Why the Viola is a Respectable Instrument

Millie Gotsch, Staff Writer

As someone who calls themselves a violist, I have gathered many different opinions on the viola besides my own, and in the end, my opinion is left rather unchanged: the viola is a beautiful instrument. With deep, rich, and vibrant sounds, it’s easy to understand why.

To start, I guess I should explain what a viola is for those who may not know.

At first, the violin and viola may seem indistinguishable. However, the main differences are the size — the viola is slightly larger — and most importantly, the strings. 

All four classic string instruments — violin, viola, cello, and double bass — have four strings. For violin, the four strings pitches are G, D, A, and E from lowest to highest, respectively. The viola has one string lower, or four pitches lower — the four strings being C, G, D, and A. This makes for a deeper and richer sound on the low C string, a note that the violin is not able to reach. 

An argument against this would be that the viola also is not able to play as high as the violin. However, the shorter the string is, or the closer to you you press down, the higher the note is. The notes that a viola wouldn’t be able to play are so high they would seldom be played on a violin except for in very certain pieces of music. 

One main reason that violas tend to be confusing to other string players is the clef that we play in. A clef is any of several symbols placed at the left-hand end of a staff, indicating the pitch of the notes written on it. While most instruments play in treble clef, as well as a very large amount in bass clef, the alto clef is the main clef used for viola. Strangely enough, the viola is the only instrument — not out of just strings, but out of most all instruments — that uses this clef. 

What makes the alto clef different from bass and treble? The main difference is that alto clef, also commonly referred to as viola clef, is one step (or diatonic seventh) above bass clef, and one step below treble clef, making the middle C just that — perfectly in the middle. 

While violas hardly tend to get the melody in most pieces, I think it adds an element of charm and humbleness to most violists’ playing careers. When we do get the melody, we utilize the whole instrument — including the deep and rich tones. 

However, an understated advantage of choosing the viola as an instrument is the many opportunities that are available to you in terms of orchestras and solo pieces. Since the amount of people that play the viola is truly much less than that of any other string orchestra instrument, this incurs a higher demand for talented violists. 

I guess to summarize, I would have to say that I don’t think I could have learned a better instrument. This beautiful instrument produces sounds that can sometimes sound like a human voice, as well as full and rich noises that are truly amazing to listen to. The feeling I get when I play this instrument is unrivaled by any other.