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    Chris Guleff
    Participant

    The viola is in some ways considered the “odd duck” in the string section. Some string historians consider the viola to predate the violin and cello being an outgrowth of the “vielle” family. The “Viola da Braccio” — meaning viola “on the arm” — was later supplanted by the modern viola at the time the modern violins and cellos were created. This is all very controversial, but some scholars believer this because of the similarity in tonal structure and timbre to certain members of the viol family. The viola, too, does not come in standard dimensions and ratios that the violin and cello do. Therefore the tone quality of the viola differs from that of its smaller and larger siblings, and various violas can be somewhat more different in sound from one another than violins or cellos of the same quality.

    Of course the viola uses the alto clef — an oddity in itself, in that most other instruments use the treble and/or bass clefs. The treble clef is sometimes used by the cello, bassoon and trombone, but only the viola uses the alto clef. The parts assigned to the viola in earlier classical music were often harmonic fill-ins for alto or tenor parts, and in some passages the viola would play along with the cellos one octave higher for a bit.

    I actually like the viola and LOVE playing it. I kind of like some of the quirkiness of the instrument and am proud to play an instrument selected by only a minority of string players — much the same way that the oboe stands out from other woodwinds.

    I’m interested in hearing the opinions about others concerning the viola.

    #17437 Reply

    Scott Adams
    Keymaster

    Hi Chris – Thanks for all your thoughts here! I’ve been playing viola for over 24 years and have always been proud of being a violist as well! The viola is not only the lone instrument to play from alto clef – it’s actually the lone holdout, as the original clef was the C clef, itself. The location of middle C was shifted around based on the voice singing the part. That’s why we see it being used as both alto and tenor clefs. We’re not only unique, we’re part of history!

    C clef progression

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