Violin vs Viola

Violin and Viola – the differences

We often are asked what’s the difference between a violin and a viola. Well, the shape of the instruments is identical, the number of strings is identical, and the sounds these instruments produce is similar, or at times, almost identical.

At orchestral performances, violins and violas are usually adjacent, strengthening the perplexity about the instruments. This makes the distinction between a violin and a viola all the more challenging. The fact of the matter is also that some parts of viola solos are speaking and sounding much like cadenzas on a violin, which raises the question “What are then the real differences between a violin and a viola?”

Well, first of all, the strings used on the instruments are tuned differently. The four strings of a violin are tuned (from low to high) G-D-A-E. The thinnest string, the E-string, can produce thin, bright, birdlike sounds. Through this string, the musician can produce unusual, very high pitches, the perfect tunes for songs that are meant to pierce lasting impressions into your heart.

The notes of a violin are clearly heard over the notes of its lower-tuned counterpart, the cello and bass. The higher-pitched violin notes fit in perfectly to its counterparts’sonorous depth notes. Tchaikovsky has used the strength of the violin in the last phrases of his 4th and 5th symphonies where whirlwinds of highly elevated frequencies play a dominant role. Mozart’s D-major and B-flat concertos are also strong archetypes of how the violin’s capabilities can be used to its fullest.

Viola strings, on the other hand, are tuned differently. From low to high, a viola’s strings are tuned C-G-D-A. The three highest Viola strings are tuned in the same way as the violin’s three lowest strings. The violin’s highest E-string is missing on a viola, and the low C-string completes the viola’s four strings to the low part of the instrument’s contraption.

This low C-string allows for very deep and seductive timbres. This way, composers can create more harmonic versatility. So for the Violla, they can touch deep notes that cannot be played on a violin and that would sound awkward if played on a cello. So the viola offers actually an extended deep sound to the violin. Together, a violin and a viola form a finely orchestrated five-string new virtual instrument.

Another difference between the violin and the viola is the sound quality. Violins are known for their elegant and shining sound. The instrument’s slender E-string is really superb for full-orchestra songs and melodies. There are numerous important symphonic works that make this clear.

The Violin’s sound generally easily transcends lower voices of other instruments and, just as the right hand of a pianist or a soprano singer usually sings or plays the lead part, the violin’s delicate high pitch often plays the lead melody in classical compositions. For an article on the world’s most expensive violins, click here.

Beethoven’s 7th. Symphony is a fine and important example of music where the violin is utilized for the main theme. All through the Symphony’s second movement, violins are performing the lead role. The only part where they resign is where they let the flute (also usually an instrument used for melodies) come forward clearly.

Violas, because of the depth that violins are lacking, are often utilized in somber passages. The viola is mostly used for the creation of the basis on which other instruments can sing on.

Because the Viola is larger in size and its strings are thicker, the instrument usually plays carefully carved melodies where the length of low notes is extended to illustrate the full beauty of these notes.

Beethoven, in his Duo for Viola & Cello in E-flat,  takes full advantage of similar tones between the viola and cello. He lets both instruments to harmonize perfectly well in syncopated patterns and unified rhythm.

Not only the string formations of the instruments are different. Their sizes also differ. Both instruments are held up with a player’s shoulder and chin, the viola is quite larger than the violin. To be able to play the viola, musicians must have greater finger stretching and a longer arm span than a violin player and more upper-body and neck strength is required to hold a viola’s weight which is more than that of a violin. So learning to learn to play the violin is slightly different from learning to play the viola.

Additionally, the bow of a viola set is longer than the set of a violin, so more force of a player is required to allow both ends of a stick to graze the instrument’s strings in one quick move. So the violin is the smaller of the two instruments and the hand of the average adult can easier wrap around a violin’s neck.