You probably already heard several viola jokes before coming here. The viola jokes are almost unavoidable, but where do they come from? Their bad reputation mostly stems from how much violinists hate violas, but why?
It could be the inconvenience of their size, or the darker notes and lack of tune. Stick around to find out more.
While everyone has their reasons, most violinists aren’t particularly fond of the lower tones, larger size, and musical hierarchy that violas possess. In the orchestra, Violas often play more boring harmonizing melodies rather than the tune. To many, this makes the Viola an undesirable instrument.
Table of Contents
Is It a Joke, or Do Violinists Really Hate Violas?
For the most part, you’re probably going to be met with jokes when talking about violas and their players.
These jokes don’t come out of thin air. As harsh as it may seem, they stem from certain hate towards the instrument.
Learning to play the violin already comes with many difficulties. A viola adds more to your plate.
Just trying to position it might feel trickier and more bothersome since the viola is bigger than the violin. It’s roughly 15.5 to 16.5 inches, while the latter is a smaller 13 to 14 inches.
Apart from the ergonomic setbacks, you also need to learn more notes. Violists need to read in alto clef. This note is usually reserved for violists and bass players.
Another reason violinists might hate violas is that they can easily sound out of tune. There are numerous jokes about how violists lack coordination in an orchestra.
Here’s a famous one:
“Why are a violists’ fingers like lightning? They never strike in the same place twice.”
Now, you probably haven’t heard of any viola solos. That’s because there aren’t that many.
We wouldn’t characterize violas as the star of the show. Violins, on the other hand, are a different story.
If you’ve heard of a viola solo, chances are it’s “Harold in Italy” by Hector Berlioz. Funnily enough, Berlioz wasn’t a fan of violas himself.
He remarked that “Viola players were always taken from among the refuse of violinists.”
While the statement may seem obnoxious, it does bear some truth to it.
Musicians see viola players that way because of how low they rank in the musical hierarchy in an orchestra.
Have Violinists Always Hated Violas?
The vast majority of violinists don’t necessarily hate the way they sound, but how they’re played.
They’re considerably unrewarding compared to the violin. That’s because of the little role they play in most symphonies. Imagine having to work harder only to have audiences barely even hear you.
Violas have earned their bad rep from a historical point of view as well. When we go back in time (the 1740s-1820s), violas were just new in the game of playing symphonies.
Their role was to merely change up octaves. Classical era symphonies were made of three strings. There was the first violin, the second violin, and finally the bass.
You can only guess where the viola was grouped with. Yes, the last one. If music directors saw that violinists weren’t performing well, they had to bear the brunt of violas.
The bottom line here is that the historical perception of violas has shaped the stereotypical nature that violas have faced.
That has only made violinists warier of violas. The hate towards violas may also stem from the clear difference in musical hierarchy mentioned earlier.
This ranking isn’t limited to your role in an orchestra, but can also be seen in salaries. Violists get paid less.
As you can tell, there are many layers to be uncovered when it comes to why violinists hate violas. That’s where the jokes came in, from deeply rooted stereotypes.
Do All Violinists Hate Violas?
We can’t imagine all violinists hating violas. After all, most violists are also violinists.
Violas are more subtle since they’re played in the inner harmonic lines, rather than the main tunes.
They produce a darker tone that’s more velvety and elegant. You won’t hear any high-pitched notes while playing the viola. Some musicians are more comfortable with these characteristics.
It all comes down to personal preference. You might find violinists that even prefer violas over violins and have made a complete switch. Others would rather stick to their violins.
Is the Violin Better than the Viola?
If you’re looking for a showdown between the stringed instruments, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the difference between them.
Soothing to the ears and a popular choice for many musicians, the violin has been around since the early 16th century.
The instrument is a celebrity in the classical music department. There are a plethora of symphonies to choose from. You can consider the viola a supporting actor.
Meanwhile, violas lack a place in the solo world, despite being around the same amount of time as the violin.
Apart from size, other physical characteristics distinguish both instruments from each other.
The bow of the violin has a straighter and sharper edge. A viola’s bow is noticeably thicker and has a more rounded shape to it.
Since viola bows are larger, you can expect sturdier strings as well compared to the violin. That aspect of the stringed instrument mainly affects its tone.
It allows its player to reach a deeper and more mellow note. The difficulty here lies in how the violists implement these notes. They would need to press harder on the strings to become more pronounced to the conductor.
The contrast doesn’t stop there. Tuning a viola and violin is like tuning two completely different instruments.
The strings in a violin begin from (lowest to highest) G, D, A, and E. A viola starts from a C at the bottom and works its way up with a G, D, and A.
Back to the main question, is the violin better than the viola? Well, it depends on your taste.
We’d go with the violin. Its melody is unmatched and you can clearly hear it front and center in any symphony or concerto.
That being said, it’s not all chamber music and string quartets for the viola. There are emerging solos for violas and some conductors allow violists to be in tune. They’ve named these bits, “viola moments.”
How Many Violinists Also Play the Viola?
Truth is, there aren’t that many violists out there. Since it’s such a lonely club, you can only imagine how much demand it has.
This is why most violists are originally violinists. There are over 250,000 violinists in the US alone. A minute portion of that also plays the viola.
Here are some of the most prominent violinists that played the viola:
- Shlomo Mintz: Known for his impressive left-hand technique, Mintz has also had his solo viola moments on stage. Just listen to his rendition of “Brahms Viola Sonata Op 120-2.”
- Maxim Vengerov: This world-renowned musician gave the viola a well-deserved big break in his “Walton Viola Concerto” performance.
- David Oistrakh: A true violin and viola virtuoso, Oistrakh passed down his impeccable musical talent to his son, Igor. Together, they performed “Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, K364.”
- Henry Vieuxtemps: This Belgian composer popularly mastered the violin. His viola pieces were not as well known, but worth the listen. Check out his “Capriccio in C minor, Op. 55.”
- Nigel Kennedy: Notorious for his aversion to conductors, Kennedy is now a well-established violist and violinist. We recommend listening to his viola solo.
- Nicolo Paganini: A revolutionary of classical music, Paganini was a notable violinist, violist, and composer. Give his “Sonata per la Grand Viola” a listen.
As you can tell, there are a lot of gifted violinists that are also violists. From listening to their viola performances, you can notice the somber and melancholic tone that entices the audience.
We believe that the number of violists will steadily increase, due to the rise in acclaim and demand as well.
Do Viola Players Also Hate the Violin?
With all the jokes floating around making fun of the viola, you’re probably wondering how violists feel about violins and their players.
If you were to meet a violist and ask for their opinion, they’re bound to either shrug it off or rant about how many jokes there are about them.
You might rarely find a viola player that hates the violin. Violists consider violins little toys almost compared to what they’re holding.
They’re more inclined to deeper tones as opposed to higher ones exhibited from violins. Since violas are much harder to master, violins are mainly the starting guide for violists.
It’s worth mentioning that some violists don’t hold back on their revenge jokes. Check out a couple of them below:
Why are viola jokes so short? It’s so violinists remember them.
Why are violins smaller than violas? They’re actually the same size, it’s the violinists’ heads that are larger.
Why do violinists hate violas? The reasons could vary from the difficulties of holding one to the shorter role it plays in an orchestra.
The jokes aimed at violas may come from a historical standpoint, but most are now meant to be light-hearted and all done in good humor.
We believe that learning both instruments would be a smart decision. As a violinist, you’d be able to challenge yourself and strengthen your arms on the way.