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Apr 3, 2020 - 8:09:56 AM
65 posts since 10/19/2007

I don't want to sound ignorant but I have a growing interest in playing viola. I play fiddle now, mostly old time and some bluegrass and Celtic. I play quite a bit with a friend that plays mandolin. My question is, could I play the viola on tunes with exactly the same fingering as I do on my fiddle and make it work along with my friends mandolin? I realize it will now be in a different key and the note spacing is farther apart because the viola is larger, but will my viola now be playing a harmony part? Sorry if this sounds dumb, but I admit I'm a hick and never came across viola playing at any of the jams I've been at. I really like the sound of this instrument, and I've owned Octave fiddles in the past because of the cool lower tone they produce.

Edited by - Schreech on 04/03/2020 08:30:24

Apr 3, 2020 - 8:37:13 AM

DougD

USA

9516 posts since 12/2/2007

"My question is, could I play the viola on tunes with exactly the same fingering as I do on my fiddle and make it work along with my friends mandolin? I realize it will now be in a different key and the note spacing is farther apart because the viola is larger, but will my viola now be playing a harmony part?"
No, two instruments playing the same tune in different keys is not harmony - its dischord. To make it work you'll have to learn the tune on the viola in the proper key (often quite easy) or work out a real harmony part.

Apr 3, 2020 - 9:56:14 AM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

Okay, thanks. The G-D and A string carry over so it shouldn't be rocket science.

Apr 3, 2020 - 10:32:49 AM

DougD

USA

9516 posts since 12/2/2007

Right, a tune you played on the D and A strings will still be on the D and A strings, except they'll be the first and second strings instead of the second and third. You'll probably miss that E string though, especially in A and G. However there'll be new opportunities on the low end.

Apr 3, 2020 - 11:04:32 AM

1884 posts since 10/22/2007

One needs not ten minutes, but a few hours to fool around with a viola. So glad i didn't spend money on a viola. Just my opinion. Ima guy that doesn't think much of five string fiddles either.

Apr 3, 2020 - 7:26:47 PM

114 posts since 3/1/2020

If you use the same fingering on viola, you’ll be playing everything a fifth lower, as if you slid each finger straight across to a lower string on your fiddle. This will allow for some basic harmony. The sound of the G, D, and A strings will be different on the viola but the pitches will be the same.

There’s a bit of adjustment when you go from violin to viola (heavier bow, longer body, more space between notes on the fingerboard, thicker strings, etc.), but it’s not too hard to pick up.

Apr 4, 2020 - 7:37:28 AM
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30 posts since 12/16/2016

Check out the discussions and blogs in the “Viola Lovers” group here on FHO. These and others can be found by using the “search” feature here and on the internet. Some very experienced players have provided information on cross tuning, viola sizes, strings, and playing tunes in other keys (typically the fifth lower). FiddlerPaul71 and groundhogpeggy have posted many fiddle tunes played on viola. I’ve found the viola in old time to be very enjoyable and complimentary to my fiddling. Others enjoy it as well. Steve

Apr 4, 2020 - 2:14:37 PM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

quote:
Originally posted by stevo-msla

Check out the discussions and blogs in the “Viola Lovers” group here on FHO. These and others can be found by using the “search” feature here and on the internet. Some very experienced players have provided information on cross tuning, viola sizes, strings, and playing tunes in other keys (typically the fifth lower). FiddlerPaul71 and groundhogpeggy have posted many fiddle tunes played on viola. I’ve found the viola in old time to be very enjoyable and complimentary to my fiddling. Others enjoy it as well. Steve


 I am very interested in cross tunings for viola.  I play in DDAD quite a bit with my fiddle .  

Apr 4, 2020 - 2:51:24 PM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

quote:
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful

If you use the same fingering on viola, you’ll be playing everything a fifth lower, as if you slid each finger straight across to a lower string on your fiddle. This will allow for some basic harmony. The sound of the G, D, and A strings will be different on the viola but the pitches will be the same.

There’s a bit of adjustment when you go from violin to viola (heavier bow, longer body, more space between notes on the fingerboard, thicker strings, etc.), but it’s not too hard to pick up.


Apr 4, 2020 - 2:55:27 PM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

Well to play along with someone else and to play along with chords, wouldn't I just have to play 1-3rd-or 5th of the chord progression being played and it would fit in? Excuse my lack of theory.

Apr 4, 2020 - 2:57:26 PM

18 posts since 3/29/2020

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

One needs not ten minutes, but a few hours to fool around with a viola. So glad i didn't spend money on a viola. Just my opinion. Ima guy that doesn't think much of five string fiddles either.


There are only like, 5 people in the world who should play 5 stringers. 

 

PSA for everyone else. They suuuuuuuck.  I  own a really nice one custom made for me by one of the best known big three builders. Beautifully made. Wolfy as hell to the point of being almost unplayable. Weak C, because if a regular fiddle can't play the fundamental of the low G because of body size, how will that get better a fifth down?

 

My own (polarizing) opinion, of course. smiley

Apr 4, 2020 - 3:32:49 PM

1884 posts since 10/22/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Benski
quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

One needs not ten minutes, but a few hours to fool around with a viola. So glad i didn't spend money on a viola. Just my opinion. Ima guy that doesn't think much of five string fiddles either.


There are only like, 5 people in the world who should play 5 stringers. 


Yes, indeed. Micheal Cleveland is one. 

Apr 4, 2020 - 3:38:20 PM

1884 posts since 10/22/2007

NFN, violas don't have a standard size as much as violins. I've seen one that looked every bit like a violin, but deeper body. I've also seen chin cellos too. Jussayin'

Apr 4, 2020 - 3:47:38 PM
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18 posts since 3/29/2020

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones
quote:
Originally posted by Benski
quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

One needs not ten minutes, but a few hours to fool around with a viola. So glad i didn't spend money on a viola. Just my opinion. Ima guy that doesn't think much of five string fiddles either.


There are only like, 5 people in the world who should play 5 stringers. 


Yes, indeed. Micheal Cleveland is one. 


Yup. Him, Darol Anger, and Casey Driesson, and maybe two others. In fact, reverse that. CD, DA, and MC, in that order. 

P S., I'm not serious, folks, just having a little fun. Just because I'm a talentless tryhard and can't hack a 5 doesn't mean nobody else can't either.

 

Grammar, why you so hard?

Edited by - The Body Electric on 04/04/2020 15:48:18

Apr 4, 2020 - 6:12:45 PM
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105 posts since 3/19/2012

Au contraire, mes amis, there are indeed 5-stringers out there that don't "suck". One of our local luthiers makes them, a friend had one by a guy (in Alberquerce?) who unfortunately stopped, and there's this British guy, Tim Phillips. One of our local pros got one from the local maker, and I can testify she has a rich-sounding, well-balanced 5 (and she knows how to use it!). Yes, if you get a cheapie off ebay, it will be not the greatest. Some of these are simply a standard violin with a 5- string neck. However, if your fiddling is not the greatest, a 5-string won't help. I'm-a keep my 4 and keep practicing. NSMJ

Apr 4, 2020 - 11:49:37 PM
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4 posts since 4/4/2020

A couple of ideas for playing viola along with mandolin. Try playing the chords as arpeggios while the mandolin is soloing. You can also take advantage of the viola's lower range by playing counter melodies and "bass lines" (think of the low notes that a guitarist uses to outline a chord progression) instead of doubling the melody.

Apr 5, 2020 - 12:59:08 PM
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65 posts since 10/19/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Benski
quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

One needs not ten minutes, but a few hours to fool around with a viola. So glad i didn't spend money on a viola. Just my opinion. Ima guy that doesn't think much of five string fiddles either.


There are only like, 5 people in the world who should play 5 stringers. 

 

PSA for everyone else. They suuuuuuuck.  I  own a really nice one custom made for me by one of the best known big three builders. Beautifully made. Wolfy as hell to the point of being almost unplayable. Weak C, because if a regular fiddle can't play the fundamental of the low G because of body size, how will that get better a fifth down?

 

My own (polarizing) opinion, of course. smiley


I would add Johnny Gimble,  Bobby Hicks and Brittany Haas to that list.

Apr 5, 2020 - 7:01:21 PM

18 posts since 3/29/2020

@Schreech

Oooh, forgot about those people. You are absolutely right. I stand corrected. Shall we say perhaps ten people now?

Apr 5, 2020 - 7:04:24 PM

18 posts since 3/29/2020

quote:
Originally posted by mackeagan

Au contraire, mes amis, there are indeed 5-stringers out there that don't "suck".


Have you ever played a decent viola? It changes your life, and makes the trusty five looks like a poor second cousin.

We shall agree to disagree, and agree to agree on the practicing part. smiley

Apr 6, 2020 - 7:07:28 AM

105 posts since 3/19/2012

Benski, I actually have played a couple pro-level (well, alright, the local symphony guys let me try theirs) violas, and they're sweet. But with my "height-challenged" 5'-9" frame, and my short, fat fingers, the standard size violin body/scale has to be it for me. And unless I "thin down the herd", I can't justify buying another instrument. If I get the urge to play viola, I still have my old Anton Schroetter 15.5" viola, which is still a bit of a stretch, and not the greatest tone, but the price was right (gift!). What about a 5-string viola? I know Tim Phillips was making them, but haven't heard them played.

Apr 6, 2020 - 7:21:50 AM

105 posts since 3/19/2012

Ah, here we go, found it :
youtube.com/watch?v=Q9OJd_uOUJg

Claire Egan on viola. So it does work for Irish music, at least for soloists with 1 backing instrument. Looks like a 16" viola.
Have fun!

Apr 8, 2020 - 12:55:45 PM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

I'd like to get a 5 string 15 inch viola sometime down the road. Tuned C-E. Maybe a Glasser. I think the 15 inch wouldn't be as huge a jump from violin.

Apr 10, 2020 - 4:23:24 AM

191 posts since 4/22/2009

"There are only like, 5 people in the world who should play 5 stringers."
I'm not sure why other people shouldn't play 5 string instruments. Like anything requiring excellent workmanship, some builders will make inferior versions. I tried a 5 string by Jonathan Cooper at a jam session. A superb instrument in every way. From ease of play, tone, resonance to craftsmanship. Playing it was like driving an expensive sports car. It made me sound about 25% better than usual. If I had an extra $8K, I'd definitely buy one.

Apr 10, 2020 - 4:40:46 AM

65 posts since 10/19/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Benski

@Schreech

Oooh, forgot about those people. You are absolutely right. I stand corrected. Shall we say perhaps ten people now?


 Add Niall Murphy to that list.  Crazy chops on his five string.  Check him out on Youtube.

May 2, 2020 - 8:13:29 AM

114 posts since 3/1/2020

Five string fiddles occupy their own place in the world. I would agree that they don’t sound very good if used to play normal viola repertoire, but they can work well when you’re looking to add a bit of a growl to fiddle tunes. To get that slightly darker sound that’s still recognizable as a fiddle sound, you have to find an instrument with the right body shape. Simply adding a C string isn’t enough, and making the body significantly larger tends to make it more of a viola with a strident E.

At the shop, we get in some Romanian violins that are great for this. Plenty of fiddlers have bought them and been quite happy. Some old German violins can work well for this if they’re the right size and shape. If you find a maker that understands the challenges and can work with you to find a great fit for your playing style, that’s a really personal and meaningful way to approach it.

May 8, 2020 - 7:49:01 AM
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65 posts since 10/19/2007

I've heard a lot of 5 string fiddlers say they like it to back up a vocalist. The lower tones might work good behind a singer, as in a bluegrass or country music setting.

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