The New Musician’s Dilemma: Violin, Viola, Cello, or Bass?

So your child is nearing or has reached instrument-playing age, and you want to start him or her on a string instrument like you have always wanted. Which instrument do you choose? To start with, there are four main string instruments in an orchestra: the violin, viola, cello, and bass; all are members of the violin family, but have more differences than they do similarities.

Size Matters, Except When It Doesn’t

Most people can recognize each instrument based on their sizes: Bass is the biggest, then cello, then viola, and then finally violin. The viola is slightly bigger than the violin and looks exactly the same despite the subtle size difference. The important thing to realize about instrument size is that it doesn’t matter how big or small the student is. All instruments come in several sizes to match up with even the smallest kids.

Standing Up vs. Sitting Down

The violin and viola are played propped up between the shoulder and the chin. The cello is played sitting down and in between the player’s knees, with the endpin stuck in the floor for balance. The bass can be played sitting or standing and it, like the cello, also uses an endpin for balance. Each one also holds their bow a different way.

Each Has a Role to Play

Violins typically shoulder the melody and as a result are the leaders of the orchestra. The first chair first violin player is called the Concertmaster and he or she tunes and helps lead the group. The violas play harmonies; the cellos typically oscillate between support, harmony, and sometimes melodies; and the basses usually handle supportive bass lines.

The Popularity Contest

New students take up the violin and cello far more often than the viola or bass; you have a better chance of doing well in chair tests and auditions like region and all state for viola and bass as a result. Also, people who play either violin or viola can easily learn the other one since they are so similar, which makes them much more versatile.