Monday, June 8, 2015

How to Identify a Violin

The violin looks very different from the cello and bass, but to the untrained eye, it is remarkably similar to the viola. Both instruments are part of the string family, but they each have a distinct tone, timbre and range. Each instrument is important for a composer that wants to write orchestral music. Gaining familiarity with each instrument makes the composer more knowledgeable and capable.

The biggest physical difference between a viola and a violin involves the size. The violin is going to be smaller than a viola since it plays an octave higher. Specifically, the violin is generally about 35 centimeters wide. The viola is larger and at least 40 centimeters wide. Additionally, don’t confuse a violin or a viola with a bass or cello. Basses and cellos are large instruments that must be held upright between the legs. The violin and viola are smaller instruments that are held under the chin and atop the shoulder.

The violin and viola have different timbres. Composers should learn how to identify each timbre by listen to each instrument performing solo works. By developing your ear so that you can identify when you hear a violin or a viola, you can more effectively choose the right instrument when you compose your own musical works. Generally speaking, the violin plays an octave higher than the viola and has a very narrowly concentrated and penetrating sound. The viola, being an octave lower, has a deeper, darker, dense and multilayered sound.

Examine the strings of each instrument if you are still unable to tell the difference. The viola has thick strings, while the violin has very thin strings. Both the violin and viola have the same strings, but since the viola is an octave lower, it has a richer and darker sound. From the lowest to the highest pitch, the strings separated by a fifth and are C, G, D, and A.