In the string instrument family, the viola and the violin are the two most confusing instruments. Most people, especially those new to musical instruments, find it hard to tell them apart due to similarities such as their shape and mode of playing. So, what sets these two instruments apart? Let’s find out!

Differences Between Violas and Violins

What is a Viola?

The viola is one of the beautiful string instruments that has been in use since the 18th century. Viola produces a melodious sound when the violist moves the bow across its strings while plucking the instrument with the right hand. For pitch changes, the violist needs to press a specific string down with the help of fingertips.

What is a Violin?

Violin is a bowed, wooden string instrument used for producing harmonious sound. This instrument was developed in the 16th century in Italy. People sometimes call it a “fiddle,” which is a colloquial phrase for the violin.

7 Major Differences Between the Viola and the Violin

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

1. The Size

In these two cousin instruments, the viola is the biggest. For example, while a violin measures 14 inches in length, the viola measures 18 inches. A difference in size extends to the width as well, with the viola having a bigger width than the violin.

Size Difference Between Violas and Violins

It is crucial to note that both the viola and the violin come in a magnitude of different sizes; therefore, size cannot be the only factor you can use to distinguish between the two.

Usually, most people start their training using a smaller viola or the smallest violin then gradually move to use the bigger instrument.

2. The Strings

Both the viola and the violin come in four strings except for the electric violin, which sometimes comes in six strings. However, the difference is revealed in how the strings are arranged and how high or low each string plays. What do I mean by this?

  • The arrangement of Viola strings is C, G, D, and A, with “C” being the lowest and “A” being the highest.
  • Likewise, the violin strings’ arrangement is G, D, A, And E, with E producing the highest sound, and G giving the lowest sound.
String Difference Between Violas and Violins

Despite having some standard strings, the viola still sounds different since its strings are thicker than the violin strings. For this reason, a player has to put more weight on the string to increase their tempo when playing.

3. The Clef

What is a clef? A clef is nothing but a musical symbol or sign that indicates the pitch on a note.

The violin plays on a much higher range, which is indicated by the treble clef. However, the viola’s range is somewhat lower than that of the violin. The viola plays on the C clef, which produces the famous alto sound. The viola is the only string instrument to use the C clef for a notation, making it an incredibly unique instrument.

Clef Difference Between Violas and Violins

4. Difference in Demand

As compared to the viola, the violin has more demand when it comes to playing. Take the example of a symphony. In a symphony, the violin has two sections set aside for its performance with as many violinists as possible while the viola only gets one. That’s because the violin carries the sound as it is the soprano.

The violin behaves more like the lead singer in a band as it carries most of the weight by taking up more of the lyrical lines and the melodies. On the other hand, violas play the role of rhythm or and harmony in the symphony. They are there for accompaniment.

5. Ease of Playing

Contrary to popular belief, the viola is more challenging in the two to play.

Given violas size in comparison to the violin, it requires more strength to grip and hold.

More so, its strings are further apart and need a long stretch for you to make the sound.

Otherwise, the sound produced is breathtaking and craved after by many musicians due to its rich, expressive, and amazingly dark tone.

Playing Difference Between Violas and Violins

6. Reputation

Even though we use both the violin and the viola to produce great sound, the viola ends up taking the shorter end of the stick when it comes to being respected or taken seriously. For example, few people know that violas exist, and even those who do, only a few can name some of the most outstanding violists, if not all. The violin tends to be a more recognized and respected instrument of the string family.

Sometimes, violas get less attention, which is sad considering the amount of work and effort that goes into learning, practicing, and mastering the art of playing this instrument.

7. Professional Names

Differences do not only appear in the instrument’s structure or functionality. But also, in the players and their professional names. Well, these names are given based on the instrument they play.

A person responsible for playing the violin is a violinist. Besides, a person responsible for playing the viola is a violist or a viola player.


That’s it! These seven factors will help you distinguish between the violin and the viola. Remember, there is immense beauty in the sounds produced by the viola and the violin. Whether the sounds are solo or blend, it is such a beautiful force that breaths out sophistication and a feeling of peace and tranquillity craved by many, not just the listeners but also the players.