the violin

Are there differences between a violin and viola? Ever had issues differentiating between the violin and the viola? Well, I also used to.

My journey to loving the violin started with an experience. I remembered going for a musical concert with my brother and what got my attention first was when the band or orchestra started playing. I heard a beautiful sound coming from an instrument from the shoulders of those good looking musicians. Wow it was heavenly! Alright, that was when I got attracted to the violin (or should I say viola).

Fast forward to when I finally decided to pick up an instrument to play. I knew my first musical instrument would have to be the violin. However, because I wasn’t sure and didn’t have any experience on musical instruments, I ordered for a viola in place of a violin. It wasn’t until my music teacher after 3 months of playing with the instrument at home told me otherwise.

Funny but lots of people still don’t know the differences between these two musical instruments.


Violin and the Viola are both members of the string instrument family. They look quite similar and are both held under the chin and played with bows.

The first known makers of both violin and viola was Andrea Amati and Gasparo da Salowas, who began making these instruments in the early 16th century. The earliest forms of violas and violins were used to copy the soprano and alto voices of operas and early choral works, and were then transformed over time into our modern day versions.


While these two musical instruments are a look-alike, and in fact are close cousins, there are quite a few differences that makes them stand out from each other. Mistake one for the other and you stand the risk of encountering the wrath of music geeks.

The Parts of a Violin/Viola by Yamaha

To help you avoid mixup, I’ve outlined the key differences between the two string instruments.


  1. Size

The most obvious difference between the violin and viola is the size.

The viola is larger than the violin. The violin’s body is usually about 35 centimetres (14 inches) long. The viola, on the other hand, can be as big as 45 centimetres (18 inches) long. In addition, the viola is wider.

Both instruments however come in numerous sizes: the viola in four, and the violin in nine. The smallest viola is, in fact, much smaller than a full-sized violin at just 30 centimetres (12 inches) long. These small violas are ideal for beginner students and children.

A violin and a viola. Image credit: WikiHow

2. Their strings are different

Both the viola and violin are stringed instruments and primarily use just 4 strings to be played on. (Electric violins and violas can have up to 6 strings).

The strings used on each instrument are not all the same.

The Violin strings are G, D, A, and E, with E being the highest, and G being the lowest. Violin strings are tuned one fourth down from each other. The string are well slightly thicker.

The Viola strings are C, G, D, and A strings, with A being the highest, and C being the lowest.

3. Their bow frogs are different

The frog is the part you hold at the end of the bow, which is decorated with a colourful slide and small circle. Viola bows are generally a bit heavier, and sometimes the frog is curved instead of straight-edged, like this:

4. Clef

Another big difference in the violin and the viola is the clef that they are played in.

Viola is a mid-range alto voiced instrument, and is the only string instrument to use the Alto Clef for notation.

The Violin on the other hand is played in the Treble Clef. It is the highest ranged stringed instrument in the family. Violins are known for being the “soprano” voice of any orchestra or ensemble.

5. Note Range

Because the strings are different on each instrument, the range of notes varies as well, and this is one of the most distinctive characteristics that separate the two musical instruments.

Viola notes ranges from C, the lowest open string, to A, way up on the A string. Violin notes range from G, the lowest open string, to B, way up on the E string. (This varies according to how high a player’s fingers can reach and still sound good.)

Each instrument can be played within a 4 octave range and even higher notes can be played as fingered harmonies.

These unique elements of the violin and the viola can be used to identify them easily. See the article on simple guides to playing the violin.

Some of the greatest viola compositions include Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, Beethoven’s Serenade, and Kegelstatt Trio. The violins are usually accompanied by symphonic horns, double basses, cellos and the violas.

Some the famous examples of violists are William Primrose, Lillian Fuchs, Emanuel Vardi, Walter Trampler, and Lionel Tertis. There are countless talented violinists in classical and modern music.

Hope this helps to clarify the differences between a violin and a viola? See you next time.

1 Comment
  1. Uche 4 years ago

    am not sure I will still know the difference by sight

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