (also called hardy
  • Wet-seasoned violas (also called tender

What are the types of violins?

There are many types of violins, and they can be divided into two categories – bowed and plucked.

Bowed instruments are those that have a string that is stretched across a small bridge, called the fingerboard. The player presses down on the strings to produce sound.

Plucked instruments have a thin metal wire that is strung over a small bridge on the instrument’s body. The player presses their fingers onto the wire to produce sound.

Do all viola s or all violins have strings?

The answer to this question is yes. All viola s or all violins have strings.

The strings are made of horsehair and gut and they are tied to the body of the instrument via a pegbox, which is found at the end of the instrument’s neck. The strings are then attached to a bridge, which is actually a piece of wood that sits on top of two screws that hold down a metal plate.

The bridge holds down an individual string in place so that it can be played by plucking it with one or more fingers. It also helps to keep each string in tune with one another as well as with the soundboard below them.

How many strings do most violins have?

The number of strings on a violin can vary from 4 to 8. The four-stringed violin was the most common type before the six-stringed violin became popular. The four-stringed violins were used in the Baroque era and are still used today by many professional musicians.

The six-stringed violins were developed in Italy during the 17th century as a result of a lack of strings for violas da gamba players.

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