The size and shape of the viola are very similar to the violin. However, it is slightly larger. The viola also produces a lower sound that is both darker and richer than the bright violin sound.
The viola is played by drawing the horsehair of the bow across the strings, causing the strings to vibrate. The hollow wood body of the viola amplifies the string vibrations, making the famous viola sound. The player changes notes by depressing strings with their left hand, in effect shortening the vibrating length of the string.
Care and Maintenance
Before you play:
- Lift the bow out of the case by the frog. Avoid touching the hair. It will absorb oils from the skin that will keep it from playing well.
- Tighten the adjustment screw at the end of the bow until the hair is about the width of a pencil from the bow stick.
- Apply rosin to the bow hair if it needs it. The bow shouldn't need rosin every time it is used.
- In fact, too much rosin will leave a powdery mess on the strings, viola, and bow.
- Lay the bow across your lap or on the music stand.
- Carefully lift the viola from its case by the neck.
- Attach the shoulder rest to the end of the viola.
- Holding the viola by its neck in your left hand, raise it into playing position under your chin. With your right hand, pick up the bow by its frog. You're ready to play!
- If you take a break, put your viola and bow back in the case so they won't get damaged.
After you play:
- Set the bow in its case or on the music stand temporarily.
- Use a soft cloth to wipe the rosin dust off your viola and each of its strings. Rosin will eat into the viola's finish, and excess rosin on the strings will dampen their sound.
- Remove the shoulder rest from your viola.
- Put the viola in its case. Most viola damage occurs when it's left out. If you'd like to leave it out, use a viola stand.
- Pick up the bow by the frog and loosen the adjustment screw until the hair just goes slack. Loosening the bow lets it rest and keeps it from warping.
- Use your soft cloth to wipe the rosin dust off the bow stick. Be careful not to touch the hair. Put the bow in its compartment in the case.
- Put your rosin, tuner, and any other small items in the compartments inside your case.
- Put your shoulder rest, lesson book and music in the pocket on the outside of the case or carry them separately. Putting anything extra on top of your viola inside its case could damage it.
- Fasten the case latches and/or zipper.
- Store your viola indoors where the temperature and humidity are stable. Never leave your viola in a car on a cold night or hot afternoon because temperature changes can damage your viola's finish and cause cracks in the wood.
- Clean the finish of your viola with a viola polish cloth. A viola polish cloth contains enough polish to remove fingerprints and impurities and is preferable to liquid polish, which can harm the strings and bow hair.
- If you get a build-up of rosin on your viola, use liquid Fiddlebrite or a Miracle Cloth to remove it.
- Wash out your cleaning cloth or replace it with a new one.
- Bring your viola to the Amro repair shop at least once a year or whenever you feel it's not playing its best. We'll inspect and test it free of charge, usually while you wait.
- If you have Amro’s Maintenance & Replacement plan, any repair and adjustments it needs are free.
Tuning the Viola
The strings of the viola are tuned to C-G-D-A, which are in intervals of perfect fifths. C is the lowest-pitched string.
The easiest way to check that a viola is in tune is with a digital tuner. Most models produce a drone pitch for tuning by ear. These tuners also have a display that indicates whether the string is sharp, flat, or in tune. If you don't have a digital tuner with you, you can use a pitch pipe, piano, or virtually any other instrument to produce the pitches you need. Some players prefer to use a tuning fork. An A-440 tuning fork produces the pitch for the A string. From that reference point, the player tunes each of the other strings by tuning the perfect fifth intervals.
Once you have the tuning device in place, the player can adjust the pitch of his or her instrument by turning the pegs the strings are wrapped around. Tightening the string raises the pitch; loosening the string lowers the pitch. Many violas also have fine-tuners mounted on each string near the tailpiece. The player can use a fine tuner to adjust the string even more precisely by turning the small screw.