Viola vs Violin Explained: What’s the Difference?

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Do you want to play a string instrument but don’t know which one? Consider getting viola vs. violin explained to you so that you can understand the differences.

Then, you may find you gravitate toward one of them. If not, you can try both to see which you prefer to play.

The Main Differences Between Violas And Violins

The main differences between violas and violins are:

  • Violas have an alto range, whereas violins have a soprano range
  • Violas read music in the alto clef, whereas violins read music in the treble clef
  • Violas tend to play a harmonic role, whereas violins tend to have the melody
  • Viola bodies are too small for the range, whereas violin bodies are the right size
  • Violas measure size differences in inches, whereas violins use fractions

Consider why these differences matter and how they affect both instruments.


The viola’s range starts at the C below middle C (C3) and goes up the E just over three octaves higher (E6). This gives the viola a medium-high range.

On the other hand, the violin’s range starts at the G below middle C (G3). You can play up to the A two octaves above the treble clef (A7).

Both let you play melodic parts but also harmonies when playing with others. However, the violin tends to play higher notes due to the higher range.


Viola music mostly uses the alto clef, and it’s the only common instrument that does so. However, if you play a lot of higher viola parts, you may also use the treble clef to avoid reading tons of ledger lines.

If you decide to play the violin, you’ll only need to learn the treble clef. That can make the switch easier if you already play the piano, flute, or trumpet. But you will need to read a lot of ledger lines.

So think about if you’d prefer to read small lines above and below the staff or if you want to learn two clefs. Both are valid choices, and it’s up to you to decide on the right option.


In an ensemble, the violin and viola can serve very different roles. When it comes to the viola, its range means that the viola part usually plays harmonies or counter-melodies.

If you prefer to play the main melody, you may find that the violin is a better fit. The violin will sometimes play harmonies, but you’re more likely to get the melody.

When it comes to playing as a soloist, you’ll also have more violin music than viola music. That may affect your decision if you can’t or don’t want to join a music group.


Historically, musicians would play the viola between their legs, like a cello. They played an instrument called the viola da gamba, which was much bigger than the modern viola.

The viola body had to get much smaller to allow players to rest it on their chin. Because of that, it can be hard for the viola to resonate and produce a full sound.

On the other hand, violins have always been the optimal size for their range. You can play it on your shoulder and get a good sound out of the violin relatively easily.


Like other string instruments, the viola and violin come in different sizes so that players of all ages can use them. But the difference lies in the sizing system.

Viola sizes use inches based on the size of the body of the instrument. That can make it easy to figure out how big the instrument will be before you get it.

However, the violin uses a fractional system. A full violin is a 4/4 model, and you can find sizes down to 1/16. The fractions don’t actually represent the difference, because a 1/16 violin isn’t a sixteenth the size of a 4/4 violin.

Benefits Of Playing The Viola

Even when you know how the viola and violin differ, you may not be able to choose one or the other. Fortunately, there are plenty of benefits you can enjoy when you learn to play the viola.

Whether this is your first instrument or not, the viola is great. It doesn’t have the best reputation, but it’s a vital part of any orchestra or string quartet.

So consider a few reasons why you may want to play the viola instead of the violin.

Less Competitive

When I’ve played in college and community orchestras, there has almost always been a shortage of viola players. There have been concerts where there was only one person playing the instrument.

So if you want a good chance of joining an orchestra, the viola may be your ticket into the group. You don’t have to worry about competing with as many musicians for a position or even for a top spot.

The viola may also be a good option if you just aren’t a very competitive person. If you just want to play music, give the viola a try, and you may love it.

Warmer Sound

Due to the bigger size and lower range, the viola sounds warmer than the violin. This can be especially nice when you’re a beginner because you don’t have to worry about sounding too shrill.

Even as you advance, you can enjoy the warm, rich tones the viola can provide. You may not get as low and warm of a sound as a cellist, but the viola can sound really good with practice.

If you don’t want to deal with the really high notes of the violin, the viola is also a good alternative. The instrument is a nice compromise between high and low notes.

Repertoire Variety

While the viola doesn’t have much original solo repertoire, that shouldn’t stop you from playing it. You can find plenty of violin or cello music that people have transcribed for the viola.

A lot of violists play the famous Cello Suites by J.S. Bach. Now, the pieces won’t sound exactly the same since the viola is an octave higher than the cello, but you still get to play some fantastic pieces.

If you like to experiment with different works, the viola will let you do that. And you can always play the pieces that composers have written specifically for the viola.

Best Violas

Are you ready to take advantage of all the viola has to offer? Before you get the first viola you can find, consider if it’s one of the best models out there.

There are plenty of good brands and models, but there are just as many of poor quality. So at least use the following instruments as a starting point for your search for the best viola.

D Z Strad 101

The D Z Strad 101 is an excellent beginner viola at a reasonable price. It features a maple and spruce body, while the rest of the fittings are ebony.

Those materials help you get the traditional sound you’d expect from a string instrument. You also get a bow, rosin, and a set of strings so that you can start playing the viola right off the bat.

This model even comes in different sizes so that you can choose the most comfortable option. If you love the instrument but need to upgrade, D Z Strad has a full line of violas for you to try.


  • Different sizes
  • Good sound
  • Affordable


  • Not for professionals

Cremona SVA-200

Another fantastic student-level viola to try is the Cremona SVA-200. The model uses maple and spruce for the body so that you can get an excellent sound as a beginner.

Cremona follows national music education standards, so this viola is perfect for use in a school orchestra. This instrument is also lightweight, which is nice as you get used to the playing position.

It’s available in three sizes, 14, 15, and 16 inches. The aluminum strings also help make the instrument sound good and feel comfortable as you learn to play.


  • Good sound
  • Easy to play
  • Lightweight and comfortable


  • Not for really small players

Yamaha AVA5

The Yamaha AVA5 is yet another excellent viola you should consider. Maple, spruce, ebony, and rosewood make up the various parts of the instrument to help you get a good sound.

You get a set of Helicore strings, which are fantastic for beginners and advancing students. Plus, there’s a bow and rosin, so you can start playing the instrument as soon as you receive it.

Everything comes in a protective case, so you don’t have to worry about the instrument when you aren’t practicing. But you will need to save a bit more money for it compared to other student violas.


  • Good sound
  • Comes with what you need
  • Sturdy


  • A bit expensive

Benefits Of Playing The Violin

The viola is an excellent instrument for some musicians, but it’s not for everyone. Before you count out the violin, consider some of the advantages that come with playing it.

You may find that the violin suits your needs better. And you can still play plenty of works just like a violist would.

Here are a few benefits you may experience when you start playing the violin.

Soloistic Sound

If you like being the center of attention on stage, you’ll fit right in as a violinist. The instrument has plenty of solo repertoire, including concertos, sonatas, and unaccompanied works.

Even if you play in an orchestra or string quartet, the violin can act like a soloist. Assuming you play the first violin part rather than the second, you will often have the melody.

And if you don’t want to play classical music, the violin is popular in other genres, like folk music. Playing as a soloist in those situations is also common.

More Music

Compared to the viola, the violin has more music originally written for it. If you want to enjoy music as the composer intended it, the violin is going to be a better option.

You can play a ton of music from Bach, Mozart, and many other composers. A lot of that music is available online for free or for a small fee.

And you don’t have to worry about finding a transcription of a piece you want to play. If you enjoy more solo works, the violin is probably the right choice for you.

Smaller Size

Another way the violin beats out the viola is with its smaller size. While the violin isn’t as small as some instruments, you don’t need as much space to store or transport it.

That can be nice if you tend to go to a lot of rehearsals or lessons around town. And if you want to take your violin on a trip, it will most likely fit on a plane.

Sure, the viola can fit on a plane or in your car as well. But it may be a tighter fit, and you might need to sacrifice some other things to make space for it.

Best Violins

Once you decide that you want to play the violin, you should start shopping for an instrument. However, you need to know about some of the best violins out there.

That way, you’ll be able to select an instrument that meets your needs and is within your budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of models to consider as a beginner.

Here are a few you can start with, and you can expand your search to similar models if none of them work out.

Yamaha V3

Like the Yamaha viola, the Yamaha V3 violin is an excellent choice. It comes in a 4/4 size, and the design is durable and reliable for students.

You can use it to get a fantastic sound without a ton of practice, and it’s pretty easy to play. Yamaha dries the wood to help make it durable so that the instrument can withstand almost anything.

That makes it an amazing option for school orchestra and other groups. You should still be careful with it, but you have some leeway to learn how to hold and use the violin.


  • Reliable and durable
  • Good sound
  • Easy to play


  • Only one size

Andreas Eastman Model 305

The Andreas Eastman Model 305 is an excellent violin for the beginner. Maple and spruce make up the body, so you can get a similar sound to much more expensive instruments.

Its pegs and tailpiece make tuning the violin quick and easy, which is nice for newer players. And you can get a warm and clear sound from the start.

Unfortunately, it is a bit more expensive than other student violins. However, it comes with a case to help protect your investment when you aren’t playing.


  • Good sound
  • Quality woods
  • Protective case


  • More expensive

Cremona SV-500

If you need something more affordable, give the Cremona SV-500 a try. This violin is a premier model at a reasonable price for students and intermediate players.

You can use it as your first violin or an upgrade from another model. The violin is available in sizes 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 4/4, so you’ll be able to find a comfortable size for you.

It even comes with a bow and a case, so you have what you need to start playing. Then, you can advance without getting a new violin super soon.


  • Good for beginners
  • Affordable
  • Multiple sizes


  • Needs some adjustments to play well

FAQs About Viola Vs. Violin Explained

Question: Is the Viola or Violin Better?

Answer: Neither instrument is objectively better than the other. Some musicians prefer the violin because of its solo repertoire and bright sound. It’s also nice since it’s a bit smaller than the viola.
However, other players prefer the warm and mellow tone that you can get on the viola. The violin can sound pretty shrill, even after you’ve played it a while.
Be sure to consider what type of sound you like better. Then, you can play the instrument that is right for you.

Question: Is the Violin or Viola Easier?

Answer: Finding the easiest instrument to play is also going to depend on you. I could say the violin is straightforward, but you may find it difficult, especially if you don’t like it.
Choosing the instrument you prefer will make it easier to motivate yourself to practice. When you practice regularly, you can improve, and then, the instrument will seem more manageable.

Question: Which is Better for Ensemble Playing?

Answer: The viola and violin are equally good in ensembles like orchestras and string quartets. However, you may find that you can join more groups and more advanced groups as a viola player.
You won’t face as much competition as if you played the violin. So if you know you want to play in an orchestra or another ensemble, playing the viola may help you reach that goal more quickly.

Question: Which is Better for Solo Playing?

Answer: While you can play solo music on either instrument, the violin is a better choice. There’s more solo music for it, and more people tend to think of the violin when thinking of a soloist.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should give up the viola if you want to play music alone. You can find viola solos, but the violin is better suited to playing solo.

Question: Why do People Hate the Viola?

Answer: If you ever hear a musical instrument joke, there’s a good chance it will be about the viola. Unfortunately, the viola is a punching bag for jokes, which is sad since it’s a great instrument.
However, the reason comes from how the viola developed. For it to have the same resonance as a violin or cello, the viola’s body would need to be much larger. Since it’s smaller than it should be, the viola can be hard to make sound good.
But if you’re willing to practice the viola regularly, you can make a great sound on it. Then, you may be able to get people to like the viola.

Question: Why do People Hate the Violin?

Answer: The hate for the violin isn’t as common as hate for the viola, but it exists. A lot of it is hate for the sound of a beginner violinist since they don’t have great technique.
When you first start playing the violin, you may sound screechy and shrill, and it can take time to get better. However, as you get better, you can start to produce a rich tone on the instrument.

Question: How do you Choose Between the Violin and Viola?

Answer: You should consider the benefits of each instrument, the music available, and your situation. Sadly, there’s no one correct answer for everyone on which instrument to choose.
If possible, try both the violin and viola before you select one. That way, you’ll know how each sounds and feels, which may help you eliminate one or the other.

Question: Can you Play Both the Viola and Violin?

Answer: You can play both the viola and violin if you want. As a beginner, you should start with one so that you can learn the basics, and you can add the other one later.
If you want to get serious about music, playing both will give you more opportunities. You can play viola in one group and violin in another. If you want to teach music, you’ll be able to attract more private students when you play both.

Final Note On Viola Vs. Violin Explained

Having the viola vs. violin explained is a great way to figure out which instrument is better for you. For better or worse, neither option is always the right choice.

So make sure you consider both of them, their ranges, and other features. Then, you can look at some of the best violas and violins to select an instrument to learn.

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