Viola vs Violin: 7 Key Differences You Need to Know

Differences Between Violas and Violins

I often come across students who find it difficult to differentiate between the viola and the violin. It’s not surprising since these two string instruments share some similarities in shape and playing technique. However, some key differences set them apart, and I’d like to shed some light on those.

What is a Viola?

The viola is truly a remarkable instrument in the world of music. With a history dating back to the 18th century, it has been captivating audiences with its warm and rich tones for generations. To produce the melodious sound that the viola is renowned for, the violist must skillfully move the bow across the strings while plucking the instrument with their right hand. And, to achieve pitch changes, the violist must press down on specific strings with the help of their fingertips. With its unique sound and playing technique, the viola is truly a beautiful and captivating instrument to learn and master.

What is a Violin?

The violin is a beautiful, wooden string instrument that produces some of the most exquisite sounds in the world of music. This fascinating instrument was first created in Italy during the 16th century, and it has since been an integral part of various music genres. Interestingly, some people colloquially refer to the violin as a “fiddle.”

7 Major Differences Between the Viola and the Violin

Even though both these instruments belong to the same family and look similar, some key factors set them apart.

1. The Size

Size Difference Between Violas and Violins

When it comes to the string instrument family, the viola and violin are two closely related instruments that are often confused with one another.

The most apparent difference between the two is their size. The viola is bigger than the violin, with a length of 18 inches compared to the violin’s 14 inches.

The viola is also wider than the violin. However, it’s important to note that both instruments come in various sizes, so size alone cannot be the sole factor used to distinguish between the two.

As with most string instruments, students typically begin with smaller violas or violins and gradually move on to larger ones as they grow and develop their skills. While both instruments require skill and dedication to master, the viola offers a unique sound and tonal quality that sets it apart from its smaller cousin, the violin.


2. The Strings

String Difference Between Violas and Violins

The viola and the violin are both popular string instruments that typically come equipped with four strings, though some electric violins may feature six strings. However, the real difference lies in the arrangement of these strings and the pitch produced by each string.

The viola’s strings are arranged from low to high as C, G, D, and A, while the violin’s strings are G, D, A, and E, with the E string producing the highest pitch and the G string producing the lowest.

Aside from the string arrangement, the viola also produces a distinct sound due to its strings’ thickness. Compared to the violin’s thinner strings, viola strings require more pressure to produce sound, which can affect the tempo and style of playing.

Despite these differences, both instruments offer a wide range of possibilities for musical expression and creativity.

3. The Clef

Clef Difference Between Violas and Violins

In the world of music, a clef is a symbol or sign used to indicate the pitch of a note.

The violin is known for its ability to produce high-pitched sounds, which is why it uses the treble clef.

On the other hand, the viola has a lower range than the violin, and as a result, it uses the C clef. This unique clef produces the famous alto sound that is unique to the viola. It is worth noting that the viola is the only string instrument that uses the C clef for notation, which adds to its uniqueness and charm.

4. Difference in Demand

In the world of music, the violin enjoys a higher demand compared to the viola. For instance, in a symphony, the violin has two sections dedicated to its performance, with as many violinists as possible, while the viola only has one. This is because the violin plays the soprano, carrying the sound forward.

The violin is similar to a lead singer in a band, taking up most of the weight by carrying lyrical lines and melodies. In contrast, the viola plays a supporting role, providing rhythm and harmony in the symphony. Its purpose is to accompany and enhance the overall sound rather than stand out like the violin.

5. Ease of Playing

Playing Difference Between Violas and Violins

Contrary to popular belief, the viola is actually more challenging to play than the violin.

The viola’s larger size requires more strength to grip and hold than the violin.

Its strings are also further apart, requiring a longer stretch to produce sound.

However, the sound produced by the viola is breathtaking and sought after by many musicians due to its rich, expressive, and deep tone.

6. Reputation

Although both the violin and viola are capable of producing beautiful sounds, the viola often gets overlooked and isn’t taken as seriously as its cousin. Unfortunately, few people even know that the viola exists, and even those who do know very little about it or the most notable violists. In comparison, the violin is more widely recognized and respected as a member of the string family.

It’s a shame that the viola often receives less attention and recognition given the amount of work, dedication, and talent it takes to learn, practice, and master this instrument.

7. Professional Names

Not only do differences appear in the structure and functionality of the instruments, but also in the players and their professional titles. These titles are based on the instrument they play.

A person who plays the violin is a violinist. Similarly, a person who plays the viola is called a violist or a viola player.


And that’s a wrap! By keeping these seven factors in mind, you can easily differentiate between the violin and the viola. It’s important to remember that both instruments have their unique qualities and produce beautiful sounds, whether played solo or in harmony. The sound of these instruments evokes a sense of sophistication, peace, and tranquility that is appreciated not only by the audience but also by the musicians themselves.

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