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The Wonderful World of Viola

Chuck playing viola

Chuck playing violaAs I have already stated, I play viola in addition to violin.  This year, I purchased my first good viola to use for gigs and teaching, and this last weekend, I performed with it for the first time.

For years I have been a violinist who can’t resist telling a good viola joke (What’s the difference between a viola and an onion? No one cries when you chop up a viola).  When I was in music school, I said many times that I will never play viola no matter who asks me to.  I didn’t hate violists or even the instrument itself, but I was a proud violin guy who had what all violinist have – a giant superiority complex.  True, the sound of the viola seems limited compared to that of the violin, or even the cello, but as I have learned lately, it’s a sound that matters.

Flash forward to right after music school.  I bought a super-cheap viola so I could teach, but remained true to my first instrument when performing.  I did a little studying in order to play the alto instrument, and had quite a few students.  Still, I never played any gigs on it because the instrument was junk and I wasn’t confident enough to play it professionally.  Also, I didn’t want to be one of those guys.  You know, the ones who play viola instead of violin because they can’t get enough violin gigs.

Flash forward again to Atlanta, GA where I live now.  I started playing with a local community orchestra that is fairly elementary in skill.  The music director asked if I play viola and I volunteered since they already had a couple of good violinists.  The music wasn’t too difficult and I took to it pretty quickly.  Next thing I know, I’m subbing for violists in quartets and orchestras all over the place.  And making money!  I am not shy when people ask me why I play both – for the money.  There are way fewer opportunities for violinists than violists, and as I continue to improve, I’ll get more of the overflow.

Also, I have really enjoyed playing one of the inner voices of music.  I rarely play second violin, but when I have, I have enjoyed it because the parts are hidden but important.  Same for the viola parts.  They are rarely audible for anyone other than trained musicians, but they are so very important.  So now I can cross off another mistaken opinion from my youth, and I’m glad to do it.




  1. Tavo Almo


    I have enjoyed your articles pertains to violas. After taking lessons for 10 years, my 13 year old son is in the market for a really good, reasonably priced 15.5 viola.

    We’re in Orlando and currently are trying out 3 instruments borrowed from local shops. They range in price from $600 to $2,000, not including case, now, etc. The most expensive one is Chinese made.

    I would love to hear your opinion on which viola you recommend and where I should buy it from. I work in the travel industry, so flying anywhere in the US wouldn’t be a problem.

    • violinguy

      There are some really nice Chinese instruments these days. Generally, they are less expensive than European or American made instruments because the cost of labor in China is next to nothing. You have to be careful, though, because sometimes the instruments are factory made which isn’t ideal. If you are going to shops, anything you try there will be solid. I might suggest traveling to Atlanta (where I’m located). There are no fewer than five very good violin shops here with lots of terrific instruments. Voss Violins, Pablo Alfaro Violins, Atlanta Violins, Huthmaker Violins, and Ronald Sachs Violins are just a few. These shops all support local students as well as professionals like me, and even the Atlanta Symphony.

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