When to switch to viola?


Rebecca said: Aug 25, 2011
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

I’ve got a student who is interested in switching to viola from violin. He just started Book 2 and at the same time graduated to a 1/2 size violin. We’re just starting vibrato work and sight-reading development although he has a good grasp of basic theory. When he asked when he could go to viola, I told him and his mom that I’d like to wait until all the basic violin skills are set on the violin before taking on the viola (vibrato, shifting, the common finger patterns and basic bowing skills).

Just wondering how other teachers approach this topic? Is there a benchmark you use before allowing students to switch? Do you not worry about it? When you do switch students, do you start over in Book 1? Review early books?

I appreciate the feedback!

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

Teresa said: Aug 25, 2011
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Aloha Becky!
When ever I have a student go from violin to viola, I like to first make sure that all the basic technique is set up. As a general rule, they must complete book 1 FIRST, and be able to play the entire volume well, with beautiful rich tone. Also, I like to be certain that the viola is at least the same size as a 1/2 violin. (Finding a fractional viola that sounds decent on an island is nearly impossible, unless I’ve already tried one on the mainland or Oahu and imported it myself!!)
In regards to learning the new clef, I’ve found that “I Can Read Music” is a good resource book.
Otherwise, no need to worry too much about it!
Hope that helps.

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 25, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I would say, if a student is asking to switch to viola, then as long as you can find a viola that:

  1. sounds decent (especially on the C string)
  2. is reasonably priced
  3. is the same string length / body length as the fractional sized violin you would have had the student using, were they not switching to viola
  4. hasn’t got ribs/chinrest/bouts that are too tall or too wide or too unwieldy for the student’s current neck length & shoulder / collarbone “girth”

Then there is no reason to wait. You can teach vibrato, shifting, the common finger patterns and basic bowing skills on a fractional sized viola just as easily as you can on a fractional sized violin. Also, if you’re using Suzuki curriculum, the pieces in books 1-3 are 99% identical as far as the skill set is concerned.

Also, you can use the “I Can Read Music” books for Viola AND for Violin with a violist. They’ll need to know how to read both clefs. For theory, I like to have student’s get a copy of the viola edition of Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory, and have them go through it page by page—it includes everything in the “regular” edition plus a little Alto Clef, which is good for them to know about, even if they never become “violists”.

When I switch a student, I make sure that they go back and “catch” all the pieces that aren’t in the violin books—there are two easy ones in book 1, and one in book 3. Other than that I have them do their review as they normally would if they had been on the violin.

Jacob Litoff said: Aug 26, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Millis, MA
46 posts

when does a viola student switch to violin?

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 26, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

lol, Jacob, I’ve never actually heard of such a thing happening. Probably because most beginning students don’t know what a viola is, so there is much less likelihood of a student who has an affinity for the violin starting on viola; whereas there are lots of cases of students starting on piano or on violin, who end up discovering an affinity for one of the less well-populated instrument sections.

Although I do make my book 4 students study both viola and violin, regardless of which one they consider their “primary” instrument. It’s good for them.

p.s. it’s just occurred to me that a person who plays both instruments in a somewhat equal capacity might migrate towards violin if they have been injured or as their bodies start to shut down if they can’t find a viola small enough to handle easily.

Terri said: Aug 26, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
10 posts

My daughter was in book 2/3 when she discovered viola. Since she was only a beginning reader, it was simple to switch clefs.

A popular switch point is just after the Vivaldi concerti in Book 4, because that’s when the viola rep substantially diverges from the violn rep. There are a couple of early pieces that are a good way to establish viola technique while not making the child feel they are “moving backwards.” By that age, it’s often possible to find a decent small viola rather than a restrung violin also.

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