General Viola Questions

If I had a nickel for every time this question was asked….

The main differences between a viola and violin are the size and strings. The largest a violin can be is 14″ (body length) whereas a viola can be as large as 19″. Second, while a violin has the strings labeled E,A,D,G the viola removes the E string and replaces it with a C string next to the G string. This allows the viola to take advantage of its larger body to provide a very mellow sound. For more, read our guide on what is a viola.

Viola player, violist, not a violinist.

The viola is a cousin to the violin and cello with features of both. The viola has the same strings as a cello (C,G,D,A), only an octave higher and is slightly larger than a violin. In orchestra, violas sit between the second violins and the cellos. For more about violas, see our guide about what is a viola.

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Buying Violas

To buy or rent a viola depends on your specific financial situation. While it is generally better to buy an instrument outright since you can always trade it in for a more expensive one later, that may not be possible for you. We provide a full guide to whether you should buy or rent a viola here.

Violas come in different levels for players on different stages of their learning journey. Many students start out by renting violas for practice until they are ready to own one. If you’re looking to buy a new viola, you’ll want to know how much to spend. We’ve summarized our findings below, but you can read our full article about buying a viola.

Generally, violas fall under three categories for pricing:

  • Student Violas: These are for beginners. Young students or players at the early stage of learning the viola are constantly working on the basics of playing, tone production, fingering, bowing etc. Hence, maple (dyed black to resemble ebony) is sometimes used for the pegs and fingerboards, areas that are exposed to more friction. Student violas are mostly machine-made to keep costs low while maintaining tone consistency. Quite affordable. Prices range from $200 – $2,500.
  • Intermediate to Advanced Violas: With higher workmanship, the sound of an intermediate viola is also much better. There are more dynamics and stronger projection. The pegs and fingerboards are crafted with ebony and most of the instrument is handcrafted. Prices range from $500 – $10,000.
  • Professional Violas: Pure craftsmanship using the finest quality of wood, professional violas exude a rich tone and wide dynamics. Masterpieces like these are expensive. Prices go from $10,000 onwards.


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Buying Strings

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Viola Accessories

DO NOT touch the rosin or the bow hair while following these instructions. Doing so will cause oils from your hands to stick to the bow hair which will deteriorate the bow hair quicker.

  1. Before applying rosin, tighten the bow hairs by gently turning the tension screw at the end of the bow. Avoid making the bow hairs too taut—the separation between the bow stick and hair should be about the width of a pencil.
  2. Place the bow hairs flat on the rosin at the “frog” of the bow (near the bottom where the tension screw is), and gently rub the bow hairs up and down a few times (as if scrubbing a small spot on the floor).
  3. Then, draw the bow hairs straight across the rosin until the tip of the bow is reached. Repeat the same gentle scrubbing motion at the tip of the bow, and pull the flat bow hairs back to the frog again.
  4. Do this several times so that the bow becomes thoroughly coated with rosin.
  5. After playing, use a soft, dry cloth to remove rosin dust from the strings, body of the instrument, and underside of the viola bow.


Watch the video below for more help rosining your bow:


Rosining the bow is necessary to create enough friction between the bow and viola string so that the string vibrates creating the beautiful sounds violas are known for. For a great explaination of why rosin is needed, read this great overview.

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