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Complete Noob with Odd Questions
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John S
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January 14, 2018 - 10:24 pm
Member Since: January 14, 2018
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Hello all- as it says, I'm completely new to this! I have a 4/4 violin, a Chinese 'Skylark', that I inherited some years ago. It's all there, but I'm not really a violin person so I never gave it a chance.

Fast forward to now when I'm interested in learning, but I'm more taken with the viola's lower tones. I pulled out the violin to see how it 'fit' and even though it's a 4/4 it feels rather tiny- my fingers overwhelm the fingerboard. So I measured my arm length for viola and went by a number of different charts, and the average showed I should probably go with a 15" viola. Fine and dandy, it's a little bigger than a 4/4.

What I'm wondering is, though, since there seem to be so many more resources for learning violin, if I should get a 15" viola and tune it as an octave violin and learn to play that way, or just soldier on and learn the viola as-is.

Another online teacher noted that I could restring a violin as an octave violin and have a go at it that way; octave strings are rather expensive (for me) though. Can viola strings be tuned as an octave below violin without having to go to new strings?

Also, as I found a violin fingerboard to be pretty crowded, is a viola fingerboard appreciably wider (ie more finger room)?

Or should I just pick one, violin or viola, and learn it as-is and make any changes later?

I know I have a ton of questions right out of the gate, but I'm trying to get my ducks in a row so I make a better-informed choice when I put my money down on an instrument. Any advice or pointers, or even warnings to run away, will be greatly appreciated.

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AndrewH
Sacramento, California
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January 15, 2018 - 5:45 am
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There isn't a lot for violin that can't be translated directly to playing a viola as is. The biggest change is learning to read the alto clef. At the beginning level, technique is essentially the same, and it's only at higher levels that you start to see appreciable differences.

I don't recommend octave strings -- acoustically, the violin isn't really suited for them unless you're playing an electric violin. Similarly, it's better to keep the viola in its normal tuning; the strings aren't designed to be tuned that much lower than their intended notes. So I would pick one, play it in its standard tuning, and think about making any changes later.

I own a violin but rarely play it; now that I'm used to mainly playing viola, I find the violin fingerboard crowded as well even though my hands are smaller than average. The fingerboard is both longer and wider than the violin fingerboard; once you start playing vibrato, the extra width may become a hindrance for small hands.

I'm honestly a little surprised that your arm fits a 15" viola while the violin feels tiny; that suggests short arms and large hands? (I'm the opposite: I play a 15.75" viola, which fits my arm nicely, but have very short fingers.) Many violists play violas that are a little larger than their arm length would suggest, and learn techniques to compensate for the larger instruments.

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BillyG
Brora, North-east Scotland
January 15, 2018 - 6:08 am
Member Since: March 22, 2014
Forum Posts: 2543
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@Welcome @John S !

I too have a 4/4 SkyLark as one of my instruments, and I have re-strung her as a viola.  I kept the G, D, A strings, moving them "up-a-peg" and discarded the E.   I then tried a viola C in what was the G position, but, its tension was so different from the other strings I had to work really hard to get it to sound.....   I then discarded that, and went for a C string, specifically intended for a 5-string violin.  It's just fine.

So I have an instrument that plays in the range of a viola, if not with the actual richness and timbre.  As an added bit of fun, I attached a set of $5 piezo-pickups on the back, and, when run through my guitar FX box set to octave-dropper, well, it has the range of a cello (with MUCH easier fingering roflol )

Here she is - 

🙂

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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John S
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January 15, 2018 - 11:17 am
Member Since: January 14, 2018
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Thank you guys for the replies- I got to thinking about what I had posted and decided that I've been WAY overthinking this thing. I'm going to throw in with the viola crowd and join the JUST DO IT club. Once I learn what's what- and if I'm ANY good at all- I can make changes from there.

@andrew, re: sizing - a 15" viola is what I came up with based on an average of various charts and measurements, and gauging from the 4/4 violin I have on hand. I have, just this morning, found a string shop in town and within the next few days (weather permitting) I will go talk to the pros for a proper assessment.

@Billy - Your Skylark looks to be in MUCH better shape than mine, and I'm sure the two bows I have are complete rubbish. I'll keep the thing on hand, though, and perhaps one day I'll give it a rebuild.

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Mark
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January 15, 2018 - 7:43 pm
Member Since: September 30, 2014
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John,

Welcome to the forum.

Mark

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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Charles
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January 17, 2018 - 1:04 pm
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Hi, @John S,

I'll throw in a couple of other options:

String the viola as a violin (only requires you get a special-purpose E string, instead of a whole set), if you want to play violin stuff.

Another option, if you're only playing it by yourself: leave it strung as a viola, but play it as if it were a violin. You'll have the deeper tones of the viola, but with the wide variety of songs available for violin. The only downside is that it won't play nice with others that way. This makes playing it as a viola (when you want to do that) utterly simple.  (And some songs you can play as normal, just shifted up a string and then it will sound good with others.)

As regards the tiny fingerboard issue - sounds like you have big hands. I do too. There are benefits and drawbacks to it. The biggest trick you need to learn early is that sometimes you'll need to play with the side of your fingertip instead of the center, to keep from touching the adjacent string. It can also be tricky to play one finger on one string, and another finger a half-step lower or higher than that on the next deeper string. Sometimes you can play both with one finger (the fingertip being twisted a bit to get the necessary offset), but sometimes you just have to cram them in very tightly.

On the flip side, playing two strings at once (say the 3rd finger on the D and A strings, playing G and D respectively) is dirt easy.  Ask questions when you run into problems, and somebody will probably have something that can help.

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John S
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January 17, 2018 - 5:05 pm
Member Since: January 14, 2018
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@charles - With the YUGE volume of violin music out there, I'm sure there's plenty of pieces that would sounds great in the lower register. I've been nervous about learning alto clef, but the more I read up the more music theory is coming back from high school days (tenor sax and bassoon). Reading music won't be much of a problem, I don't think, but starting as a brand-new string victim should be quite an adventure. I'm really looking forward getting this project off the ground. One step at a time ~

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AndrewH
Sacramento, California
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January 17, 2018 - 6:47 pm
Member Since: November 5, 2017
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There's also been a lot of violin music transcribed in alto clef for viola, and cello music transposed up an octave for viola.

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Fiddlerman
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January 18, 2018 - 5:37 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
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