The viola originated in Italy in the sixteenth century. It is the middle-sized member of the violin family and the alto string voice of the orchestra. It produces a warmer tone than the violin and is tuned an octave higher than the cello. The viola has three strings in common with the violin: A, D, and G. It has a lower C string that the violin does not have, and the violin has a higher E string.
The viola can play the same music a violin can play, although it is often more comfortable to play in a different key, and it can be used in any style of music. However, it is uncommon to see the viola used as a solo instrument. Even in small ensembles, the viola usually plays a supporting role. A lot of violists also play the violin. In fact, many begin as violinists and choose to learn the viola as a second instrument.
One of the most widely-held misconceptions about learning to play the viola is that reading alto clef makes playing the viola more difficult. Alto clef is no more difficult than treble clef or bass clef. It's just different, and learning to read it does not prevent you from learning to read any other clef or otherwise hinder your studies of music theory. More advanced violists also read treble clef because higher-pitched viola music is often written in treble clef. Again, this is no different than a pianist learning to read the grand staff, and violists are not the only musicians who experience clef changes. If you have a desire to learn to play the viola, please do not let the alto clef discourage you.
In addition to the instrument and bow, you will need a shoulder rest, a music stand, rosin, and a soft cleaning cloth. All other accessories commonly offered as add-ons when you rent or buy a viola are unnecessary. We recommend getting a viola from a local violin shop if possible, rather than a general music store or website. If you do not yet have a viola, talk to us, first. The market for violin-family instruments can be tricky for beginners, so we would prefer to help you avoid things that look like good deals but are actually VSOs, or violin-shaped objects, the industry equivalent of a "lemon."
We do not offer viola lessons for children under the age of 10. Instead, we recommend starting with violin and switching to viola later. Violin and viola are closely related in technique, and they have three strings in common. Someone who plays one at an advanced level can adjust to playing the other very quickly. Adults play violas that are longer and taller than full size violins. Smaller violas for children who are not large enough to play a 1/2-size violin or the equivalent 12" viola are hard to find and are often violins with viola strings that lack the warm tone that often attracts students to the viola in the first place.