Playing musical instruments

What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: January 16, 2017
What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola

The violin and the viola are two instruments from the same family. Both are string instruments that have a similar size and appearance. For this resemblance, their differentiation can be a little complicated if you are not used with the special features of each of them. If you're curious and want to know how to tell apart both instruments, at OneHowTo we explain you what the difference between a violin and a viola is.

  1. Violin
  2. Viola
  3. The differences between the two


The violin is one of the main instruments in an orchestra and was invented in Italy in the 16th century. It is the highest pitched instrument in the string family and has four strings. The lowest note of a violin is G, while the highest is E. The other two strings are D and A. All four strings are tuned in perfect fifths.

There are different sizes of violins, depending on how big you are. Children usually start playing with 1/4 or 2/4, while teenagers and adults can already use the full size instrument (4/4). The body length of 4/4 violins is 356mm (about 14 inches).

What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola - Violin


The viola is a stringed instrument like the violin. However, it has a slightly larger size and generates deeper sounds. This instrument is considered the tenor of the violin family. A musician that plays the viola is referred to as a violist or viola.

Violas emerged long before violins. The first were called viola da gamba. The need for music bands to offer a much more powerful sound than that of the double bass lead to their invention.

Violas, just like violins, also have four strings. The strings are also usually tuned in fifths, although the notes are different than the violin. The lowest string is C, the highest is A and the remaining two are G and D. The tuning of the viola is exactly one fifth below the violin, so they have in common the strings G, D and A.

Violas are slightly bigger than violins, a full-size viola is 40cm (16 inches).

What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola - Viola

The differences between the two

Both instruments are very similar, however they play different roles in the orchestra. Violins usually have more importance and have solo parts, while violas are used for accompaniment.

Also, violins are smaller than violas. This is because the violin has a higher pitch and doesn't need a resonance box as big as instruments that have deeper sounds.

Violins are one of the most common instruments in the string family, and often people that play the viola are mistaken for violinists.

If you want to read similar articles to What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola, we recommend you visit our Learning category.

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What is the Difference Between a Violin and a Viola