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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 3:05 am 
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My daughter is in music school ("la conservatoire" in France). This year her class does an "initiation" of 5 instruments: harp, recorder, harpsichord, cello, and viola. I thought my daughter would like the recorder since I play whistles at home all the time but she didn't like it at all. She did love the cello and she starts viola this week. At the end of the year she can either choose an instrument (any instrument, even ones she didn't learn) or spend next year learning wind instruments. From what she's told me, I don't think she likes wind instruments and she is very interested by the strings. The music school uses mainly classical music but I've heard some students perform jazz at the recitals.

I'm hoping she'll choose violin and I'm steering her in that direction just so we can play together out of my tunebooks. Does my reasoning make sense?

We listen to a lot of ITM at home and in the car, so I'm curious how the viola could fit into ITM and how my daughter & I could play together. I did some searching here and read that if a viola player plays treble clef then the notes will be a fifth lower. In that case, could she play my music and instead of playing a D whistle I could play a G? Would that work or would it be more difficult to play on the viola? That would work at home but it would cause problems if she wanted to play with other instruments or tunebook CDs or in a session. For that reason I think the violin makes more sense.

I really love the sound of the viola. Just like I prefer low whistles to high whistles, I prefer the sound of the cello & viola to the violin. But it seems violin is much more popular for ITM and it seems viola is more suited for classical music.

So I'd like to get some thoughts from others. Would you steer your child towards violin? The teachers have told us that young kids often tend to choose their instrument according to which teacher they liked the best. And I've met the viola teacher and she's very nice so I'm sure my daughter will like her. I plan to discuss this with her and see what she recommends.


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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 3:25 am 
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In a nutshell, if you play a viola using violin fingerings, you will indeed be transposing so that the tune would best fit on a g whistle.
I'll leave the rest of it to others.


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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 9:48 am 
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If she learns to play viola in the classical tradition she won't have any difficulty reading your music. She just needs to learn to read treble clef, which viola players do anyway (eventually).

A viola has three strings in common with a violin (lacking the highest string, E). Any tune that doesn't go above E would be playable by a beginner as written. Tunes that do go above can be played as well, once the student learns shifting. There are also 5 string violas that add the E string, which gives them essentially two instruments in one (though the viola is never as resonant or bright as the violin).

But I'd suggest not "steering" her -- she will practice more on an instrument that really appeals to her than she will on her second choice that is more convenient for you. Cello can be awesome too. Check out youtube video of Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas.


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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 5:32 pm 
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Whichever instrument she chooses, playing music with her should be a joy. Lucky you.

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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2012 11:37 am 
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Not much to add to what others have said. Learning treble clef is always a good idea if you ask me (and bass as well, at least passably, even if one always plays treble-clef instruments and doesn't sing in the bass clef-- I can read bass clef well enough to get by, but I'm not as fluent in it as I probably would be had I taken the time as a kid). Once she's used to both, she'll be able to switch back and forth easily (I always have to practice at alto clef a bit but that's because I only pick up viola once in a blue moon and don't keep it in my mind-- after about ten minutes I'm reacquainted enough for it to be easy).

And, even if she starts on violin, she may be like my mom and eventually switch to viola anyway. Plenty of violin players tend to pick up viola in addition as well (like me and a lot of violinists I know) and play both. It's one of those things that seems almost like a no-brainer-- the skills are transferable with little adjustment (unlike, say, switching from violin to cello or bass), so why on earth not do it.

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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2012 1:05 pm 
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Katharine wrote:
Not much to add to what others have said. Learning treble clef is always a good idea if you ask me (and bass as well, at least passably, even if one always plays treble-clef instruments and doesn't sing in the bass clef-- I can read bass clef well enough to get by, but I'm not as fluent in it as I probably would be had I taken the time as a kid). Once she's used to both, she'll be able to switch back and forth easily (I always have to practice at alto clef a bit but that's because I only pick up viola once in a blue moon and don't keep it in my mind-- after about ten minutes I'm reacquainted enough for it to be easy).

And, even if she starts on violin, she may be like my mom and eventually switch to viola anyway. Plenty of violin players tend to pick up viola in addition as well (like me and a lot of violinists I know) and play both. It's one of those things that seems almost like a no-brainer-- the skills are transferable with little adjustment (unlike, say, switching from violin to cello or bass), so why on earth not do it.


Hi Katharine,

Thanks for the input. Her first viola class was canceled and I didn't go to the next one so I haven't been able to ask her teacher about all this.. maybe this week.

I'm curious, if one plays violin and wants to play viola.. I know they have 3 strings in common, but it seems that changes all the fingering patterns by shifting them up/down one string. Is this easy to do? Like a guitarist using a capo? I'm curious how that works.

Her viola is a very small one, too small for her actually but that's what they gave us since it's only for 6 weeks.. so for her I don't think she really sees any difference between violin & viola. I explained to her that the strings are shifted higher by one string and the violin plays a little higher. So I think it's really not going to be a problem for her to choose violin even though her 6 week introduction is on viola. And there are more violin teachers so more flexibility in scheduling lessons (compared to one viola teacher).


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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2012 4:08 pm 
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Nah. I mean, I generally just go by which note it is. It's not hard to keep track of which string is which-- three fingers down on the D string is still G, whether you're playing violin or viola. It's just that on viola, the D string is the third string from the left rather than the second. It's not hard to keep track of where the strings are on whichever instrument you're playing.

Playing string instruments isn't like playing, say, whistle where you'd be "transposing"-- on a whistle, all fingers down is always considered "D" and you'll always read in D major, unless you're talented enough to keep track of all the different fingerings for different keys of whistles (and I'm too lazy for that!). With string instruments, you'll always be reading in the actual key, so with viola you wouldn't read G and play with three fingers down on the second string from the left (which would be the G string and hence would sound C). If you see G, you play G. You could play it that way, as someone else mentioned, but as far as I know, nobody learns that way.

The hardest thing about switching, as I said, is simply remembering that the different clefs mean the notes appear in different places. For example, in treble clef, D5 (the open D string) is in the space just below the staff. In alto clef, it's in the second space from the top in the staff (where C6 would be in treble clef). But once you get used to it, it's like becoming fluent in a different language-- you stop having to "translate" in your head ("gato" = "cat" and similarly "this space that looks like C on the A string is actually D on the D string"), and this note space simply means what it means.

Heh. I have no idea if any of that made sense outside of my own head, but I hope it answered your question.

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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 12:50 am 
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Katharine wrote:
Heh. I have no idea if any of that made sense outside of my own head, but I hope it answered your question.


It made great sense. I'm understanding the string instruments a little better. What you said about learning new clefs makes sense too, it's what I went through when I learned bass clef for piano. I mentally took each note up two notes and "translated" it into treble clef. After a while I didn't need to do that any more, I just recognized the note and which key it was on the piano.

However I remember it being a big ordeal for me to learn bass clef. It took me a while and I didn't enjoy it. ;) I think for a 7 year old, learning both bass & treble clefs at the same time would not be easy. For that reason I think starting on violin would be best and then later if she's serious about classical music she'd have the option of changing to viola or learning it in addition.

One last question for you: Could you play the standard ITM tunes on viola reading the music in treble clef? Would it be more difficult than playing them on violin? If so how?

Thanks!


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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 3:52 am 
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cunparis wrote:
One last question for you: Could you play the standard ITM tunes on viola reading the music in treble clef? Would it be more difficult than playing them on violin? If so how?

Thanks!


If you would want to play with others and keep the tunes in their "standard" keys, then you'd either have to play them an octave lower or be ready to go very high up on the highest string on the viola.

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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 10:33 am 
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I suggest she learns both (or all three) now. Like you, I started learning bass clef in adulthood and had a hard time at first.

I think it's like learning a language...which kids can do a lot easier than we can. Get it in your brain early and grow up with it and it'll be easier, y'know? She might take right to it. You can always try and if she has trouble, drop it for now.

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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 10:21 am 
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Jäger wrote:
If you would want to play with others and keep the tunes in their "standard" keys, then you'd either have to play them an octave lower or be ready to go very high up on the highest string on the viola.


I finally got to attend my daughter's viola class and meet the teacher. After the class I asked her about reading treble clef and at first she said it would be more advanced and then said "or play it an octave lower". She said playing it an octave lower would not be a problem.

So at this point I'm wondering what would be the advantage of choosing violin over viola? Would it be easier to play the ITM tunes on the violin?

If there aren't really advantages to choosing violin, then my daughter will probably choose viola because she knows it more than violin. I think the viola sounds lovely, kind of like how I prefer low whistles to the high whistles.

Thanks for the feedback on this. I appreciate the input.


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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 1:12 pm 
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I'm doing some digging and I found this post:

http://www.thesession.org/discussions/display/23424/comments

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You're right that a G is a G, but it's where that G is that's the problem. Most tunes played on the fiddle use notes that are centered between the open D string and A or B on the E string.

Those same notes on the viola are now five steps lower. That low D is no longer open, but played on the C string. That high A for the fiddle is now the open A string, and those notes are now in the low range for viola. If you stay within that zone, the instrument will be growling away nearly two octaves below the fiddle, playing the same tune.

Or, you could play the tune using the upper positions, but the tunes won't sit on the instrument as easily as they do on the fiddle.


So things are starting to make sense now. From what I understand, the viola can play the flute/whistle/fiddle music in treble clef, but it'd result in the notes being in the upper range (because the viola is a 5th lower than a violin). So to make it more playable, one can play it an octave lower.. but now it's an octave and a fifth lower than a violin.

So now I'm digging trying to find ITM tunes played on a viola to hear what this sounds like. Fascinating stuff all this.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 2:16 am 
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cunparis wrote:
So things are starting to make sense now. From what I understand, the viola can play the flute/whistle/fiddle music in treble clef, but it'd result in the notes being in the upper range (because the viola is a 5th lower than a violin). So to make it more playable, one can play it an octave lower.. but now it's an octave and a fifth lower than a violin.


I'm obviously missing something, 'cos I don't get that. Why not just play the tunes an octave lower on viola? Not an octave and a fifth, but a straight octave? And, like for other instruments, do it by ear and don't worry about the dots or the names of the notes or anything. That way, there should be no worries.

Having said which, I'd still recommend starting on violin rather than viola, because it's generally a more versatile instrument, and it's easy enough to switch later if she really wants to.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 3:44 am 
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benhall.1 wrote:
cunparis wrote:
So things are starting to make sense now. From what I understand, the viola can play the flute/whistle/fiddle music in treble clef, but it'd result in the notes being in the upper range (because the viola is a 5th lower than a violin). So to make it more playable, one can play it an octave lower.. but now it's an octave and a fifth lower than a violin.


I'm obviously missing something, 'cos I don't get that. Why not just play the tunes an octave lower on viola? Not an octave and a fifth, but a straight octave? And, like for other instruments, do it by ear and don't worry about the dots or the names of the notes or anything. That way, there should be no worries.

Having said which, I'd still recommend starting on violin rather than viola, because it's generally a more versatile instrument, and it's easy enough to switch later if she really wants to.


You're right, I was confused. It's one octave lower, not one octave and a 5th.

I have asked many people about viola and every single one has reccomended to start with violin. So I think that's what we're going to do. Thanks everyone for your input.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 1:12 pm 
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Sounds like you have a plan!

My wife is primarily a violinist, but for years she was a viola section leader for a nationally televised church orchestra. I'm sure she would not have had any trouble sight reading ITM in treble clef on viola; In her viola scores from the church the music frequently changed clef mid-tune :o

Playing the tunes an octave lower will work for tunes that don't go below middle-c, but would result in entirely different fingerings. You can play tunes as written, without transposing, and without altered fingerings as long as they don't go above the E on the forth space of the treble clef.

While altered fingerings might sound difficult for some people, I've seen cellists play reels (on instruments tuned in 4ths instead of 5ths) and sound great doing it -- it just depends on how badly one wants to do it.


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