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Do others wince when they hear you play the viola? You don’t have to worry about that happening if you know how to find the best viola for you and your playing.
If you can choose a good instrument, you won’t have to work as hard to stay in tune. The instrument will sound good more easily, so you can focus on other aspects of the music.
How to Find the Best Viola
Knowing how to find the best viola is almost more important than knowing how to choose any other instrument. A lot of people hate the viola, especially if the player doesn’t sound very good.
Fortunately, the best viola can make it easier to get a nice sound on the instrument. Still, you need a combination of the right instrument and some musical skills to perform viola music.
Consider the following steps to help choose the perfect viola for you.
Practice Your Viola
If you already own and play the viola, test your current instrument. Make sure you tune the strings and adjust the bow so that it’s not too loose or tight.
Consider taking it to a luthier for some maintenance as well to get the viola in better condition. Then, you can play it and see if you really do need to get a new instrument, or if those changes are enough to improve your sound.
Sometimes, all you need is a new set of strings or a quick trip to the viola repair shop. But if you still can’t get the sound you want, you’ll know that upgrading is the best way to achieve that.
Take Some Measurements
When you decide to upgrade your viola, consider the size of your current instrument. Does it feel comfortable? Or do you have to stretch to reach some of the fingerings?
Violas come in different sizes, so you can find an instrument that suits you and your body. Knowing the size you currently play can help you narrow your search for the correct size.
If you don’t have a viola, be sure to make time to test the size when you try a new instrument. That way, you can get an idea of if it will be comfortable to play for the next few years.
Think About Your Level
Another thing you should think about is your level of playing as a violist. If you’re a beginner, you should look for a more affordable and durable model so that you can learn.
You won’t have to worry about taking super good care of the instrument, so it can handle a lot. But as you advance, you may want an instrument with a specific wood or from a particular maker.
That way, you’ll have more flexibility regarding the sound you can get. You might also be more serious and so willing to spend more money on a nicer model.
Review Your Budget
Next, you should think about how much money you have and want to spend on a viola. Beginner instruments tend to be more affordable, while professional models can cost a lot.
Be sure to compare your budget to the level of viola you want to buy. While you can finance an instrument, you might want to have a good portion of the money ready for a massive downpayment.
That way, your monthly payments won’t be as expensive. On the other hand, you can decide to wait until you have the entire amount you need to buy the ideal viola for you.
Compare New And Used
You should consider if you prefer to buy a new viola, a used viola, or if you don’t care. Opening yourself up to both means you’ll be able to try more instruments.
If you buy a used viola, you may be able to get a better instrument for less money. That way, you don’t have to save as much, and you can play the instrument for years.
However, a used instrument will not be worth it if the prior owner didn’t take care of it. Be sure to look for cracks and other issues before you pay for a used viola.
Decide To Buy Or Rent
Another decision involved in finding the best viola is whether you’ll buy or rent the instrument. Buying means you’ll have the viola for as long as you want.
However, buying can be expensive, and you may not have the money. Renting lets you save money, and some rental programs will apply your rental fee towards the total cost if you decide to buy the viola later.
If you’ve never played the viola, renting can also be a good option. That way, you don’t have to commit to the instrument if you aren’t sure if you’ll want to keep playing it.
Choose Some Music
If you’ve already played the viola, you should select a few pieces and exercises to test various models. Make sure you choose pieces that focus on the high and low registers.
Consider pieces that involve string crossings, double stops, and other complex techniques. You should also find works that cover all dynamics, and choose both slow and fast pieces.
That way, you’ll be able to put each viola you try through a comprehensive series of tests. After you play the violas, you can compare them and figure out which you like the best.
Now, you’re ready to start trying violas, so go to a local music store or find some online options. Some stores will send instruments to your house to try, but you can also buy one at a time if the store offers a return window.
Then, you can try the instruments where you’re comfortable. Play through the music you chose in the last step to see if you like a viola or not.
You can send back the instruments you don’t like. If you dislike all of them, you can order a new set of trials until you find a model that works for you.
Record And Listen
When you try different violas, record yourself on your phone or computer. Label the recordings with the different viola brands and model numbers.
This is especially important if you can’t try a ton of instruments at once. After you try a few violas, you can listen back to the recordings and listen for things you may have missed when playing, and you can compare the models back to back.
You can use the recordings to help decide between two instruments that are very similar. Then, you won’t have to spend as much time playing and testing various violas.
Play For Others
If possible, try to test the violas in front of your teacher or another advanced violist. They can hear things you won’t hear, which can help you decide between two models.
Another player can then demonstrate the instruments for you to listen and see if you like one the best. Working with someone else also allows you to do a blind test.
Then, you won’t know what brand or model a viola is, so you can get rid of any preconceived notions. That can help you choose a viola because you like it rather than the name.
Finding your perfect viola can take a lot of time, and you may not like any of the instruments you try your first time. As hard as it can be, work on your patience when shopping.
There are tons of violas out there, so you should compare as many as you can. Don’t feel like you have to buy the first viola you test out.
You want to make sure you choose the ideal viola for you to help avoid buyer’s remorse. Soon enough, you’ll be able to try more instruments and buy the one you like the most.
Consider Smaller Upgrades
Perhaps you’ve tried dozens of violas and none of them seem to work. If you already have a viola, you can make smaller upgrades to the instrument to improve your playing.
One of the best ways to do this is to buy a different viola bow. Some bows can offer different sounds, so a new bow might be all you need to sound better.
Another change you can make to your viola is to change the strings. Test strings from a different brand or that use a different material to see if that makes you like your viola more.
The Best Violas To Try
Now that you know what to look for in the best viola, where should you start? With so many violas on the market, it can be hard to know which ones are worth trying.
For better or worse, some violas are of poor quality, so they can be a waste of your time. Meanwhile, other violas are great for players at various levels.
Consider some of the following violas as you shop for your first instrument or an upgrade.
The Cremona SVA-130 is a beginner viola with a lightweight tailpiece and ebony pegs. Its low-profile chinrest makes it easy to hold the viola and play more technical pieces.
Spruce and maple make up the body of the viola, and the design isn’t too heavy or awkward to handle. The fine tuners help you get and keep the viola in tune quickly.
You get a set of Prelude strings, which are perfect for students. That way, you can learn and grow on this instrument, and you don’t have to break the bank to get started.
- Easy to play
- Comes in multiple sizes
- Strings are a bit cheap
If you want to spend a bit more but still want a student instrument, try the Cremona SVA-200. This model is a bit more expensive than the SVA-130, but it has a lot of the same features.
One difference, though, is that this model uses flamed maple with light red, translucent finish. That makes the instrument look nice, so you can fit in with any viola section.
You can choose between 14, 15, and 16 inches for the size. This is a good first instrument, but it’s also a suitable upgrade on a tight budget.
- Easy to play
- Not that different from the SVA-130
The Yamaha AVA5 is an acoustic viola with an oil varnish and a hand-carved body. In fact, the entire instrument is handmade, and it’s great for advancing students.
You get a carbon fiber bow with the instrument, which is light and easy to move. Everything comes in a case, which will protect your setup when you aren’t practicing.
Now, it is a bit expensive, so it’s not the best option for a new beginner. However, players can get a lot out of this instrument, and it’s not the most costly model out there.
- Great for advanced players
- A little expensive
If you like to play with a rock band, you may enjoy the Yamaha SVV200. This silent/electric viola features dual piezo pickups and an EQ dial to help you get the tone you want.
There isn’t a full wood body, but the shape still feels pretty natural for you to hold under your chin. That way, you can play slow and fast music, and you’ll be able to hear yourself.
Even if you don’t like rock music, this is a great instrument to have for practicing. You don’t have to worry about annoying your neighbors.
- Great for practicing
- Easy to sound good
- Only one size available
D Z Strad 101
The D Z Strad 101 is an entry-level viola that comes with everything you need to play. It includes a bow, rosin, shoulder rest, and a viola case to protect everything.
Like other violas, spruce and maple are the dominant woods used to create the body. There’s also an ebony fingerboard, so you can easily move up and down the instrument.
You can get a round, warm sound when playing this viola, so it’s great for solo and ensemble playing. The fine tuners are easy to adjust, so you can keep from sounding out of tune.
- Easy to play
- Not the best for advanced players
D Z Strad 400
If you want to upgrade to a new viola, consider the D Z Strad 400. This professional, handmade model is more affordable than some professional instruments, but it’s not for beginners.
It features an Italian spruce top with other Italian tonewoods making up the rest of the body. Varnish keeps the instrument looking good, so you can play it for quite a while.
You’ll get a nice, warm response from the viola, which is great in many scenarios. The instrument offers a unique character, so you can set yourself apart from the other players in your section.
- Suitable for professionals
- Easy to play
- Looks and sounds good
- Not for beginners
D Z Strad 700
The D Z Strad 700 is another handmade model from the professional line of violas. It comes with a bow, strings, rosin, and a case to keep everything safe.
Maple and spruce are the two woods used to make the body, and those materials help you get a good tone. Like the other professional D Z Strad, this one can help you sound unique.
This model also imitates the look and sound of vintage violas, but it’s not nearly as expensive. It’s a great entry into the world of professional violas.
- Looks and sounds great
- Easy to play
- Comes with what you need
- A bit expensive
FAQs About How To Find The Best Viola
Answer: The viola can be hard to play, especially for beginners. It’s bigger than the violin, but you hold the instrument the same way, on your shoulder.
Violas can also be hard to play well because of their design. To get the same resonance as on a violin or cello, the viola would need to be a lot bigger, so it can sound a bit stuffy.
Answer: While good violas can still have acoustical problems, they will help you sound better than a poor-quality instrument. You shouldn’t have to work as hard to get a nice sound on the best viola for you.
And when getting a sound is easier, you’ll feel more motivated to practice and get better. Soon enough, you’ll be able to play more difficult pieces, and you’ll have your viola to thank.
Answer: Switching from the violin to the viola is a great option for some people but not everyone. The viola isn’t as common as the violin, so you may be able to get more performance opportunities.
But the viola is bigger and can be harder to hold. You’ll also have to learn a whole new clef (alto clef) to read viola music, and that can take time to master.
Answer: A good viola costs a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, though some are more expensive than that. Luckily, you can get a decent instrument at almost any price, so you don’t need to spend more than you want.
Just make sure you like how the viola feels and sounds. Otherwise, it won’t matter how cheap or expensive the viola is since you won’t want to play it.
Answer: Look for smaller viola sizes, such as a 14 or 15-inch model. Sometimes, getting a smaller instrument will allow you to play more comfortably, so you can enjoy playing.
Whether you’re younger or simply have short arms or small hands, don’t feel like you have to play a full-size viola. You don’t want to force yourself to be tense while you play just to reach the entire fingerboard.
Answer: The viola is better than the violin for some people. If you like the lower, richer tone of the viola, it can be a great instrument to play as a soloist or in an ensemble.
However, if you prefer to play the melody and like to play more technical passages, the violin is better for you. But you can play both if you can’t decide between them.
Final Note on How to Find the Best Viola
Knowing how to find the best viola can make playing a lot easier. The best instrument for you will be the right size and use the right bow and strings to produce a sound you love.
Be sure to consider violas from Yamaha, Cremona, and D Z Strad. That way, you’ll be able to compare more models to help settle on the perfect one for you.
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