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The Viola vs. Violin: What Are the Differences and Similarities?

The viola and violin are two famous members of the string family. They have many similarities, especially in appearance, playing technique, and repertoire. But some differences are worth noting, including their size, sound quality, and pitch range. You might have encountered violin more than viola, but the latter also has unique qualities. This article covers the differences and similarities between the viola and violin and shares some tips on choosing the right instrument.

The viola and violin differ in the following aspects.

Size and weight

These two are the most noticeable differences between the two instruments. The viola is larger than the violin. And since it’s larger, it’s also heavier than violins. The violin is 14 inches long, while the viola is 16 inches long. This is why the viola is more challenging to play than the violin.

Tuning and range

The viola has its strings tuned to C, G, D, and A, while the violin is tuned to G, D, A, and E. This is why the viola has a lower pitch range than the violin, ideal for music pieces with lower notes.

Sound quality and characteristics

In terms of sound quality, the viola offers a warm and richer sound, while the violin has a brighter and more brilliant tonal quality. Their sound quality differs because of their body structure and tuning properties.

Playing style and technique

Playing the viola needs more physical effort and includes various bowing techniques to produce a clear sound. However, in violin, it can be played calmly and more delicately.

Similarities Between the Viola and Violin

Despite the differences, the viola and violin also share various similarities in terms of the following.

Physical structure and parts

Both viola and violin have four strings, an arched top, bridge, tailpiece, fingerboard, and scroll. They also have a bow made of horsehair drawn across the strings to create sound. Remember that what makes a good violin and viola all depends on the materials of its parts. High-quality materials mean excellent sound quality.

Playing position and posture

The viola and the violin can be played in the same position. It can either be played while sitting or standing, resting the instrument on the shoulder and chin. The left hand is responsible for pressing down the strings, while the right hand is used for bowing. Both instruments need good posture and a relaxed position.

Bowing technique

The bowing technique of both instruments needs to be smooth and consistent to create a clear and even sound. There are also various bowing techniques like staccato, legato, and spiccato that you can use on both instruments.

Choosing the Right Instrument For You

Choosing between the viola and the violin depends on your preferences and goals. We recommend considering these factors when choosing an instrument.

  • Size and weight. Smaller hands mean shorter reach, so the violin is ideal. If you have a larger and wider arm, opt for a viola.
  • Tuning and range. If you want to achieve a higher pitch range, then go for the violin. But opt for viola if you want a richer tone and are best for playing harmony and accompaniment parts.
  • Sound quality and characteristics. If you want a darker sound quality, go for viola. But a violin is a good choice if you want more focused and brighter sound quality.


As you see, the viola and violin are two unique string instruments that share similarities and possess various differences too. So, if you do not know what instrument to choose, we recommend considering the size, tuning, sound quality, and playing style you prefer. You might want to try out both instruments before you decide or consult a music expert for guidance.

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