Instrumentation notes – Viola

  • Alto and tenor of the strings choir
  • Four strings are played with a bow.
  • Four strings are:
    Image result for four strings of viola
  • Pitched a perfect 5th below violin
  • Body of instrument longer and deeper than violin; bow heavier
  • Sounds more ‘ponderous’ than violin yet still agile and virtuoso
  • Each string played as an open string (without fingering) has a unique quality:
    C string: lowest; very dark, thick sound. Loudly it has vitality, softly it’s delicate and rich
    G string: has moderate richness
    D string: has a quiet warmth to the tone (this and G string great for accompaniment)
    A string: penetrates the most, is more brilliant and more reedy-sounding
  • Playing range for each string:
    Pitch notation
    C string: C3-G4
    G string: G3-D5
    D string: D4-A5
    A string: A4-A6
  • Uses alto clef as its normal clef but sometimes treble for high notes on D and A string
  • Used to double at octave melodic lines of violins
  • Used in unison with violins reinforcing and doubling cello lines
  • Good as an only bass sound (but not heavy; solid)
  • Major use for inner voices, accompaniments, rhythmic figures, harmonic underpinnings
  • Solo voice it’s below, melancholic
  • Heavier bow helps to articulate accented & rhythmic accompaniments; can match bowing with violin
  • Pizzicato excellent; has more ring than violin
  • Harmonics good; natural to a 10th partial very clear. Artificial ones good too
  • Can do double, triple (@ mf) and quadruple stops (f) – the latter is not idiomatic

Blatter, A (1997). Instrumentation & Orchestration. 2nd ed. USA: Schirmer. Pgs 56-57


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