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From Violin to Viola and Back in One Lesson

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I taught a really fun lesson last night, improvising in unplanned circumstances.  My student had not practiced a lot of new things, but he had reviewed a lot of his old tunes that he especially liked.  I suggested that we play them as duets with me improvising harmony.  Then I took it one step farther:  I decided to improvise on my viola while he played melody on his violin.  (This is just what I want to get practice doing for jam sessions.)  He chose tunes and played them by ear on his fiddle, and I followed by ear on my viola.  After we had finished playing a tune, I told him what I had tried to do with rhythm, bowing, notes, and ornaments. One of the things I tried was playing melody an octave below him.  This was harder than one might think.  On violin and viola, it’s very easy to transpose up or down a fifth because the strings are tuned in fifths.  I was happy to practice playing melody an octave below his melody, and I got more comfortable with it by repetition.

My student wanted to try playing the viola, so we switched instruments.  He played around with the viola for a few minutes and adapted well to it.  He’s got a lot of musical talent.  He said that he especially noticed that he had to use more bow pressure on the viola.  The more he played the viola, the more he liked it.  This could be dangerous.  I told him that I had a blog called “Violinist Seduced by a Viola,” and he said, “No, I can’t start another instrument now.”  (Sound familiar?)  

I found the switch from viola to violin a bit confusing.  The violin felt very light, and the action felt very low.  I had to keep reminding myself to play more on the upper strings than on the lower strings.  Playing harmony in a pitch that’s higher than the melody is tricky.  Every mistake really stands out.  It is generally best done when the two players know each other musically, and I was glad we did.

This lesson was so much fun, and I learned so much from it, and I got paid for it, too.  Wow! 


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Occupation: violin / fiddle teacher

Gender: Female
My Instruments:
violin, viola

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Please see the website I made for my violin students,

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Created 5/8/2010
Last Visit 3/6/2019


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