What are the differences between the four main orchestral stringed instruments? Which one should you choose? Here’s a quick overview, and some ideas on which one might be a good fit for you!
By far the most popular of the strings, the violin has a beautiful high-pitched tone. It is also the smallest of the stringed instruments, which is probably why it is so popular. The four strings use the pitches G, D, A and E. If you go to see an orchestra or symphony, you’ll see two violin sections. Don’t be fooled, they are the same instruments, they just have different parts! The violin, like all stringed instruments, will take time to learn and for a while you may not be very happy with the sounds you produce. The violin can be especially difficult in this respect because it has much higher pitches. If you like the higher sounds though, and the small body of the instrument is a good size for you, you’ll want to try it out!
The viola is next in size and slightly different in tuning, using: C, G, D and A. The viola has a rich resonance, and is a nice compromise if you like the portability of the violin but prefer lower sounds like the cello. Another added bonus for kids learning viola is that there are a lot of great scholarship opportunities for viola players since it is one of the less popular instruments. Since the viola is only slightly larger than the violin, it is also a great choice if you are looking for portability. There is not as much music written for viola, but more people are starting to appreciate the instrument which means you’ll easily find things to play that you like!
The cello has the same tuning as the viola, but its big body gives it a much deeper, richer sound. While its bulk can be a disadvantage for carrying it around, it makes up for it with its beautiful tones. The strings are thicker than those of the violin and viola making it harder to push down on them, but with time and practice finger strength and callouses will develop. If you like really deep tones that you can feel with your whole body, try out the cello.
The bass is the biggest in the strings family, and only a few are needed in each orchestra or symphony. It’s strings are tuned at B, E, A, and D. While the bass is often seen as a background instrument, there is a wide repertoire for them in a variety of styles. If you can handle carrying it around, learning to play a bass well will earn you a lot of respect!
No matter which one you choose, remember that they are all great for solo performance or collaboration! Practice can be tough, and it’s not as instantly gratifying as some other instruments like the piano. Because of that, learning a stringed instrument can also bring a lot of joy when you see the progress that you make because you know you’ve worked to earn it!