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How to Read in the Viola Clef (for Violinists)

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: February 12, 2015 at 9:47 AM [UTC]

Are you a violinist and would you like to play the viola? Do you struggle with reading in the viola clef?

In this video I explain all about reading in the viola clef.

Sheet music for the violin and the viola is written in a different clef. The violin uses the G-clef and the viola uses the C-clef.

The viola clef indicates the C on the spot where you (as a violinist) are used to find the B. You might be thinking: everything I read is one note higher. It’s actually seven notes lower.

The A string on the violin and viola are the same pitch. When you read the open A string in the viola clef, it looks like a G (second finger on the E string) on the violin.

The C that is indicated by the C-clef is the C you usually play with the third finger on the G string.

The C string is the only viola string we don’t have on the violin. It’s lower than the G string. When you see the open C string in the viola clef... it looks like the B you usually play with the second finger on the G string. When you would like to write this down in the G-clef, there would be a lot of help lines.

Would you like to start playing the viola and get used to reading in the viola key? I recommend getting a beginner book for the viola, even when you have a more advanced level on the violin. In this way you get used to reading in the clef step by step.

You can buy the book I show you in the video right here, but you can also use other method books.

Make solid connections between the note name, how the note looks like, where the note can be found on your instrument and how the note sounds. This gives you a good foundation to reading in different clefs.

Don’t use ‘shortcuts’ like reading the viola clef like you read the third position in the violin clef. You will be confused when there are a lot of sharps and flats and you can start over.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 12, 2015 at 9:53 PM
This is a very helpful video. I wish I had had it a year ago when I started viola after a lifetime of violin. As you point out, the imagine you are in 3rd position shortcut is probably the most abused way of going from violin to viola. I used it extensively. I have gone beyond it mostly at this point, although not totally, and it is a bit difficult for me to sightread because of starting that way. Also, sometimes, I just get confused. Oh well. Hopefully others will follow your guidance and not have as many problems.
From Paul Deck
Posted on February 17, 2015 at 6:26 PM
That's a helpful video. But what we need is a clef that's one octave lower than the violin, not a freaking seventh. Would that have been too hard?
From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on February 19, 2015 at 8:06 AM
Hi Tom, good that this video is useful... I keep mixing up things too... when the violin and viola work... I sit behind a piano and get confused with the left hand.

Hi, Paul, I certainly agree! That would have been way easier! I think it’s traditionally grown that way, but that’s not a reason to keep it that way.

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