For years, I have been relegated to playing violin and viola in two ways – either like a 1/32 cello, balanced on my legs, begging for laughs, or just like any beginner might, awkwardly trying to balance the instrument on my shoulder and contorting my left hand to “position.”
My desire to be able to test play instruments and demonstrate their sound (and maybe play a different part on Pachelbel’s Canon, while I’m at it) finally led me to find a teacher. As luck would have it, Lawrence University down the road has lessons for late bloomers like me, aptly acronymed LAMP (Lawrence Adult Music Program).
I contacted the director, chose a 15.5” viola, and dove in! The combination of small groups and string orchestra was a great union of technique and musical motivation. The bittersweet sizing of violas is that they get as big as your arms and fingers can allow. They naturally sound better, the longer the viola gets – and still, some say the viola is 30% smaller than it should be, from a physics perspective! My fingers were a little tight, and after consulting a violist friend, I quickly upsized to a 16” viola. Finding the right size instrument definitely helped me progress, and will certainly help you or your child. Unfortunately, the chances for stretching my fingers, like a pianist who can reach a 10th or more, are gone…
Navigating the left hand positioning, bow arm, and overall position between shoulder and neck have been the three biggest roadblocks thus far, as I expected. As any violinist/violinist will tell you, finding the right shoulder rest and chin rest is a lifelong quest. The infinite models, materials, and modifications will attest to this fact. I have settled on a Kun with a cloth over the shoulder rest/bout/chinrest area for padding and additional friction, but am in no way ready to admit that I have found my perfect combination. It does work, though, and that is a start.
Let the viola jokes begin!