Violin VS Viola for Beginners


For many beginners, the violin and viola can seem remarkably similar at first glance. Both are string instruments played with a bow and held against the shoulder. However, this article will provide you with a detailed understanding of these two instruments.

Six differences between the violin and the viola

1. Size:

Violin: The violin is one of the four main string instruments, with the 4/4 size typically being around 59 centimeters (23.2 inches). The violin sizes are commonly represented as 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16.

Viola: The viola, also known as the viola, is slightly larger than the violin, with a typical size of around 65 centimeters (25.6 inches). Viola sizes are indicated as 17", 16", 15", 14", and so on.

2. Range:

Violin: The violin has the highest pitch range among the string instruments, typically spanning from G3 (the 3rd position on the G string) to E7 (the 7th position on the E string).

Viola: The viola has a lower pitch range, usually spanning from C3 (the 3rd position on the C string) to A6 (the 6th position on the A string).

3. Tone:

Violin: The violin has a bright, sweet, and pleasing tone, which makes it often used for playing melodies in orchestras.

Viola: The viola's tone is relatively deeper, sometimes described as "warm" or "mellow," and it is responsible for playing middle-range melodies and harmonies in orchestras.

4. Playing Technique:

Violin: The violin is typically played with a bow held in the right hand, while the left hand presses the strings on the fingerboard to produce different pitches.

Viola: The viola is played similarly to the violin, but due to its larger size, it requires more strength and technique to play.

5. Applications:

Violin: The violin is widely used in various music genres, from classical and pop music to traditional and folk music.

Viola: The viola is primarily used in orchestras as part of the middle voice section, but it is also featured in solo performances and chamber music.

6. Bow Distinction:

violin bow and viola bow

The simplest way to distinguish between a violin bow and a viola bow is by looking at the frog (the part near the hand). 

Violin Bow: The frog has a rectangular shape.

Viola Bow: The frog has a rounded shape.

Similarities between the violin and the viola

Basic Structure:

Both the violin and the viola belong to the string instrument family, and their basic structure includes the soundbox, soundboard, backboard, neck, scroll, and bow. They both use horsehair (strings) as the sound source for playing.

Playing Technique: 

Whether it's the violin or the viola, they are played with a bow held in the right hand, while the left hand presses the strings on the fingerboard to produce different pitches. This playing technique allows the performer to control the tone and volume by varying the bow's speed, pressure, and position.


The violin and the viola use similar musical notation on sheet music, such as the staff and bowing symbols (up-bow and down-bow marks), allowing performers to switch between the two instruments.

Performance Techniques: 

Although there are some differences in playing techniques due to their size and pitch range, both the violin and the viola require similar left-hand and right-hand skills, such as sliding, vibrato, bowing techniques, and chord playing.

History and Tradition: 

Both the violin and the viola have a long history and rich performance traditions. They hold significant positions in classical music, chamber music, and orchestras, and they are widely used in various musical styles and cultures.

Learn the violin or the viola first?

Whether it's an adult or a child, for beginners, I recommend starting with learning the violin.


The violin is relatively smaller, making it suitable for younger or smaller-bodied beginners. The viola is relatively larger, which may be cumbersome for some younger students and not as easy to handle.


The violin's playing techniques are relatively simpler, making it easier for beginners to get started. It has a higher pitch range, and the finger movements on the fingerboard are relatively smaller, requiring less finger flexibility. In comparison, the viola's playing techniques are slightly more complex, demanding higher finger flexibility and strength.

Learning Resources:

The violin is one of the most common string instruments, so there are more abundant learning resources and teaching materials available, making it easier to find suitable materials and guidance.

Music Repertoire:

The violin has wide applications in various types of music, including classical, pop, and traditional music. After learning the violin, beginners can more easily find suitable pieces to practice at their level.

While the violin is more beginner-friendly, the most important thing is to choose the instrument you love. If a beginner is more interested in the viola, they can also choose it as their entry instrument. Regardless of the instrument chosen, patience and consistent practice are crucial, coupled with a passion for music, to gradually develop playing skills. Beginners are encouraged to seek guidance from an experienced music teacher to receive systematic and effective learning methods and avoid developing bad habits.

Violin and Viola Pieces for Beginners

Violin pieces:

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

"Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

"Can Can" by Jacques Offenbach

"Minuet in G" by Christian Petzold

Viola pieces:

"Gavotte" by J.S. Bach

"Scarborough Fair"

"Waltz" by Johannes Brahms

"Menuet" by Boccherini

"Largo" from Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 "From the New World"

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