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Violin and Viola Sizes

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
/
SC Public Radio

The body length of a full-size violin is about 14 inches, give or take a very small fraction. This is a standard length, and an optimum length, arrived at by trial and error over many years by the great violin makers of history. Violas, on the other hand, have no standard length. For the pitch range and acoustics of the viola there probably is an optimum length, but whatever it is, it’s way too great for the instrument still to be held up and played under the chin. Body lengths of violas vary anywhere from under 15 inches, for very small instruments, to over 18 inches, for enormous ones. My own viola has a body length of about 16 and ¾ inches – and frankly I wish it were smaller, because it would be easier to play. The problem is that unless you get lucky, it’s hard to find a small viola with a big sound.

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.