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What Are the Best Tips for Playing the Viola?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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Playing the viola well requires a lot of practice and dedication. There are, however, a number of tips that can speed the learning process. Once the viola has been setup correctly for the musician, his or her posture should be examined, because string players often develop back problems if they play with incorrect posture. Other tips include practicing effectively, by working on weaknesses rather than strengths, and warming up sufficiently before practice.

Before a musician starts playing the viola, it’s important to set the instrument up correctly. A shoulder rest is important, because it makes a viola more comfortable to hold. Putting rosin, a type of resin from pine trees, on the bow makes it easier to keep in contact with the strings. Other setup tips before playing the viola include making sure the instrument is correctly tuned and getting a teacher to help learn the basics.

Posture is important when playing the viola, because incorrect posture often leads to back pain and overuse injuries. When playing the viola, the musician should stand up straight, making sure the shoulders aren’t hunched. The left wrist, in a right-handed musician, is usually bent a certain amount, although this depends on the individual. Other things to check for include keeping a relaxed shoulder while playing and correctly positioning the left thumb — again, on a right-handed musician — on the viola.

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As with any instrument, practice is the best way to get better at playing the viola. It’s important that a musician practices effectively, however, and maximizes the time available. Spending an hour playing through songs that he or she can already play perfectly, for example, may be fun, but it is unlikely to improve a musician's skills. Instead, practicing songs that are difficult — perhaps at a slower tempo to begin with — until they can be played perfectly is a much more effective practicing method.

Warming up before playing the viola is important, too, because it helps a musician to play at his or her maximum level while avoiding overuse injuries. Basic scales, such as the C Major scale, are often useful for warming up. The length of time it takes to warm up adequately depends on a number of factors, including the skill of the musician and how intense the practice session will be. Most viola players warm up for longer on the day of a performance, although it’s important not to tire out the hands or back too much before the performance.

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