With the school season right around the corner, it’s important to know what to look for when buying or renting a viola. Besides the viola itself, there are a number of accessories necessary to play the viola properly and comfortably. We cover the various accessories below, which include: the bow, the case, the shoulder rest, the chin rest, extra strings, rosin, and tuners. Make sure that when you select your new viola, you get the accessories, too!
The viola is the first item on this list that you should shop for. We have an entire guide dedicated to how to buy a viola so I won’t bore you with any further details except that if you’re looking to buy a pre-packaged viola, most viola outfits come with all of the accessories below.
The bow is the most important accessory for the viola as without it, the viola could not be played. It is important to buy the right viola bow which has the right weight and feel while remaining within your budget. If you need a refresher on how to buy the right viola, you can read our viola bow buying guide. Most beginner viola outfits come with viola bow already, but once you get to the intermediate and advanced level, you need to be sure you are using the viola bow that works for you. We recommend trying out several bows to see which one sounds the best with your instrument.
Violas, as with all stringed instruments, are notoriously delicate instruments so it is vital to have a solid case to protect it. Viola cases typically come in two styles, the oblong case, which fits in a rectangle around the instrument and usually has a lot of room for accessories, and the fitted shape which surrounds the viola snugly. Most cases will offer at least one compartment for accessories, 1-2 viola bow holders, possibly a humidifier, and some extra pockets for music, etc. Beginner viola outfits generally come with a case, but if you want a better or sturdier case, you can explore the options below. You can see our guide on the best viola cases to learn more about the viola cases we recommend.
The use of a shoulder rest has been a debate since the invention of the viola (and violin), but only professionals tend to eschew the shoulder rest due to their belief that it affects the sound. Shoulder rests provide comfort to the performer by elevating the viola so that the viola does not need to be held up by the left hand. The shoulder rest attaches to the thicker bottom half of the viola and fits between the performers shoulder and the bottom of the viola when the viola is held.
Shoulder rests are typically constructed of a plastic or wooden cushioned bar with adjustable rubber feet that connect it to the viola. Certain shoulder rests are only cushions that fasten to the viola via an elastic strap.
Rosin is what allows your bow and viola to make sound. Like a bike chain won’t move without grease, a viola bow won’t make sounds against the strings without rosin. The stickiness in the rosin allows the bow to “catch” on the string, pulling it ever so slightly to cause vibrations.
There are two main types of rosin: amber and dark. Dark rosin provides a softer tone and is better suited to cool, dry climates since in warmer climates it gets too sticky. Dark rosin is generally used by cellists who need a softer rosin to make the cello sing. Lighter, amber rosins tend to be harder and more dense making them a good fit for viola.
Some rosins even have precious metals inside. Gold rosin is said to produce a warm, clear tone and is appropriate for all instruments. Silver rosin creates a concentrated, bright tone and is especially good for performance in higher positions. It is best suited for the violin or viola.
The next major decision you need to make when choosing rosin is boxed or caked. Most students use boxed rosin to begin with as it is often included with many beginner viola outfits. It is lower quality and can be used by any instrument during any season. In addition, it is less prone to cracking. Caked rosin is used by more advanced players who want a better sound.
Mutes are used to dampen the sound of a viola both for orchestration purposes (composers require them in certain pieces) and practice sessions so you don’t disturb the neighbors. Mutes are often fairly cheap, with most rubber mutes coming in under $5 on Amazon. You should always keep at least one in your viola case.
Viola strings have a tendency to break at the wrong time, such as during a concert. While they do not break as frequently as violin strings, you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you don’t have an extra set of viola strings on-hand. We highly recommend the Spirocore viola string brand in our review of the best viola strings, but feel free to test out several sets of strings before choosing the right set for you.