Should my student play the Violin or Viola?
At some point in all student's development, I will present them the option of playing the viola. Many students and families haven't heard of the viola, or may know it just as a bigger violin. I personally love playing the viola and violin equally, and I think every student should have the opportunity to experience the violin and the viola so they can decide what's best for them.
What's the Difference?
The main difference between the violin and the viola is the strings. The violin's four strings are: E, A, D, G. The viola does not have an E string, but does have A, D, & G just like the violin. The viola adds a low C string, so the viola can play 4 notes lower than the violin.
Violin and Viola are played exactly the same in the early stages of learning, and the Suzuki pieces are the same for both up until the end of book 4.
As you can see in the picture, the viola (on the right) is slightly bigger than the violin.
A "full size" viola is bigger than a full size violin, however when students are playing on smaller, fractional size instruments, the size will be the same whether they play violin or viola.
Violin and Viola will learn to read different clefs. Violin will read treble clef and violas will read alto clef. For this reason, I often ask students to consider the viola when we start learning to read music. This way they can start out reading the clef they will be learning long term. Some students may switch later in their playing and have to re-learn to read alto clef after learning treble, but this isn't too difficult (especially when they are excited about their new viola!)
The main difference a student will experience when playing a violin or a viola is the sound. It's hard to describe the sound difference between the two (aside from the violin being higher and the viola being lower), and this is why I think all students should get to experience both first hand. When I first played a viola (this was after already playing violin for a time), I initially didn't love the sound. However, something about the viola kept calling me back, and I quickly grew to love it. Each student has to make the decision for themselves which instrument truly speaks to them, and giving it a try is the best way to do this!
If all this viola talk has gotten you curious, here are some videos of great viola music for you to explore:
The three main clefs (from left to right)
Alto - violas
Bass - cellos
Treble - violins (and violas/cellos in more advanced pieces)