5 Differences Between Violas and Violins

Both the Violin and Viola are members of the string instruments family. They look very similar, are held under the chin, and can be played with bows.

Andrea Amati, who was the first to make both violins or violas, began making them in the early 16th-century.

Early forms of violins and violas were created to imitate the voices of soprano and alto in early choral works. They were later transformed into modern versions.

Although the instruments may look similar, they are actually very close cousins. However, there are a few key differences that make them stand apart.

Small Introduction to the Viola

Let me tell you a few basic facts about the viola since I write about violin-related topics here.

The viola, which is second in the bowed string family’s highest-pitched instruments, follows the violin. It is a crucial part of orchestral and chamber music. It bridges the high-pitched melody of the cello with the low-pitched cello. It fills in harmony because of this.

There are some solo compositions for viola that were written in the classical and baroque eras, but it is the modern-day composers who use the instrument most. It’s sometimes used in popular music, such as The Velvet Underground.

Key 5 Differences Between Violins and Violas

Let’s look at 5 major differences between Violins and Violas.

1. Size

You will soon see the difference between the viola and the violin when you place them side-by side. Violin bodies are typically 15 to 18 inches in length. A full-size violin body is 14 inches.

The viola is wider than the violin. Violins come in nine sizes, whereas violas are only available in four sizes.

For beginning students, there are smaller violas that are available in 12 inch sizes. Some students will begin with the violin, then move on to the viola once they feel more comfortable handling the larger instrument.

2. Strings

The viola and the violin are both stringed instruments. They primarily have four strings. Both electric violins and violas have up to six strings. The tailpiece can be used to tune the strings or the peg in the peg box.

Each instrument has different strings. The string for the Violin are G, D and A. E is the highest and G the lowest. The tuning of the violin strings is one fourth below each other.

The Viola strings consist of C, G and D strings and A strings. C is the highest and C the lowest. The Viola is tuned one-fifth lower than the violin and the strings are one-fourth below each other.

Many Viola players and their fans love the fact that it plays at a lower pitch than the violin. Viola strings are thicker than violin strings, so they require a faster bow speed and more weight.

3. Clef

The clef in which it is played is another big difference between the violin and viola. Viola, a mid-range instrument with alto vocals, is the only string instrument that uses the Alto Clef to notate.

The note C is located at the middle of the Clef symbol. This is why we refer to it as the C Clef or Alto Clef. Once you have the middle C, you can identify the notes up and down on the staff.

The Treble Clef is where the Violin is found. It is the most high-ranged stringed instrument within the family. The “soprano voice” of any orchestra or ensemble is the Violin. The C Clef can be seen as the note in middle of the bottom circle. This is the G Clef.

We can count down from the G note and find middle C and any other notes below or above that. Viola music may contain notes in the treble key. Many violists are able to read both clefs.

4. Sound

Due to its lower C string and the number of notes it can play, the Viola produces a richer and more mellow sound than the violin. Although there are many notes shared between the instruments, like the G, D and A strings notes, the Viola sounds different. The Viola’s strings and viola are larger than the violin and have thicker strings.

Violas are often used in chamber ensembles and symphonies to add rhythmic and harmonic elements, rather than melodic or lyrical lines. In ensembles, there are less violas than violins. You will notice that there are two sections for violins in a symphony orchestra. The first and second violins have their own sections, while the viola section is left alone. The violins are the only string instruments that have two sections in any symphony.

This is because almost all violins carry the melody line in music. The violins can be compared to the lead guitarist in a band or the soprano voice in a chorus. These are just a few examples of the sounds each instrument makes.

5. Note Range

The range of notes on each instrument’s strings is different, which makes it one of the most distinguishing characteristics between the two.

The range of Viola notes is from C, which is the lowest open string to A, which is the highest on the A string. The notes for the violin range from G to B. This is the lowest open string and the highest on the E string. This varies depending on how high a player can reach while still making a good sound.

Each instrument can be played within the 4 octave range. Fingered harmonics can also be used to play higher notes. A viola can produce notes 4 steps lower than those on the violin. This sound range places the viola between the cellos and violins.

The Viola is therefore used more as a harmonic instrument in symphonic literature than a single instrument, such as the violin. The melody line is the most common part of orchestral and ensemble music for violins, at least within the string family.

Because they have the E string, violins can reach higher than violas. This makes them a more solo instrument.

Viola vs Violin: Which Should Choose

There is no one who can tell you which instrument to choose, it all depends on your personal preference. Each instrument has its advantages and disadvantages. While you don’t have to learn them all, I do not recommend you do so.

The violin is the best choice for you if you want a clear sound. It is a beloved instrument and almost every composer has something you can play. You can also play a role as a soloist in the orchestra. It has been used in pop music more often than any other instrument over the past decade. A 5-string violin with a low C can be purchased. It will also function as a viola.

If you like adding texture and color to your music and prefer playing in the lower range, the viola may be for you. Many people overlook this wonderful instrument. Although you won’t be playing a significant role in an orchestral setting you will still be able understand and appreciate the importance of every voice.

There are fewer violists than violinists, so you might find less competition appealing. Viola’s solo repertoire, while very different from the violin, is much more varied than that of the violin. It is used in popular music more than you may think. You can also get a 5-string viola with the high E string.

This question can be answered in any way you like. You can choose which one you want to learn and then decide what you like best.

Which Came First: the Viola or the Violin

Depending on whom you’re talking to, there will be arguments about this question. Viols were the original stringed instruments of the 15th century. They were also known as viola da gaamba, and they are very similar to modern cellos.

The instruments were modified so that they could be held under the chin or with one’s arms.

These instruments were called viola di braccio and became the modern violin. They are used, like their predecessors, for higher lyrical lines. Many believe the viola was the first instrument to be invented because all the original stringed instruments were called “viola + something”, such as “viola da gambo”.

Instruments were first held straight up and under the chin. They evolved to become the violins or violas we know today.

Although there isn’t any definitive evidence that the viola was the first instrument, considering the fact that all the original instruments were played as a cello and then slowly transformed to allow for higher notes, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Viola did indeed come first. The violin was born out of these different transformations in order to produce higher note ranges and a more soloistic sound.


These five differences will help you distinguish if you’re looking at a viola from a violin. If you’re comparing the two, the primary visual clue is the larger size of a viola.

The viola section is located between the cellos, 2nd and 3rd violins in many symphonies. The higher notes they play can be used to identify the violins, as well as the melodies that they play in a piece or a composition.

They are located at the front of any symphony, chamber ensemble or orchestra. There will either be two sections of violins or two players in a quartet. Musicians can distinguish between them by listening to the sound quality of the strings and the note range.

Each instrument has its own unique sound and playing style. Their voices add a wonderful beauty to music.

FAQ for 5 Differences Between Violas and Violins

Which is easier to play: violin or viola?

It depends on what your abilities are and what might be easier. Many violinists seek work as violists. One reason is that the parts of viola ensembles are often easier than those of violin.

They have more solos and can play the melody line. The viola is just as difficult to study as any other instrument. Although its solo repertoire is not as extensive, it can be just as difficult as the violin.

Many violinists believe that the viola is simpler. This is why there are many viola jokes. Every instrument has its challenges and each should be appreciated for what it offers.

Which is better: violin or viola?

Each instrument is equally good. Each instrument has its advantages and disadvantages. The violin is the better choice if you prefer fast passages, high-pitched notes and clear sound. If slow, dark and mellow sounds are more your style, the viola might be better.

The viola may not be as loud in an orchestra as the violin, but it is still important as each instrument has its own uses. To create an enjoyable listening experience, both instruments are necessary.

Are violas more expensive than violins?

Violins in the same quality range are usually more expensive than violas. The viola costs slightly more than the violin due to its larger size, but it is usually not much more. The fact that fewer violas are being sold than violins might explain the slightly higher price.

Do viola and violin use the same technique?

Yes. Although the technique is similar, there are slight differences between violin and viola. You can also play the viola if you’re familiar with the violin. The bow will not move in the same direction so you will need to position your left-hand fingers wider. It’s a little different to change positions.

Although they share the same mentality, viola and violin are two different instruments. Although a violinist may find it simple to play the viola, mastering it takes dedication and a lot practice–just like any other instrument.

Is transitioning from one instrument to the other easy?

Violinists will find it easy to transition from a violin into a viola. However, they will struggle to read the alto clef and adapt to larger intervals. The bow may also tire in the beginning. The instrument’s smaller size will make it more difficult for violinists. Although the bow will feel more natural, it will be harder to use in higher positions.

Understanding the differences in how each instrument works is what will prove to be the most difficult task for them both. It can be difficult to go from solos and accompaniments to the other.

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