Although it might seem almost any viola would be good enough for a beginner, it's not really true. A beginner violist struggles to make the first sounds and find the initial notes. A viola that won't perform properly, even when the violist does, is too much of a discouragement for most beginning musicians. The first few months are the most difficult and are critical for a young violist. Music teachers often say they can predict which students will drop out of music by looking at the quality and condition of the instruments they begin on.
A beginner doesn't need the most expensive viola, but s/he does need a viola that plays easily (doesn't require pressing down too hard on the strings to get the note), will tune up and stay in tune (the tuning pegs fit properly and don't slip), has appropriate strings that respond correctly when played, has suitable bow hair in good condition to sound the strings, is set up and adjusted to play easily, and can be repaired and adjusted as it (inevitably) needs it.
Beginner violas are available from many sources:
- Buying outright. If you're sure your child will like playing music and will want to stay with the viola, you could purchase a viola outright. However violas that are appropriate for school orchestra aren't inexpensive, and students move up in viola sizes as the grow and progress. The viola a student begins on isn't likely to be appropriate in a few months or years.
- Renting. Renting gives the child (and parents) time to see how s/he likes playing
music, consider whether viola is the correct instrument, move up as the student grows, and consider
what type of viola is right for the longer term. The music teacher knows and usually advises beginners' parents where they can rent the right kind of viola, considering not just the cost and quality of the violas rented, but also the condition they are kept in and the support the company provides to keep the instruments playing properly. Rent paid is usually applicable to the later purchase of an instrument. (This is the most popular way to get a student started in music. )
- Buy (or borrow) a used one. When a good used viola can be gotten at a low enough price, it might make sense to take a chance on the student and buy it outright. But always check first with the music teacher to assure the viola you're considering is the appropriate quality. Then take it to a string repair shop to see what it will take to put it in playing condition. (Violas that have been put away for a year or more are likely to need new strings and some adjustments to play properly. )
- Internet. Although the Internet is considered a dangerous place to buy a musical instrument, especially violins and violas, someone who knows violas and is very careful can sometimes find a bargain. By some estimates 95-97% of the stringed instruments sold on the Internet are very low quality and not appropriate for school orchestra use; indeed many music teachers say they are the students' and teacher's worst nightmare. However appropriate violas can occasionally be found on some reputable Internet sites, occasionally at good prices, for those who really know what they're doing.