Viola vs Violin: What’s Better?

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Last updatedLast updated: July 19, 2021
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Over the years, the viola vs. violin argument has raged on, with many music enthusiasts highlighting the beauty of their favored instrument. In this piece, we will be writing about the viola and the violin, explaining key differences between the two while showing how the two vary in size, sound, clef, range, strings, playing style, bridge, and across many other vital areas.

At the end of this piece, you should identify viola and violin differences, including why some people prefer one to the other — and why some people prefer both.

Differences Between Viola and Violin

The viola is a stringed musical instrument that is widely regarded as the tenor of the violin family. It is similar to a violin but is about 5cm longer than a violin.

The violin is a wooden musical instrument in the violin family. It is the smallest instrument in the violin family and has the highest pitch.

For easier comprehension, these are significant viola and violin differences.

Size

Viola vs Violin: What's Better?Violas are built in a wide variety of up to seven different sizes, namely sizes: 12″, 13″, 14″, 15″, 15.5″, 16″, 16.5″ and 18″. Violas from sizes 12″ to 15″ are classed as those suitable for children between the age ranges of 6 to 12. Sizes 15″ are ideal for 10-year-olds, while sizes 15.5″ and 16″ are ideal for average adults and significant adults, respectively. However, violins come in 9 different sizes that are much smaller. The smallest size is 1/16 (i.e., 9 inches or 23cm), and the sizes move up progressively, including sizes 1/10, ⅛, ¼, ½, ¾, ⅞, and 4/4. Most adults can use a full-size violin, including children from around age 10.

Violas come in four main sizes, while violins come in nine main sizes, but the viola is much larger than the violin, and it has a body length of 37 to 43 cm which is about 5 cm or 2 inches longer than a violin. This means that the viola can be used more generally by adults considering its size and general weight. On the flip side, children and younger adults can play the violin more frequently as it has a more petite frame and can be easily handled, such as the Mendini By Cecilio Violin – MV500+92D.

With the different sizes of violins and violas, getting the right violin as a beginner can be quite hard. You would find some useful tips to help you get started in our best violins for beginners article.

Sound

Viola vs Violin: What's Better?The viola has four strings to the tune of c-g-d’-a’. This tune begins with the C below the middle C. Regarding tone, the viola’s tone is slightly warmer and darker, holding more weight. Statistics show that the modern orchestra has 6 to 10 violas, and the viola is an all-important member of the string quartet and other music choirs. However, the violin’s sound is different. The violin has a full, lively, and lustrous sound, but the sound it produces depends on many factors, as is the case with many stringed instruments.

Essential things like string thickness, type of string, bowing speed, bowing pressure, and angle of contact to the bow all play a crucial role in viola or violin sound.

The G string of the violin is dark and resonant, while the D string is whole and mellow. The A string is more mellow than the D string, while the E string is lustrous and metallic. This difference in sound is significantly why different musicians have their preferences regarding the viola or the violin. Since the viola has a darker tone, it is a preferred instrument for musicians in particular orchestras. Certain violas are perfectly suited for orchestras, just like the16-inch Cecilio CVA-400. Of course, the sound of the regular instrument is nothing compared to an electric violin.

Clef

Viola vs Violin: What's Better?The viola uses the C-clef, while the violin uses the G-clef. The viola’s C-clef or the “alto clef” indicates the position of the note C, and it is placed in the middle of the viola stave. It can become the soprano clef, the alto clef, or the tenor clef, depending on whether it is on the bottom, on the middle, on the third line above the bottom of the stave.

Meanwhile, the violin’s G-clef or the “treble clef” appears at the beginning of the letter G that circles the second line of the violin staff. The G-clef is the most commonly used clef, and it is usually the clef that many musicians learn first. The difference between these two different clefs produce is that while the viola is a mid-ranged alto instrument while the violin has the highest range amongst stringed instruments.

Range

The range of notes in the viola and the violin are vastly different. Violas have many notes — C is the lowest open string while A is the highest string. On the other hand, notes on the violin start from G to E, which is the highest string. So, while both instruments can be played within a 4-octave range, a viola can lower notes lower than the lowest note on the violin, whereas violins can strike higher notes than violas since they have the E string.

Strings

Viola vs Violin: What's Better?The viola and the violin are both stringed instruments. However, while both are majorly made of four strings, the viola’s strings are C, G, D, and A. A and C are the highest and lowest strings, respectively. On the other hand, the violin’s strings are G, D, A, and E. E and G are the highest and lowest strings.

The difference in strings of the two instruments shows that they can be used for vastly different purposes.

Playing style

The viola and the violin both require different playing styles, and both instruments can, in turn, be used to play different things. Notably, it can be harder playing the viola, not just because it is more significant gear than the violin, but because the viola’s strings viola is often thicker than that of the violin. However, when it comes to playing style, the viola plays folk music, classical, country and bluegrass, Hungarian gypsy, Celtic, pop, and jazz music. On the other hand, the viola plays folk, classical, jazz, country, pop, fiddle, and Indian classical music.

This shows that the instruments can be used to do vastly different things and not generate the same sounds while using the same playing styles. The viola, for instance, can play the Hungarian Romani and Celtic music, whereas the violin cannot be trusted to reproduce these sounds.

Bridge

Viola vs Violin: What's Better?The bridge in a viola and that in a violin are markedly different—pressure and good placement help hold the viola bridge together. Glue does not properly hold the strings in place. Eventually, when properly aligned, the bridge stands up erect to the viola. Also, when putting a bridge on the viola, the viola’s strings must be loosened. For the viola, setting up the violin is vastly different. The feet of the violin must rest on the violin, and the bridge blank must be made to rest on the violin adequately.

Crucially, a bridge is essential when playing music. But the process of fitting a bridge for both instruments is all so different. For the viola and the violin, installing a bridge requires extensive procedures that are different for both instruments.

Final thoughts

So, is the viola better than the violin? From the illustrations above, it is clear that the viola and the violin are two different instruments, and even though both are stringed instruments, they function differently while offering different options within an orchestra for the violist and violinist. After all, the viola and the violin are two different stringed instruments, and as such, the viola vs. violin is not a fair comparison. Nonetheless, regardless of your preference, understand that violins and violas are very fragile instruments and require a great deal of care. Be sure to invest in a quality violin case, wipe off all excess rosin, and keep it in a safe place.

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