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The T-rex and the Viola

Krista Moyer

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Published: October 5, 2015 at 7:12 PM [UTC]

My eldest son began learning the viola in February of this year. Now, having spent the last three point five years as a Suzuki student myself I figured I was up to the challenge. No problem, right? Wrong.

First off, I’m a violinist. Sure I can play the pieces in SB1, but I don’t read alto clef. So every practice session starts off with me asking what note the piece starts on. It necessitates that I play it in the viola key-which is often not the one I learned it in. Furthermore, I’m not really going through Suzuki the same way a kid does, even though we have the same teacher. As a result, I never memorized anything until the Vivaldi (except Two Grenadiers – which is another story) so half the time I’m trying to play it from the violin book while transposing it in my head. And lastly, not having a C string is a barrier.

More and more I’m feeling, maybe not a true need, but a desire to do viola things with a viola. It would just make everything easier. With that thought in my mind, my son and I trotted down to our local string shop and blithely asked to try some violas. Knowing that I play on a fractional violin, they first let me try a 15 inch viola. I can play it, but it’s a struggle and my arm is nearly straight. After a bit of measuring, they felt I should probably play 13 inch, but if I was careful with tension, a 14 inch would work.

Once again my stupid T-rex arms prevent me from playing a size that sounds real. They had no rental 14 inch instruments in stock because of the recent flurry of rentals by returning students; and the for-sale beginner instrument was not one I liked the sound of. The owner offered to contact their distributor to see if he had anything suitable in an intermediate range. I will try what shows up and see how I feel about it. If it’s just a violin strung up as a viola, I could just do that with one of my spares. That cheap campfire fiddle would do if I moved all the strings down one and added a C string.

Part of me thinks I am being silly wanting a real viola. Plenty of people do the violin-strung-as-a-viola thing. But I think that it’s bad enough to have to play a tiny instrument without having to compromise on whether I can have one at all. And why aren’t there any 14 inch viola cases? Do I really have to have the boring, black, kiddie rental case? Also, if it’s the same size as a full size violin, why do I have to buy a viola bow? Won’t my violin bow work? It’s enough to make a person crazy. This should be easier.

We ended up leaving with a pricey new permanbuco bow for the boy, and nothing for me. Part of me wishes I had bought the bow for myself, but he simply can’t keep using that cheapo Glasser thing that came with his rental. If I have to buy a viola bow, it won’t be nearly as nice as his, and definitely not anywhere near my violin bow. But hey, viola is his thing. It’s hard to get teenagers interested in anything academic. If he’s into it, then I’ll support that, even if it means I have to swim in the kiddie pool.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 6, 2015 at 5:55 AM
Well, Krista. I think this answered a lot of questions we had back in the discussion. Here are two things to consider, if you find a viola you like: 1) an adjustable case. Many viola cases are of this type because violas come in so many sizes. It may still be black, but it will be a nicer case than a kiddie case. 2) Arcos Brasil CF viola bows. Mine was under $200, has a beautiful frog, and is a pleasure to use. I was a snob and felt I just had to have a Pernambuco bow but I've gotten over it. Best wishes finding the sound you like in an instrument that is comfortable for you.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 7, 2015 at 5:26 AM
I looked at the Johnson Strings catalog tonight. All of their cases were for 15" or up. But there must be a case somewhere that works for 14" also. In fact, the no-name case I have for my 15" viola might work for a smaller viola.
From Krista Moyer
Posted on October 7, 2015 at 12:40 PM
That has been my experience as well. Nowhere that I have looked advertises a 14" viola case.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on October 9, 2015 at 1:53 AM
Hi, Krista. Regarding cases for 14" viola: 1) I wonder if Potter Violin might have any. Their website says they sell 14" violas. 2) I looked at how my case is constructed. The part that slides up and down (rests on the shoulders) has something like velcro that keeps it in place. It did seem as though it could slide down another inch and still be caught by the velcro. (My viola is 15".) It looks as though the Bobelock Featherlight is built similarly to mine. Hope this helps.
From Krista Moyer
Posted on October 9, 2015 at 3:03 AM
Thanks, Francesca. That is really useful information. I had wondered how the adjustable cases worked. Most of them advertise for 15" and up, so I wasn't sure. Too bad I can't have an adjustable arm. :-)

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