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? Violin/Viola

Sorcha 12 Feb 03 - 12:01 AM
banjomad (inactive) 12 Feb 03 - 07:18 AM
JohnInKansas 12 Feb 03 - 07:45 AM
Willie-O 12 Feb 03 - 09:31 AM
Sorcha 12 Feb 03 - 09:56 AM
Sorcha 12 Feb 03 - 07:33 PM
Wilfried Schaum 13 Feb 03 - 06:58 AM
GUEST,T-boy 13 Feb 03 - 07:40 AM
JohnInKansas 13 Feb 03 - 09:40 AM
Sorcha 13 Feb 03 - 10:29 AM
wlisk 13 Feb 03 - 08:48 PM
JohnInKansas 13 Feb 03 - 10:15 PM
Sorcha 14 Feb 03 - 01:58 AM
daisy 14 Feb 03 - 11:29 AM
Joe Offer 14 Feb 03 - 12:02 PM
Sorcha 14 Feb 03 - 12:10 PM
Wilfried Schaum 14 Feb 03 - 12:31 PM
JohnInKansas 14 Feb 03 - 02:17 PM
bigdarve 14 Feb 03 - 05:09 PM
Sorcha 14 Feb 03 - 05:17 PM
Peterr 14 Feb 03 - 06:12 PM
Sorcha 14 Feb 03 - 06:47 PM
Newport Boy 04 Sep 11 - 08:01 AM
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Subject: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 12:01 AM

Coming from me, this may be a "dumb" question, but not a stoopid one. What are the structural differences between a violin and a viola?? I know that:
Viola is a fifth lower. Tunes A E G C--violin tunes E A D G
Violas are bigger, usually 16" or 15.25"
Standard 4/4 violin is 14" BUT so is a 3/4 size viola.
I had a girl over today who swears that her 14" instrument is a 3/4 viola. I don't think so. Felt like a violin, and I KNOW it had 4/4 violin strings on it, so that is how I tuned it.

She couldn't play it because she was used to viola tuning/alto clef.
SOooo,

Other than tuning/size, what are the differences?? Doesn't a viola have thicker ribs and more arch in the belly? If we decide to put 3/4 size viola strings on what is essentially a 4/4 violin, what might happen?

Problem is, we want to play together but I read treble clef, she reads alto...........small problem. She promised to work on treble, I promised to work on alto, but in the meantime.........HELP!


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: banjomad (inactive)
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 07:18 AM

stick to the fiddle, no confusion there.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 07:45 AM

A quick look at references I have on hand - mostly on "ancient and venerable" instruments, shows little visible difference between violin and viola construction other than size. The minor differences in ribs, plates, arch, etc are only those you would expect to find in scaling to a new the string length. Construction differences, after taking account of the different string length, between a Stradivari violin and a Stradivari viola are not much more than the differences between Strad, Stainer, Amati etc. fiddles - or in fact, the fiddle to fiddle variation between Strads of slightly different eras.

"Encyclopedia" type references don't give enough detail to judge whether there are any other "traditional" differences, although you might want to stiffen the viola some to make a better club out of it in some venues.

Depending on the age and experience of your pupil, it is entirely possible that the orchestra at her school needed a viola part and had a violin, so they retuned it and told her she's a violist. (Be gentle about arguing with a budding musician's self-identity.)

Tuning fiddle strings on a fiddle length instrument a fifth lower (I'd expect A-D-G-C?) shouldn't cause any structural damage, as the string tensions will be significantly lower than normal. I would expect the fingering to be a little "flabby," and there is the possibility that the lower "download" on the bridge might not support the soundpost well. If she is satisfied with the way it plays, I'd see no reason to press the string issue, but if she really wants it to be a viola, it might be worth looking for some larger gage strings. (There is the possibility that an instrument used in this manner for a fairly long time might "open up" some gaps when retuned back to violin pitch, although it's not something I'd expect or be too concerned about.)

If she wishes to read alto clef, you will need to tune the instrument down to viola pitch. I'm sure you know that many of the "el-cheap" notation programs can make "instant" transpositions once you have a tune notated, if it's a problem of you both having the same piece in your respective clefs.

If your student is to continue with the viola, it is probably a "good thing" if she learns to read some treble clef, simply because there's a lot more stuff notated that way. (You don't see a lot of bluegrass tunes in alto clef.) I'd not make an immediate issue of that though, if you're having fun and she's learning.

John


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Willie-O
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 09:31 AM

I agree with John except that I'd expect violin strings to be a lot flabby, to the point of near unplayability, if tuned down a fifth.

They actually make different string sets for those smaller version instruments? I didn't know that.

She would for sure want to learn to read treble clef.

W-O


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 09:56 AM

Thanks, guys. She is not exactly a "student"........she has played for years and this is the instrument her high school teacher sold her as a viola. She recently had it repaired and it came back with violin strings. We are going to try a set of 3/4 viola strings (heavier gauge than violin) and see what happens.

She is conversant with treble clef, but it has been years since she had to read it; I have never learnt alto clef, but I am going to try to learn. (Note to self--if it looks like 2nd finger, it's an open string.......)


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 12 Feb 03 - 07:33 PM

Please????


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 06:58 AM

From the philologist's point of view:
The original instrument is the viola; in Italian there are som suffixes to determinate size:
Smaller than the original: Violina (m = -ino)
Bigger: Violone
A liitle bit smaller than the bigger, but bigger still than the original: Violoncello
So we have the entire family with soprano=violina, alto=viola, tenore=violoncello, and basso=violone.

Wilfried


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: GUEST,T-boy
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 07:40 AM

I believe that the viola is exceptional in the string family (violin down to cello & bass) in that it is smaller in size relative to its pitch. This makes its tone smaller than the others.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 09:40 AM

I find a little bit at Music Basics (http://www.musicbasics.com/howtodetrigs1.html) under the title "How to deterimine the right size of viola to buy."

Viola comes in 4 different sizes: 16", 15", 14", and 13". 16" size being the biggest and 13" size being the smallest. All adults, regardless of their size, use the 16" viola. There are 2 other less common sizes, 15-1/2" and 16-1/2". 15-1/2" size is for people who are in between 15" and 16" sizes while 16-1/2" size is for people who wants a little more sound volume out of their viola.


They give the following "dimensions:"

16" inch viola, 26 inches long
15"inch viola, 24 1/2 inches long
14"inch viola, 23 inches long
13"inch viola, 21 1/2 inches long

For comparison, their "How to … violin" gives:

Violin comes in 8 different sizes: 4/4 (also called full size), 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16,1/32. 4/4 size being the biggest and 1/32 size being the smallest. All adults, regardless of their size, use the 4/4 violin. There is another uncommon size, 7/8, usually used by female professional violinist who wants a full-size violin sound but whose hand might be a little small for the full size violin. So violin makers would make violins just a little smaller than full size to accommodate these players.


With the following dimensions:

4/4 (Full Size) violin, 23 inches long
3/4 violin, 22 inches long
1/2 violin, 20 inches long
1/4 violin, 18 1/2 inches long
1/8 violin, 16 1/2 inches long
1/10 violin, 15 inches long
1/16 violin, 14 inches long
1/32 violin, 13 inches long

They list a fairly wide range of violin strings for sale, but do not list viola strings.

Woodwind Brasswind (http://www.wwbw.com/Department/?d=8&dd=954727718&source=msn) does offer viola strings, but doesn't give any info about what makes them different form violin strings (except the price). You can go directly to their strings at WW&BW viola strings.

String Works (http://www.stringworks.com/) has an impressive selection of instruments, but no information on what makes a viola different from a violin. The do have an interesting entry to their "String Works University" that gives an apparently knowledgeable survey of "stuff every fiddler should know(?)" String Works University doesn't contribute anything to this question, but is an interesting "quick read" that might be useful with students.

The American Viola Society has a site, but I note that their "hitmeter" showed me as the 3,837th visitor since last November. Not exactly a hotbed of excitement (unless the meter's broke)? I didn't explore the site.

The best place I found with my brief survey, where you might be able to "dig out" something of interest, was at The Strad monthly magazine site. The site appears to offer a link to browse at least some back issues, and I've picked up a few newsstand copies, so I know it's a good mag.

There seems to be a lot more internet interest in Viola da Gamba and Viola d'Amore than in "conventional" viola. Unfortunately, in this area I found some sites that I'll be compelled to go back to for another look; but they don't contribute anything useful to the current question.

The few decent pictures I've hit suggest that the modern viola may tend to have a slightly narrower "upper bout" than would result from directly scaling a violin - possibly to prevent interfering with the bowing arm. I can't state this as a conclusion, it's only suggested by a few "representative(?)" pictures of mixed quality.

John


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 10:29 AM

Thanks!


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: wlisk
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 08:48 PM

How can you tell the difference of a full sized violin from a 14" viola? What are depth dimensions? We have an instrument that we thought was a full sized violin but we've been told that is actually a 14" viola! It was set up for fiddlin, but is now set up for fiddlan. Thanks Bill


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 Feb 03 - 10:15 PM

Based on what we've found on "modern" instruments, your instrument is whatever you want it to be. If you put fiddle strings on and tune it GDAE it's a fiddle. If you put viola strings on and tune CGDA it's a viola.

There are almost certainly some "conventions" that say that a viola should be a little "thicker" and probably a little wider, especially at the lower bout, than a fiddle of the same string length, but I've been unable to find any consistent modern dimensions.

Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work (1644-1737) by Hill, Hill, & Hill, Dover reprint 1963, gives "basic" dimensions for about 50 Stradivarius and contemporary era violins. Stradivari apparently made only about 10 violas, and those made by the Amati and Stainer are similarly few. Dimensions for four "large violas" and six "small violas" are given by the Hills, but there seems to be little "trend" to the dimensions, and the difference between violins by different makers – or even those made by the same person at different times – seem to be at least as large as the differences between violins and violas of any given maker.

The "large" violas of the 1600-1700 era all have "boxes" of 17.5 to nearly 19 inches in length, so would be easy to recognize as "not violins." The more commonly made "small" viola had "box lengths" of about 16.25 to 16.87 inches, somewhat longer than the 13 to 14.8 inch length for boxes of violins by the noted makers of the same era, but not too significantly different from many violins made by other known makers of the same time period.

Widths across the upper and lower bouts ranged from 6.2 to 8.4+ for violins of that era, while the small viola boxes were in the range of 7.3 to 9.7 inches. Generally, the lower bout is wider, but there are several examples of distinguised "upside-down" violins where the upper bout is significantly wider than the lower. Even comparing a given violin to a viola made by a same maker within a short time span, there is no consistent difference that I can discern by "optical filtering" of the information available. It is safe to say only that the viola box would probably be "bigger."

The most consistent difference between these early violins and violas appears to be in the box thickness, with the violins from about 1.12 to 1.8 inches, and the small violas 1.2 to 1.6. The ranges obviously overlap, but for a given maker at a given time there appears to have been a tendency for the viola box to be about .12 thicker than the "matching" violin.

It appears that these early makers rarely made a viola except when a wealthy patron wanted "enough instruments for a quartet" and didn't want two "identical" instruments in the set. The esteem (lack of) in which the viola was held at the time perhaps accounts for a couple of the violas being so ornately decorated (inlaid) as to be all but "unplayable," the assumption being "well nobody will ever play them anyway, so it's a chance to show off with decoration."

If it looks like a slightly "chunky" violin, it might look like a nice viola. Otherwise, string it to do what you want to use it for, and enjoy. (Tell folk it's a rare "Stradamati.")

John


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 01:58 AM

The plot thickens.............still waiting for a definitive answer as to how thick the ribs are on a 14" viola.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: daisy
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 11:29 AM

ok,
reading this list makes me think that none of you actually play the viola, and some of the info here is really wierd.
first of all there is NO SUCH THING AS A FULL-SIZED VIOLA!
nor do they have exact dimensions. these things vary by maker.
(I am an adult violist, and play a 15" viola, since i'm really small statured. A really tall violist would play an instrument as big as they could get to get the best tone out of it. Which is why sometimes at an orchestra concert if you look at some of the violists they might have really big instruments, however, i will say that conventionally 16" is often termed-full-sized)
As for smaller sized violas, the cheaper versions are often little more than re-stringed violins. If the instrument was made to be a viola the ribs will be slightly larger than the same length violin.
but i don't know the definite answer for that. (my parents still have my old 14" viola, i could ask them to measure it I suppose, but my main point here is that they will vary)

of more interest is that musicians who start on the viola and eventually switch to violin/fiddle, have a much better tone quality than standard fiddlers. When fiddling on the viola, it has been my experience that some tunes that sound particularly corny on the fiddle sound good on the viola.
occasionally tunes won't transpose down to viola very well, but as with anything, a lot of practice can make just about anything sound good. the hardest bit for a traditionally-trained violist to do, I think, is get used to the treble cleff. (sigh)
i wish her and any other fiddling violists out there lots of luck!


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 12:02 PM

OK, Sorcha, here's a little more. Lois the violin teacher who ususally plays a viola stopped in for a chiropractic treatment this morning, and I wouldn't let her see my wife the chiropractor until she gave at least somewhat of an explanation.

She says that a cello is proportionally larger than a violin. A viola is larger than a violin, but the increase in size is not proportional - otherwise, it wouldn't fit under your chin. You can fit viola strings on a violin and get a reasonable approximation of the sound, but you need the larger and differently-shaped sound box of the viola to get the characteristic viola timbre. Generally, violas are thicker and wider than violins, but not all that much thicker and not all that much wider. Lois has a favorite viola that is only a half-inch wider than her largest violin.

One difference that is noticeable is the scroll, which is quite a bit larger on a viola.

This all seems to jive with the information John picked up and posted above.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 12:10 PM

Thank you thank you thank you!!! I appreciate all the help. She has a violin, but if she wants to put viola strings on it, she can, but it won't really have the voice of a viola.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 12:31 PM

Looking through the thread again, I don't find the most important distinction between the violas. The viola is the only instrument in the family which can be played in two legitime ways:
1. like the violin, rested between shoulder and chin: viola di braccio (= ital. arm)
2. rested on the thigh: viola di gamba (= ital. knee)
I don't know whether the different modes result in a different size,
I'm only a drummer.

Wilfried


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 02:17 PM

Actually Wilfried, the viola di gamba is a different instrument than the (modern orchestral) viola.

You can get some pretty serious arguments about the "ancestry" of either instrument, but the "purists" insist that the viola da gamba and the viola d'amore are descended from a different "line" than the viols (violin, viola, cello, etc.) - although most admit that nobody really knows where the violin came from.

The Viola da Gamba Society of America
Federation of Viola da Gamba Societies
American Viola Society

Note: None of these links is particularly exciting to look at, but your welcome to them if you like.

John


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: bigdarve
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 05:09 PM

yep,Daisy is bang on-there is no such thing as a 'standard' sized viola and they come in many shapes too.

the problem with the viola is that the dimensions of even the larger instruments(17-17-1/2) are not in proportion to the tones and so is 'slower to speak'.this is why viola players have to work a lot harder than their violin brethren in producing a decent sound.of course,the advantage is that rich sound and the fact that getting a sound from a violin is ridiculously easy once you've made a viola speak!plus,what is good for sound production on viola is also ok for the violin-the reverse is n't always the case as you can get away with a lot more on the violin!

i would want to have a word with the teacher who sold your pupil that instrument as a viola and if she wants to stick with viola i'ld suggest she tries to get a real one as soon as.

as for treble clef,yes,you have to learn it but that gives us violas another advantage of our poorer violin playing friends!
if you want to look into it a bit more i would recommend two books especially: 'The Viola' by Henry Barrett(ISBN:0-8173-6402-1) which also has a section specifically for violinists changing to viola and alto clef,but it's expensive (in the uk anyway) so maybe the library for that one and a very good read indeed is David Dalton's 'Playing The Viola' (conversations with William Primrose,ISBN:0-19-816195-6) and this has a good deal of hard information as well as some very dry asides and i can't speak of it highly enough!
best wishes anyway


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 05:17 PM

Thanks again.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Peterr
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 06:12 PM

Now I'm getting older, I'd love to get a viola to sing with as I can't get as high as I used to - but then I'm only a singer who still plays mandolin and thought that the fiddle would be easy as the fingering was the same. No'one told me about the other 98% of fiddle playing.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Sorcha
Date: 14 Feb 03 - 06:47 PM

Get a mandola or an octave mandolin.


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Subject: RE: ? Violin/Viola
From: Newport Boy
Date: 04 Sep 11 - 08:01 AM

I've been wishing I could suffocate the freelance writer, but it's now promoted this old thread fomr before I joined Mudcat.

Joe quoted earlier She says that a cello is proportionally larger than a violin. A viola is larger than a violin, but the increase in size is not proportional - otherwise, it wouldn't fit under your chin.

There have been a number of attempts to overcome this problem, one of which is the Pellegrina viola The 5-string version in this photo is played by Philip Heyman, principal viola of Welsh National Opera. He now has his 'matching bow' - in carbon fibre!

Why 5 strings? It allows him to play violin pieces without transposing. Having listened to the instrument solo, I can confirm that it has a lovely rich tone.

Phil


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