Violin and viola are both in the same family of string instruments, and are loved by many people the world over.

However, the violin remains the most popular of the two, but why is this? And what exactly makes violins different to violas?

Let’s have a look at the reasons and the differences.

What Are The Differences?

There are many differences between violins and violas, although they are very similar.

The first, most noticeable difference, is the size. The violin is actually smaller than the viola, although many people mistakenly think it is the other way around.

A full size violin is usually approximately 36cm in length, whereas a full size viola is normally around 40cm, although there are some slight variations to this.

The pitch is different between the two. Violins reach a very high pitch, and cellos are much lower. Violas come somewhere between the two.

The violin’s top string is an E, whereas the top string on a viola is an A, which is several notes below that of a violin. The viola plays at a lower pitch, and has a much mellower sound than the more well known, high pitched violin.

The strings on a violin are quite thin, which aids in reaching those high pitches, whereas the viola strings are slightly thicker – not a hugely noticeable difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Which Came First The Violin Or The Viola?

It’s not hugely clear which of the two came first. The first stringed instruments that were recognisable as violin types came into being in the 1500s.

It is thought that the viola came first, as the names of the instruments – violin, violoncello and viola all come from the name ‘viola’.

Within the stringed instrument family, there were two distinct instruments – the viola da braccio and the viola da gamba. Viola da braccio translates to viola of the arm, and was played whilst being held, like the violin or viola. Violin da gamba translates to viola of the leg, which was played whilst being stood and supported by the legs, much like a cello.

So it seems that the viola came first, and the other stringed instruments came from these instruments with many variations.

Why Is The Violin More Popular?

The violin remains the more popular of the two instruments, with the viola often being the butt of many degrading jokes, and violists being made fun of regularly, which is particularly unfair.

It really comes down to preference to which one a musician prefers to play, and there is great skill needed for both.

The violin has a greater range of notes, and it’s smaller size makes it slightly easier to hold for many people.

Violas are larger than violins, and tend to be a lot heavier. This means they can be quite awkward to hold, and make the musicians that play them more susceptible to injuries, such as back injuries, due to the extra weight.

So, the violin is seen as more elegant, and certainly has an increased repertoire of notes that can be played on it, and these combined make it far more popular than the viola.

Why Learn To Play Either?

Whether you decide to learn to play the violin, or the viola, there are certainly many benefits to learning a musical instrument.

Learning and playing a musical instrument greatly reduces stress. Stress is something that many of us suffer from, especially in this modern world, and many studies have shown that playing an instrument has a huge part in reducing signs of stress.

Stress is a far reaching condition that causes many issues, from headaches and digestive issues, to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases and sleep disorders, to name just a few.

Playing an instrument reduces blood pressure and general signs of stress, to allow you to live more healthily.

Playing an instrument can also help concentration levels. We live in such a fast paced world, that many people find their concentration levels lacking. To master an instrument requires high levels of concentration, as well as patience and discipline, so learning an instrument can help to re-learn to concentrate properly.

Instrument playing can also increase social skills, increase cognitive function as well as many other positive benefits.

Famous Violinists and Violists

In case you are needing inspiration to learn one of these wonderful instruments, then you can look to some of the most famous masters of these instruments.

Famous violists include Carl Stamitz, Lionel Tertis, William Primrose, Nobuku Imai, Yuri Bashmet and Lawrence Power.

Many of these wonderful viola players have recordings available to listen to, and some still play live to this day.

Famous violinists are more plentiful, but some notable ones to pay attention to are Niccolo Paganini, David Oistrakh, Antonio Vivaldi, Ivry Gitlis, Nicola Benedetti, Sarah Chang, Midori and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Again, there are many recordings available of their work, and many can still be seen playing live both solo and as part of an orchestra today.

Are The Viola And Violin Old Fashioned?

There is a misconception that stringed instruments can only be used to play older music.

Of course, some of the most famous pieces of music composed for violins and violas can be centuries old, but that is not to say they are old fashioned.

Stringed instruments can certainly be used to play modern music, and with the advent of electric violins and violas, the instrument has been well and truly brought into the twenty-first century.

Anyone of any age can enjoy string music. Whether they prefer the classics and like to listen to Vivaldi, or they prefer the more modern style of the electric violin as showcased so well by Vanessa Mae, there really is something for everyone.

So, as you can see both the violin and the viola have their positive attributes. The violin remains the more popular instrument to learn and play, but learning any instrument at all will have many benefits for you.


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