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  • A Question For String Players


    Can a Viola player play the violin as well, and vice versa, or is the training different between the two instruments.  I realize that there is a physical difference between the two instruments but are the string positions the same and bow techniques, etc.  The reason I'm asking is because I was asked to write a violin solo for an aqcaintance who is producing a Pop styled CD.  After i sent him a VSL moch up of what I wrote he said, "Oh by the way, the violin player that we hired doesn't play violin at all.  He plays the viola.  Does that make a difference?"  I'm embarrassed to say this but I have no idea. 

    I feel kind of dumb for asking but does it make a difference?    

  • It all depends. There are things you do on the Viola that you don't on the Violin, and vice versa. However, it is usually easier for Violin players to attempt the Viola than the other way round, because it is a less steep learning curve.

    However, do be aware that some Viola players "hate" Violinists who dabble in Viola playing, so you will get lots of opinions about this within the string profession. [;)]

  • Shouldn't the question be: Can the solo you wrote be played on the viola?

  • Thanks DG.  I'm actually trying to talk this acqaintance of mine into saving some money and just using my mock up.  It's Pop music and in the Pop world they put so much compression and boost limiting the tracks these days that all of the dynamics of a live player are squashed out so that they sound like a sampled instrument anyway.  Why do they bother hiring live players? 

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    @MassMover said:

    Shouldn't the question be: Can the solo you wrote be played on the viola?


    Well that goes without saying but he wants a Violin as the instrument's timbre better compliments the female vocalist he's recording.  The Viola contrasts too much because it has a darker sound.  Personally, I prefer the Viola over the Violin and that would have been my choice.

  • Dear Jasen,

    As a former violinist who moved over to the viola (my hands just really got too big for the violin in the end), it depends.  They are separate instruments, however some people happily play both (say, Nigel Kennedy).  The following are the main considerations for a viola player:

    1) Intonation might be a bit of a problem - the notes are a little closer together
    2) If they are a bloke (usually) with big hands they might have trouble with their fingers falling all over theirselves
    3) The lack of a C string, and the sudden addition of an E string might put them off
    4) They may well be more used to dealing with the alto clef than the treble clef

    However, the difference is mostly in the type of parts they play.  Violinists are used to being "front and center", tend to have the leading part and, frankly, in their career, having to compete with a lot of violinists (and there are a lot more than violists).  Violists often have accompanying parts, fewer solos etc.  I would say it is easier for a "native" violinist to move to the viola, than for a native violist to move the other way, on the basis that the parts are usually (sweeping generalisation here) less demanding and exposed.  But the mileage of each violist will vary.

    Bottom line - if the violist says that they can do it, assume they are correct until you hear them.  A violist who does not feel comfortable will tell you without even trying it.

    Hope this helps.

    Kind Regards,


  • Hey Nick,

    Thank you for taking the time to write out a very informative response.  I especially found your four considerations helpful.  I'll have to print that out and file it.

    So there appears to be some animosity between the two professions.  Well I can understand why when the Violas are often confined to playing supporting roles to the more gregarious Violins.  The Viola is kind of like a sidekick to the heroic Violin.  For me, it's kind of ashamed because, as I stated previously, I prefer the dark, mellow and smooth sound of the Violas to the screechy sometimes shrieking Violins.  Don't get me wrong, I like the Violins too i just prefer the Violas.  All of the strings have a beautiful sound.    

    Now, I can only imagine what the anomosity is between cellists and DB players.

  • PaulP Paul moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on