Viola vs. Violin

At first glance, the Viola and the Violin are tricky to tell apart. The Violin and the Viola are both string instruments, but they have a lot of differences than you can imagine. Some people would think these two are the same. But in reality, there’s more to these instruments than meets the eye.

This article will explore the differences between the Violin and the Viola and what features set these two apart.

Viola vs. Violin: Compare and Contrast

What is A Violin?

The Violin is a string instrument with four strings tuned in fifths and is played with a bow. The word “violin” is derived from the plural term of Violdel (or viols). Also, it has gone through a lot of changes throughout its history. And with those changes, many parts were altered as well.

The Violin’s body consists of two arched plates glued together. It is carved out in the middle to create a sound-hole. The body is hollowed out from the top to support the neck’s base, but it is flat from the bottom for a good grip for holding it.

The Violin also has a bridge, soundpost, and tailpiece, which support the strings’ tension, amplify its resonating sound, and transfer that vibration to the body. It is the smallest member of the violin family, including the Viola, cello, and double bass.

History of Violin

The Violin was first introduced in the early 16th century. It was first made famous in Italy as a prominent violin. In the early 17th century, it was called “small violone” or “Italienische Geige.”

In 1650, it became known as “Violino piccolo,” which is often used with harpsichord and organ. Later on, it evolved to become the modern-day Violin we know today.

It was a small, delicate instrument used by the upper classes. The lower classes mainly played the lute and rebec.

In the beginning, violins were made out of softwoods such as maple, willow, and pear. But over time, they’ve been made out of various materials such as ebony, rosewood, and ivory.

What is A Viola?

The Viola is a stringed instrument that has four strings tuned in fifths. The word “viola” means “twig,” which alludes to its triangular shape. It is played with a bow, and its body is more extensive than that of the Violin. The viola d’amore (vielle) also has sympathetic strings.

It has a cylindrical, hollow wooden body. It also has a neck with 20 frets, ten strings in five courses, and movable ebony pegs for tuning. The four strings are G-D-A-E, which is an octave below middle C.

The Viola can be heard performing solos or as part of an ensemble. It produces sound by using pitch as well. It gives off a deeper sound when compared with the Violin, but not as deep as the cello.

History of Viola

The Viola was first introduced in the early 16th century as well. It was designed to accompany the Violin and was meant to be played by the lower classes.

In the beginning, violas were made out of softwoods such as maple, willow, and pear. It was often used in compositions with the cello and the double bass.

In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi composed many works for the Viola. Most of his compositions called for more than one Viola or a combination of different instruments such as Violin and cello.

But it didn’t become popular until the late 19th century, when it started to be used in orchestras. It became popularly known as “the king’s string.” It was preferred by many famous composers like Mozart and Beethoven. The second chair often plays the Viola in an orchestra. The first chair is usually reserved for the Violin.

What Are The Differences Between Violin and Viola?

So is the Viola better than the Violin? Both have different roles in an orchestral setting which makes them equally important. Here are some of the factors that make these two instruments different.


The Viola is larger than the Violin. It has a deeper, richer sound when compared with the Violin. The Viola’s size usually ranges from 15″ to 18″ in length. It also produces different frequencies in comparison to the Violin. The size of the Viola allows it to be played with lower notes than the Violin.

The length of the Violin is usually 14″ on average for a full-size instrument. Most beginners start learning on a violin and then transition to Viola to handle large instruments.


The Viola has four strings tuned in fifths, while the Violin has four strings tuned in fourths. The Viola strings are arranged in A-D-G-C, which is the highest first. In contrast, the Violin is E-A-D-G, positioned from the highest-pitched string downwards.

The strings are thicker in Viola, which also changes their vibrating qualities and tones. Also, having four strings in five courses, rather than four strings in four courses like the Violin, affects its sound and tuning. The different string arrangement creates a slightly different sound.

The Viola has a warmer, mellower tone than the Violin. The fifth tuning allows for a broader range of harmonic possibilities. It makes a difference when it comes to string crossings. Violinists have to make a lot of string crossings when they play in an orchestra, which can be difficult.


The bow for the Viola is slightly larger and heavier than the bow for the Violin. It is because the range of the Viola is lower than that of the Violin. So, if you have a lighter bow, it won’t produce enough sound on a viola.

Note Range

The note range for the Viola is lower than that of the Violin. It’s because it has a larger body and thicker strings. The lower notes are often played with the bow, while the higher notes are usually played with the fingers.


Another massive difference between the Viola and the Violin is the clef that they play in. The Viola is usually played and written in tenor clef. It is the only string instrument to utilize the Alto Clef for notation since it’s a mid-range alto instrument. The Viola is like the tenor voice of an orchestra.

So, if you are a violinist, playing in the viola clef may be challenging for you at first. But, after some time, it will become easier to understand this clef since you have been familiarized with it over years of playing the violin clef.

While the Violin is usually played in the Treble Clef, a higher clef, this stringed instrument is considered the soprano of any ensemble or orchestra.


So, in conclusion, the Viola is larger than the Violin. It has thicker strings and four strings instead of four strings tuned in fourths like the Violin. It also plays in a lower pitch, making it suited for instruments with lower pitches like a cello.

On the other hand, the Violin is smaller than the Viola and has four strings that are tuned in fourths like the Viola. It also occupies a higher pitch and is often used for music with higher pitches.

Considering these things, it’s up to you to decide which instrument suits your skill best. Both instruments have their strengths and weaknesses that will affect what kind of music they can produce or play.