A viola is a stringed instrument played with a bow that is slightly larger than a violin. Although it may take a while to master the viola, you can pick up one and learn to play it with ease. Once tuned, maintain a good posture to play the instrument with the bow. As you learn the notes and scales, start practicing other playing techniques. With hard work and dedication, you will learn to play well!
Part 1 of 4: Holding the Viola
Step 1. Use a shoulder pad on the viola to make it more comfortable
Hold the viola face down with the bottom cover facing you. Place one side of the shoulder pad against the edge of the viola so it looks like a "smile." Take the other side of the shoulder pad and slide it onto the opposite side of the viola. Keep pushing it down until it is snug.
- You can buy a shoulder pad at music stores or online.
- The shoulder pad is not mandatory, so don't wear it if you don't want to.
Step 2. Put the viola on the left side of your collarbone
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or sit in a firm chair, making sure to keep your back straight. Take the viola by the base of the handle and carry it up to your left shoulder. Point the button on the bottom of the viola toward the center of the neck. Hold the viola at a 45-degree angle so that it rests well on your collarbone. Wiggle the viola a bit until the shoulder pad feels comfortable.
If the viola is too far forward or too far back on the shoulder, it will be difficult for you to support and hold it
avoid sitting on soft furniture as it can affect your technique.
Step 3. Rest your chin and jaw on the chin rest
The chin guard (also known as a chin guard) is located at the bottom of the instrument and offers additional support when playing. Once you have the viola on your collarbone, tilt your head down to rest it on the chin rest. Use the lower jaw and chin to hold the viola.
Don't hold the instrument between your head and shoulder, as doing so can cause neck problems over time
Step 4. Place your left thumb on the handle of the viola
Slide your left hand from the base of the handle to the top near the headstock. Keep your thumb on the left side of the handle, closest to the do string. Press your thumb against the side of the viola to maintain position.
- Do not rest the handle of the viola on your wrist.
- Make sure your elbow is below the center of the viola.
Step 5. Put the rest of your fingers on the fretboard
The rest of the fingers of the left hand are used to step on the strings and play the notes. Curl your fingers so that your thumb and forefinger form an upside down "C". For now, rest your fingers on the edge of the fingerboard.
Part 2 of 4: Gripping the Bow Properly
Step 1. Tighten the bow before use
See if the bristles are almost touching the bow shaft. Turn the screw at the end clockwise to tighten the bow. Count how many times you turn the screw while tightening it. Once you can get your pinky between the bristles and the wand, stop squeezing the bow.
Always loosen the bow by the same number of turns each time you finish playing
Be careful not to strain the bow too much, as doing so runs the risk of breaking the bristles.
Step 2. Put your right thumb between the leather and the nut of the bow
The nut is the part at the bottom of the arch that holds the bristles in place. Hold the bow so that the point is pointing to the left and the nut to the right. Place your thumb in the small space between the walnut and the black leather wrapped around the bow rod.
Don't put your thumb between the bristles and the wand
Step 3. Place your middle and ring fingers on the smooth side of the walnut
Wrap the middle and ring fingers around the arch so they are on the opposite side of the thumb. Keep both fingers together while holding the bow to avoid dropping it.
A good rule of thumb to remember is to put your ring finger on the white point on the walnut
Step 4. Curl your little finger and put it on the bow rod
Place your pinky on the top of the pole to help support the weight of the bow. Keep the pinky curved by pressing down on the top of the arch. Apply a small amount of pressure to ensure you have a firm grip.
If you move your little finger, the bow will tilt easily and it will be difficult to play
Step 5. Wrap your index finger around the bow rod
After all the other fingers are in place, hook your index finger around the bow rod. Press your fingertip onto the wand so you have a firm grip.
Do not touch the bristles with your fingers, as you can leave marks on them and cause the bow to slip when touched
Part 3 of 4: Playing Notes with the Bow
Step 1. Put the bow on the A-string right next to the bridge
The bridge is the arched piece that the strings rest on near the bottom of the viola. Place the bow on the a string so that it is on the side of the bridge closest to your hand. Use the bristles of the bow that are closest to the nut and keep an almost vertical angle.
The A string is the easiest to play as it is the closest to the bow
Step 2. Slide the bow down the string to play it
Move your hand down to pass the bow over the string. Don't press the bow too hard when playing or you may damage the bristles. The bow will cause the string to vibrate and make the sound of the note a. Once you reach the end of your arc, move your hand back to continue playing the note. The note will continue to sound as long as you move the bow on the string.
Use shorter strokes to play the fast notes and long strokes to play the slower notes
Step 3. Try playing the other strings
Pick up the bow and place it on the string you want to play. Make sure the bow only touches one string at a time. Otherwise, raise your arm to adjust the angle of the bow. Practice with long back and forth movements followed by shorter notes. Practice as you like until you have tested all the strings.
Once you have played all the strings, change the string you play with each movement. For example, play A, D, G, and C in 4 movements
Step 4. Step on the strings with your fingertips to switch notes
Once you've practiced playing open strings, use your fingertips to step on a string on the fretboard. Keep your fingers curled while holding down the string. When you play the string, the note will sound higher than the normal string sound. Experiment with each string to hear which notes you can play on the instrument.
- The position of each note varies from person to person, as the shape of your finger will affect the notes you play.
- Do not step on the string with your fingernail or fingertip, as the sound will not be as clear.
If you're just starting out, buy fingering tapes to mark where specific notes are played on each of the strings.
Part 4 of 4: Using Advanced Techniques
Step 1. Tune the strings with the tuners and pegs
From left to right, the strings are C, G, D, and A, with C being the thickest. Tune in comparison to another instrument that is in tune or uses a digital tuner. Set the tuner to C and gently pluck the C string with your finger. Locate the tuners on the tailpiece (at the bottom of the strings). Turn the tuners clockwise to raise the tuning or counterclockwise to lower it until the string matches the sound of the tuner. Continue tuning the other strings to a G, D, and A respectively.
If the string doesn't sound close to the tuner pitch, use the pegs on the top of the viola to adjust the strings
Step 2. Move your finger across the fretboard to give the note small variations
Press a string with your finger pointing towards you. Keep your finger fully curved as you step on the string. Move your finger back and forth without moving it from place on the string. Pass the bow over the string so you can hear the pitch change as you move your finger.
This technique is called vibrato
If you find it difficult to move your finger, start by moving your arm back and forth first. When you begin to feel comfortable, do the movement from the wrist. Then use just your fingers.
Step 3. Pluck the strings with your right index finger to make shorter notes or pizzicato
Set the bow aside while plucking. Place the tip of the index finger of your right hand on the string. Pluck the string by pulling your fingertip on it. The note will be short and crisp.
Many pieces have pizzicato sections between the parts where the bow is used. Practice alternating between using the bow and the pizzicato to create a smooth transition
Step 4. Bounce the bow off the strings to play the short notes more freely
Instead of passing the bow over the string in one motion, let the bow bounce gently with the notes. Use the middle of the arc as this is the area that bounces the most. Once the bow hits the string, pick it up immediately. The note played will sound short and energetic.
- This technique is known as spiccato.
- You can bounce off the string multiple times to play notes in a row.
Step 5. Practice scales
Begin by playing the C string without stepping on it. C is the starting note of the scale. Step your index finger on the C string near the top of the fretboard to play the next note. Use a tuner to make sure you are playing the next note on the scale, which is a D. Use the tuner to find the next 3 notes, E, F and G, playing them with the middle finger, the ring finger and the little finger. To finish the scale, switch to the G string and use the tuner to find the notes A, B, and C alto.
- You can find a fingering chart for the viola notes here:
- Notes will vary slightly in location as finger size affects pitch.
Find a private tutor or take music classes if you want to continue learning to play the viola
- Don't over tighten the strings as they can break.
- Avoid touching the bristles of the bow as they can be damaged by contact.