classical viola
Name: Viola
Other Names: Alto
Classification: Stringed instrument. Primarily bowed, occasionally plucked. Held under the chin on the left shoulder.
Hornbostel-Sachs classification: 321.322-71 - Composite chordophone sounded by a bow.
Related Instruments: The viola is a member of the violin family, which includes the violin, violoncello, (cello) double bass and the rarely played octobass. Its closest relative is the violin.
Developed: The viola was developed around the same time as the violin (thought to be early 16th century). But, unlike the violin, does not have a standard form. The full sized viola varies in size, and is usually between one and four inches bigger than the full sized violin, (making the full sized viola generally 15-18 inches long).
Types: Standard acoustic, electric, viola-violin hybrid (5-stringed viola/violin).
Tuning: C-G-D-A
Playing Range: C3-E6 for advanced players (requires advanced position changing.)
Musicians: Emanuel Vardi Lionel Tertis, William Primrose, Paul Hindemith Alessandro Rolla.
Use our online viola tuner Use our online chromatic tuner

The viola is the primary member of the viola family. It has four strings tuned in perfect fifths, and is played rested on the shoulder while using a bow. Music for the viola is written using the treble clef. The viola was first developed by instrument makers in Northern Italy who drew upon earlier Middle Eastern bowed instruments as inspiration. The viola is a versatile melodious instrument, which is also easy to transport due to its small size. As such, the viola is used in many genres of music including classical, country and bluegrass, Hungarian and gypsy, Celtic, pop and jazz.

The viola is not very different to the violin, essentially having only one string that is different. Where the violin is tuned GDAE and has a higher range, the viola is tuned CGDA and has a slightly lower range. The range of the violin is seen as being more compatible to bright, brilliant melodies, whereas its sister the viola, tends to play a counter melody - often a third or a fifth underneath the violins melody.

However, there are some notable differences in playing technique. As the viola is bigger than the violin, the finger positions are spread further apart, requiring the viola player to have greater technical skill than the violin player when playing the same passage. The viola is often heavier than the violin, and the bow is harder to handle as it is also weightier than the violin bow. The C string is much thicker than any violin string, and so takes more effort to push down to play a note. While acknowledging these differences, the viola and violin are still alike enough to be relatively easily interchangeable for players of either instrument.

History of the Viola

Read the full article: History of the Viola

The viola was developed alongside the other members of the violin family in Northern Italy in the mid-16th Century. While the violin was praised for its perfect resonant form, the viola had significant geometric problems. The viola would be too long to be held on the arm if its perfect dimensions were to be honoured. Because of this problem the viola went through many different changes relative to its treble counterpart. The viola was largely overlooked in its early life due to the popularity of the violin. However, the viola became more popular and earned more respect in the 18th Century when technical changes caused the string tension to be increased, improving the timbre of the instrument. Violas can now be mass-produced; however professional luthiers still hand-craft viola models to various different specifications.

For more information on the history of the viola, see our History of the Viola article.


Read the full article: Types of Violas

The viola has had an extensive history which so far has spanned over 450 years. Over this 450-year history the viola has also had many different changes in form due to its imperfect resonance. The viola has various different forms from specific time periods, and smaller sizes for children. Modern violas can produce sound electronically or acoustically, and sometimes the range of the viola is extended to include the higher E-string, which effectively combines the ranges of both the viola and the violin.

For more information on different types of viola, see our Types of Violas article.

Parts of the Viola

Read the full article: Parts of the Viola

parts of the viola

To learn more about the different parts of the viola, see our Parts of the Viola article.

How to Tune the Viola

Read the full article: How to Tune the Viola

The viola has four strings which are tuned in fifths. From lowest to highest, the scientific pitch of the strings is: C3, G3, D4, and A4.

Standard Viola Tuning - A4(Hz): 440
String Scientific pitch Helmholtz pitch Semitones from Middle C Frequency (Hz)
C C3 c -12 130.81
G G3 g -5 196.00
D D4 d′ 2 293.66
A A4 a′ 9 440.00

Online Viola Tuners

Online Viola Tuner - Tune a viola using the standard CGDA tuning.

Online Instrument Tuner - Tune a viola by using the microphone on your computer.

For more information on how to tune the viola, see our How to Tune the Viola article. This article contains information on how best to tune your viola, and tips to make tuning your viola easy!

How to String a Viola

Read the full article: How to String a Viola

Viola strings can sometimes snap when tuning. They can also start to unwind, which causes a 'fuzzy' or 'buzzing' sound when you play. If you have an old viola that has not been played for a while, the strings may lose their flexibility and quality of tone. If you have strings that have been regularly played, then the strings can become dirty from the natural oils secreted by the fingers and from rosin, which can build up a sticky layer on the surface of the string between the bridge and the fingerboard.

Looking after your viola strings and restringing when strings start to wear is important as strings have such a significant influence on the quality of the sound produced by your instrument. To learn how to restring a viola, see our How to String a Viola article.

How to Play the Viola

Read the full article: How to Play the Viola

The viola is held under the chin while bowed or occasionally plucked. Orchestral and chamber violists sit while playing, taking care to keep their backs straight so to avoid shoulder and back strain. Soloist violists usually stand while playing. Violists read music written on the alto clef, and occasionally on the treble clef if they are playing mainly in the upper register of the viola. Advanced players have a playing range on the viola of four octaves.

To learn more about how to play the viola, see our How to Play the Viola article.

Articles about the Viola

antique viola Viola Buyers Guide

What should you know before buying a viola? This article gives a run-down on the things you must know before buying or selling your viola.

viola accessories Viola Accessory Guide

From shoulder rests to rosin, chin rests to mutes, this article explains all about viola accessories, and what to watch out for when you buy them.

man cleaning a viola How to Maintain a Violin

How do you get the best tone out of your viola? By making sure you maintain it well! This article will tell you all you need to know to keep your viola singing (and looking) beautiful.

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Comments (20)
Pages | 1

i play the viola

i love the viloa but the pic up there are fake

by unkon on


this is dumb all info is from wiki all fake

by John Cems on

These people don't know anything about the damn viola. They just put random information on a site and said "We don;t care if it;s bad and lacks info. At least we made a website. If you people don't like it, make it yourself" Ok NOOOOOO that's not how you do it people who made this website!!!!!! SHAME ON YOUUUUUUU FROM ALL REAL PERFORMERS!!!!!

by captianawesomeness on

Some of these comments are so stupid.

by 🤑 on

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by milissa girard on

Yea, tons of info.
Thanks Mate

by Your MOM on

My Random Thought

Learnt something new. Tanx

by Agnes Uju on

this article info. total bull****

by bob on

This wasn't useful... It didn't tell who made the viola

by Redfearher07 on

I play viola. 🎻 Do violas ever play melody with the first violins?

by Aspen on

Total bulls*th. violas play alto cleff, not treble.

by Violist 4 life on

Sнow мe нow тo do a ғ ѕнarp and pιѕιѕнιon

by adrianna on

answer to paddy

a viola is used for harmony

by choo on


This really helped me for my presentation. Good.

by Ellie on

what is a viola usally used for?

by PADDY on

Answer to Karen

It is in Altoclef. Violin is in Trebleclef. Cello and Bass are Bassclef. ("Originality? Check. Sorta stupid name? Check." says the creator of Bassclef.)

by Ender on

Struggling here having just bought a viola: isn't the music in the alto clef, not the treble?

by Karen on

i dont know

i play the viola and y'all forgot the button on the bottom of the instrument.

by Evelyn on

this really did not help they should have been more information to this thing .I suck at the viola can you help me I really want to play the viola.

by ally ish on

A lot of info here. Thank you

by Tillerman on
Pages | 1
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