Technique: Playing the viola with a small frame


Fingerings and tricks to reduce pain and over-exertion for petite musicians

When I was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, my teacher Michael Tree lent me a 16.5-inch viola. It was quite large for me, because I’m only 5’1” tall, and I remember saying, ‘Mr Tree, this is too big! I don’t think that I can play it.’ He just said, ‘Don’t worry. Take it, make it work and don’t hurt yourself.’ That was some of the best advice that anyone has ever given me.

Of course, violas and violists come in different shapes and sizes. I have small hands, long arms and a wide back, which helps me to embrace my instrument. Someone with small hands, a narrow back and short arms might need to downsize, and I really wouldn’t advise playing anything bigger than 16.5 inches. I don’t think I could ever make a 17-inch viola work, and nor would I try. Always try to find an instrument that is proportionate to you…

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