Viola vs Violin Compared – Learn The Key Differences Between These Instruments

Viola VS Violin

If you’re wondering what the differences between the viola and violin are, then I’m glad to say I can set things straight.

Maybe you’re thinking about learning a new instrument and are wondering which would suit your best or maybe you’re just curious!

Either way, I like to think I know a thing or two about string instruments so I can help you out.

Although the violin and the viola are very similar to look at, they’re quite different when you get down to the nitty gritty.

So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this article.

Here’s everything you need to know about the violin vs the viola!

Viola vs Violin: What’s the Difference?

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As I said earlier, the most obvious difference between the violin and the viola is their size. I’d be lying if I said that was it, though. If we take a closer look, you’ll realize there’s a lot more to it than that.


I mentioned briefly in the FAQ that violas are heavier than violins, so let me expand a bit. We all know I love the details! A full sized viola weighs anywhere between 600 and 660 grams. On the other hand, a full sized violin weighs between 350 and 450 grams. That may not seem like a huge difference but it’s certainly noticeable when you’re playing!


I’m going to assume that you’re thinking about learning one of these instruments. So, I’ll focus on beginner models! A good quality beginner violin costs anywhere between $100 to $400 dollars whereas a beginner viola costs between $200 and $2000. The reason there’s a much bigger price bracket for violas is because they’re not as popular.

There’s much higher demand for violins, so there’s more competition between brands and way more models on the market. If you are looking to buy a beginner model, remember you usually get what you pay for. Don’t believe offers that seem too good to be true!


Because violas have heavier, thicker strings, they need to be played with a heavier bow. It’s all about the friction, ladies! Viola bows are around ten to twenty grams heavier than violin bows. Unfortunately, that means they’re also more expensive.

They usually cost around $10 more than violin bows. It’s not a huge difference but it’s something to keep in mind! Also, word to the wise, don’t use your viola bow on your violin. That’s a recipe for disaster (trust me, I’ve been there). Look after those delicate little strings!


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The main difference between viola and violin strings is that viola strings are much heavier and thicker. They’re also tuned to different notes. Violas are tuned to C, G, D, and A, whereas violins are tuned to G, D, A, and E. Both instruments are tuned in perfect 4ths but they sound quite different to each other.

Note Range

The viola is tuned a 4th lower than the violin, so the two instruments have completely different ranges. The lowest note you can play on a violin is the open G and the highest is high B on the E string. Violas, on the other hand, can only play a high A but they can go as low as C. That’s why they sound so different!

Musical Clef

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So, because the viola has a much lower range than the violin, players of these two instruments read from different musical clefs. Violinists read from the treble clef, whereas violists read from the alto clef. If you think about it in terms of singing, altos have a similar range to violas and sopranos have a similar range to violins. I hope that makes sense!

Musical Parts

As you may have guessed, violinists and violists play different musical parts. If you think about it in terms of an orchestra, violinists usually play the melody whereas violas play the harmonies.

Viola vs Violin: Which One Should You Learn?

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Now that you know all the differences between the violin and the viola, it’s time to decide which one you should learn. Asking yourself the following questions will help you come to a decision.

Don’t worry, I’ll help you answer.

What’s Your Budget?

As I said, violas are more expensive than violins. One of the easiest ways to decide which one you should learn is by figuring out your budget. Would you be happy to spend a few hundred extra on a viola or is that not feasible? If you’ve got a tighter budget, go for the violin!

You could always save up and start learning the viola later.

Can You Already Play Another Instrument?

Your musical experience may make learning the violin easier than the viola. For example, if you can already play the mandolin, you’ve got a head start. Mandolins are tuned the same as violins, so the finger positioning is exactly the same.

Plus, if you can play an instrument with coupled strings, anything else will be a breeze, trust me! On the other hand, if you’re used to reading from the alto clef you’d probably get the hang of playing the viola pretty quickly.

Maybe you’re an alto singer or play the alto trombone (which is pretty unlikely, I guess)!

What Sound do You Prefer?

If you’re still stuck between the violin and the viola, why not listen to both and decide which sound you prefer. Some people prefer the viola because it’s more mellow and warmer than the violin!

Plus, I have to say, those first few months of playing the violin are pretty screetchy…

Do You Dream of Going Professional?

People tend to favor the violin over the viola when deciding which one to learn purely because violins are more popular. As a result, there’s a higher demand for professional violists. Getting that first violinist spot in the orchestra does not come easy. Either way you’d have to put a lot of work in but the difference in demand is worth noting, I’d say!

Viola vs Violin: FAQ

Which is Easier, Violin or Viola?

Because the viola is bigger than the violin, it’s easier to pick up at first. There’s a little bit more leeway where finger accuracy is concerned. So, it’s easier to get to grips with intonation. However, as you progress as a player, the parts a violist has to play are more complex than the parts a violinist would have to play in an orchestra or quartet. Here’s my verdict – the viola is easier to learn but much harder to master!

What’s the Difference Between the Violin and the Viola?

Here’s the simple answer! The viola is bigger than the violin. A full sized viola’s body is usually around 45cm (18 inches), whereas a violin’s body is around 35cm (14 inches). As a result, the violin sounds much higher and brighter when compared to the violas mellow voice.

Can Violinists Play Viola?

Yes, of course! In fact, being able to play the violin often makes playing the viola easier and vise versa. Most professional violinists recommend learning to play both (if you’re feeling up to it)! Playing both the violin and the viola will help you to hone your technique and understand the different parts both instruments play.

Is it Hard to Learn Viola?

Violas are large, heavy instruments, so they are quite difficult to learn. The weight of the body, the strings, and the bow combined give you quite the arm workout! I think anyone can learn to play the viola, though. All it takes is hard work and dedication. So, if you’ve got that down, whats stopping you?

Can Violin be Self Taught?

Yes! Thanks to YouTube and other online resources, you can learn to play the violin in the comfort of your own home. However, teaching yourself requires a lot of motivation because you won’t have anyone to set you homework. Sometimes the pressure of a teacher comes in handy!

Can Viola be Self Taught?

Of course! You can learn to play any instrument online. In fact, learning to play new instruments is one of my favorite pastimes. If I can do it, anyone can!

You Don’t Have to Decide Between the Violin and the Viola!

You can probably tell that I’m pretty passionate about these two instruments.

Unfortunately for my bank balance, I love them both equally!

So, I hope this article has helped you figure out whether you should learn to play the viola or the violin. If I could give you any advice, it’s that you shouldn’t get too hung up on the decision.

Whether you choose to play the violin or the viola, you can always learn to play the other one later. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a beginner model of both in your basket already.

In all seriousness, learning to play an instrument is so rewarding, I’m sure you’re going to love it!

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