“Viola” vs. “Violin”: Time To Sound Out Their Differences


The words viola and violin sound very similar, but do the instruments sound the same?

In this article, we’ll note the difference between a viola and a violin, including in size and tone, and also list the other members of the violin family of instruments.

Quick summary

Violins and violas are both members of the violin family that are played with bows and held under the chin. The violin is smaller and has a higher range. Viola music uses alto clef, while violin music uses treble clef. In most orchestras, there are 20 or more violins split between two sections, while there are usually only around 10 violas, which are all grouped together.

The difference between viola and violin

First, the similarities: both the violin and viola are members of the violin family of stringed instruments.

The other members of the violin family are the cello (whose name is short for violoncello) and the large stringed instrument known as a bass (also known as a double bass or an upright bass).

To learn the difference between cello vs. bass, check out our guide.

An older member of the violin family is the viola da gamba (also known as the bass viol), which is no longer commonly used.

Both the viola and the violin are typically played using a bow and are held underneath the chin. But they are different instruments with distinct sounds.

The difference between viola and violin is a matter of size and tone. Of the four instruments in the violin family, the violin is the smallest and the one capable of playing the highest notes.

The viola is larger in size (usually several inches longer) and has a lower range. Typically, the violin ranges from G3 to A7, while the viola ranges from C3 to E6. The viola is sometimes described as producing a “darker” tone than the violin.

Music written for the viola is in alto clef (also called viola clef). In contrast, violin music uses treble clef.

A typical symphony orchestra has at least 20 violins (and often more) split between two sections, but only around 10 violas, which are grouped into one section.

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Continue your musical education with a look at fiddles vs. violins!

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