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Is It hard to play the violin, Viola, or Cello? (How to Choose an Instrument)

When working as an orchestra teacher for more than 15 years,

I often got asked by kids and parents, "Is it hard to play a stringed instrument?"

"Which instrument is easiest to play?"

The answer to this question is that some instruments will be harder for some people and easier for others because no two people are exactly alike. Some people have longer arms and so an instrument such as the viola or the trombone might work well. Others have different shape lips and so they might get a better sound on an instrument such as the flute whereas another person might always struggle to get a good tone.

Some things to keep in mind when making a choice:

1) Body type/size - if you are looking to play a stringed instrument and you have very short arms, you will be limited when playing a viola or cello as you might need to play on a smaller size instrument than others when you are an adult. The violin, being the smallest of the string family is the most easily adapted to a smaller build, but I've also had smaller students that still played a smaller sized viola or bass and loved every minute of it and played really well. So, size in and of itself shouldn't be a deciding factor, but if you are leaning towards one thing or another it's something you should keep in mind.

Leah Irby holding her viola, smiling, with trees and the ocean in the background
Holding my viola, this viola is a 16 and 5/8ths size which is quite a large full size viola

2) Do you like the sound of the instrument? This is really important. I didn't know what the viola really sounded like until I was in high school. When I heard someone playing a really beautiful viola solo, I knew that was my main instrument. I had played violin for 5 years already, and I have never given up the violin, but the

viola truly does fit me the best. If you hear someone play the instrument on a really high level - does it make your heart happy? Or does the sound make you want to run and hide? Certain instruments like brass instruments and percussion can be very loud when practicing and performing and some people might not want to listen to themselves when the mistakes and extra sounds come out. Some people like the softer tones of the string instruments and other people think it is too harsh sounding. Again, this is all a personal choice. Listen to a lot of different instruments and see what is most appealing to you.

Leah Irby in a purple top and blue dress, holding a cello, standing near the water's edge
Holding my cello, I have both long arms and long fingers, so the cello and viola fit me well

3) Do you like to listen to (and play) high sounds, medium sounds, or low sounds? Do prefer to be the leader, out in front of everyone and center stage, or do you prefer to be in the background? Or maybe you like to be a little different from the majority of the group, then you might choose an instrument that fewer people play.

  • The violin plays a central part in much of the music and plays in a higher range. The person who would prefer the violin will also be someone that likes to be the center of attention and play the part of the song that is the recognizable melody when playing with other people. All of that said, most orchestra and chamber music also has a second violin part and that will be a bit more mellow, lower in tone, and in the background. So, you can play violin and still be sometimes not in the spotlight. But, it's important that you like listening to and playing the high notes. Recording examples -jazz, classical, folk, (Other high instruments to consider: flute, trumpet, french horn)

  • The Viola like the 2nd violin tends to play more background sounds. It is a medium-range sound with one lower string than the violin. It is held like the violin, under the chin and many people learn to play both the violin and viola as adults so that they can play more parts in a song. But, the person who is more of a violist, would be someone that enjoys helping others and not always being in the spotlight. Recording examples -