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  • #12915 Reply

    Chris Guleff

    There’s always the give and take when it comes to viola size. The larger ones have a richer tone, while the smaller ones have a thinner tone. On the other hand, the larger ones are harder to handle, while the smaller ones are more comfortable. In my time, I’ve had a 16-1/2″ viola which had a beautiful sound, but I had to give it up after losing mobility in my wrist, hands and fingers due to aging, and then purchasing a 14″ viola so I could keep in practice. The 14″ viola seems more like a violin to me, and I keep trying to place my fingers on the fingerboard further apart which causes intonations problems for me. The 14′ viola actually doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s hard for my mind to accept the fact that I am playing a viola.

    I’m hoping through some exercises and healing therapy to get my range of motion back so I can play a large viola once more.

    #13815 Reply

    Chris Guleff

    Since my previous post on February 11th, I have continued to practice on my 14″ viola and now understand my resistance to this smaller instrument. Since my hand position and spacing between fingers on the fingerboard is within the range that I use when playing violin, my left-hand keeps feeding the information to my brain that this is a violin — in spite of the alto clef in front of my eyes! I feel a personal resistance to considering this instrument to be a viola at all — it’s just a violin “disguised” as a viola!

    From this, I’m learning that there are a variety of factors that separate violin and viola playing. Since I initially started on a larger viola — probably a 16″ model owned by my high school — and later used 16-1/2″ instruments in adult life, my body and mind quickly associated the size difference as a separate instrument. It actually helped me keep the two instruments separate in my mind all these years. This realization is actually acting as a motivator for me to continue working through physical therapy and healing exercises.

    Has anyone else experienced something like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    Thank you.

    #13823 Reply

    Dianne Adkins

    Hi Chris, I have a viola but haven’t played it recently. I am pretty sure it’s a full size viola. I used my violin playing knowledge/skill to transfer to viola playing. I played viola in a youth symphony (as a teacher / helper) some years back, since they had a shortage of viola players then. I found the alto clef to be a pretty good challenge, mentally. I really had to work at it, at first. Once I played viola regularly, my mind made the switch fairly easily. Now that I haven’t played viola for a long time, it would probably take regular practice to get comfortable with the clef. But as far as the physical differences, I never really had any issues.

    #13830 Reply

    Chris Guleff

    Hi Dianne,
    My experience was similar to yours. There was a shortage of violists in my high school orchestra – only me after I volunteered. I had no problem adjusting to the viola and played well enough to play second-chair in the city-wide youth symphony after only one summer of self-teaching and practice. Somehow, alto clef was not at all difficult for me as I learned right away to associate it with the larger instrument, but I struggle with it now sometimes when I play the “violin-sized” viola. What I liked the most about the viola was the bowing technique — I always had a tendency to be a little “heavy-handed” with violin bowing — too intense. The viola is still my favorite – I love the sonority and depth of tone – and it’s fun being in the center of the orchestra, sometimes playing an octave above the cellos and sometimes playing a unique fill-in harmony. Thank you for your post.

    #14228 Reply

    Scott Adams

    Hi. Don’t know if this topic is still of interest, but I’ve played two different “full” sizes in the 23 years I’ve been playing. For many years I played a 16″ instrument because that was the more acceptable full-sized instrument, and also the one that has the most variety of choices from makers. There’s also a bit of an old school/new school thought process in terms of what measurement of viola one should play. The old school approach is to play the largest instrument you can handle because the bigger ones are the ones to produce that more “viola-like” deep quality. However, the unintended consequence is over extension of forearms, wrists, and hands. Now, there’s a definite disconnect with this approach. If you played a chin instrument as a child, you probably remember being sized for your violin or viola by trying to reach out and wrap your hand around the scroll. If you can’t reach, or your arm was over-extended, that meant the instrument is too big for you, and will cause issues with comfort and ability to play with proper technique. Why shouldn’t this apply as an adult? Why keep going for the larger and larger violas (supposedly for the biggest sound) at the expense of technique and potential wrist injury? That’s where the “new school” approach comes in. Personally, I’m a shorter-framed person who really had no business playing on a 16 ” instrument. Over the years it caused me to suffer from some pretty bad tendinitis – especially when performing longer stage works in the pit. I ended up needing to take a hiatus from regular playing because it became so uncomfortable. This brings us to more recently, when I’ve since resumed playing, sold my old viola, and began performing on a 15″ viola. The act of playing and practicing is so much more of a joy. That, and size shouldn’t ever be a factor with viola tone if you’re playing on a well-made instrument!

    Sorry about such a long post. I suppose the short version of my personal journey is, if you’re concerned about getting a rich viola tone, don’t sacrifice your personal health. Instead focus on finding the right, well-made instrument that fits the bill on both fronts.

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