The ToneWay® Project: helping people play music

Viola is a great fiddle!

when I was in the violin shop getting my fiddle fixed I happened onto a cheap viola kit, came with the viola, case and a fiberglass bow and a cake of rosin for 600 bucks and he threw in some new helicore strings. I could rent it for 40 bucks a month until it's paid off, then its mine to keep.

anyway I brought it home to play with and I think I'm in love.

its rich dark tones are glorious. and this is a cheap one!

I'm half tempted to make it my primary fiddle.

why hasn't the viola become as popular or even more so than the fiddle?

it certainly has a home in folk music, see these two videos by luke.

I also think it should be included in the toneway instruction.


The viola is still tuned in 5ths with just the top high E string of the violin removed and replaced by a lower C string on the bottom. That means using the “key of D” pattern of the fiddle on the viola will have you playing the “key of G”. Move the pattern over one string has you playing in the key of D.

In other words:
The key of D pattern on the fiddle is a key of G pattern on the viola.
The key of G pattern on the fiddle is a key of D pattern on the viola.

So the viola is actually “included in the ToneWay instruction”, albeit surreptitiously . All things being equal, anyone just starting out might be better off doing the fiddle first.


To add to my dad's general notes, here's some personal thoughts:

That viola I'm playing in the videos is the first one I borrowed for more than a few minutes (this was back in '09 or so). Happens to be a very nice, high-quality instrument, with a lovely, rich, bellowing sound. I too was in love.

But, the embers of love have burned down, and now I hardly play the viola anymore. It's back to violin for my fiddling purposes. Why? Nothing that would necessarily prevent anybody else from sticking with the viola. I will just share my experience…

I had a similar thought of, “Why isn't the viola a part of bluegrass-style music?” So I started playing it in bluegrass jams. And it worked alright. The main thing was, it had an inescapable weirdness about it. It didn't sound right. Even ignoring the low C string; the viola's deepness fills a part of the soundscape which isn't usually filled by the fiddle.

Here's an important distinction, though: It wasn't a musical problem. It was an aesthetic issue. The viola isn't a part of the “traditional” bluegrass aesthetic (i.e., Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, etc.). It doesn't sound like it “belongs” as much as a violin. More dramatic examples include the flute, accordion, saxophone… you can play “bluegrass” on all of them, but it won't fit in with what bluegrass fans are used to hearing. Some folks like the variety. Others prefer to stick to the aesthetic. It completely depends on the people involved.

So if I wanted to sound real “bluegrass-y”, viola generally didn't work as well. But I don't just play “straight bluegrass”, I also play old-time/mountain music/etc. stuff, and I like to experiment and come up with stuff. Viola was fun for that… although with time I realized that fiddle was not only easier for me to play, it blended with my voice better/easier than the viola. To my tastes, anyway.

As always, when aesthetics get involved, things get arbitrary. :-)

But there a cent or two from my personal experience.


One more thing, just for the record: our ToneWay beginner materials aren't set up for viola at the moment. When you get to the “key of D” part of the lesson, you need to use the E string on the violin. Well, the viola doesn't have an E string! Therefore, the violin is the instrument to start with using our method. Once your comfortable with the Method and the fiddle, switching to viola should be a piece of cake.

(By the way, the way to play the key of D on the viola is to use the violin's “key of A” picking pattern, as shown in our books.)


LOL the viola doesn't sound like a fiddle thats true. I certainly do not plan to give up my fiddle.

but that said,

I like songs in minor keys, modal keys and songs that sound spooky like cuckoos nest and wayfaring stranger.

and that thick full rich dark tone of the viola just won me over.

in fact I was in the violin shop as he was fixing the crack in my fiddle and I asked him if he could give my fiddle a rich dark tone like a viola has, then I saw a viola on the wall and thought, hey why not try this baby out.

5 minutes later I was signing a rent to own contract.

all i can ask is, viola, where have you been all my life! LOL

its just the sound I have always wished my fiddle would make.

I agree a viola won't replace a fiddle and it shouldn't. in fact I don't think its even supposed to or was even meant too. its more like a man voice vs a woman voice.

I think a viola and a fiddle can supplement each other. I really enjoyed that duet above with the viola and fiddle. I'd like to see more stuff like that.

what is neat is adding toneway instruction to a viola takes a couple sentences. in fact this thread just did it. anybody wanting to toneway it up on a viola who sees this thread will have all the info they need.

I like tradition too but sometimes breaking away from it creates really neat things. (as you have no doubt discovered in your own experimentation) I even saw this japanese fella playing a shamasen (did I spell that right? LOL) in a bluegrass band. I thought it was pretty sweet and folks seemed to like it. I know I did.

adding new instruments from ukuleles to violas to even a sax, can create new and fun sounds to me.

not to mention I not only like the bluegrass stuff but also, old time, and country, cajun, celtic, and even classical stuff.

all that said thanks for both of you guys input and replies. :)

Edited 7 times; last edited Aug 10, 2011 by John Flud

That stupid I play the viola and I'm the best fiddler in my school! I even beat the teachers(ones a violin and the others a viola) in a note per second challenge(I got 6and they got 4and 5). Violas fit. In our fiddling club and2 biginner violaa played and they were amazing. Btw I am a boy that started playing every day(bluegrass and classical) and have only been playing for 2years


Btw I was making a fake but real account so that's y my name of is wierd.


I have a 16" viola that I converted into a “violin”

  1. Take any viola string set you prefer and remove the C string
  2. Use the rest of the strings and string like you would a regular violin
  3. Buy the D'Addario Helicore Viola E String
  4. Tune it to the standard violin GDAE

Now you have the best of both worlds and it sounds great!

I have read that you can also use a viola D string and tune it up to E and sounds good also.

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