The Basics

  • Strings: (high) A, D, G, C (low)
  • Main accessory: Shoulder rest
  • Bow: Curved corner on the frog
  • Technique VERY similar to violin
  • The only instrument sized in  inches 
    (14" viola is comparable to 4/4 violin)

Posture & Positioning Checkpoints

  • Chin rest is "jaw rest" -- front of chin should be facing music, not the tailpiece (more important to see notes, not fingers)
  • Instrument comes out to the side at an angle
  • Sit or stand with physically balanced posture--weight evenly distributed between sides, spine elongated

Left Hand Checkpoints

  • Base knuckle of index finger touches side of fingerboard
  • Thumb lightly touches opposite side of fingerboard-- sticks up just a little, like a "sunrise" (not a "flag")
  • Fingers curved to play on finger tips -- nails must be kept short enough to properly play on tips of fingers

Right Hand Checkpoints

  • Thumb on side of fingerboard, near the end (not under)
  • Fingers curled in
  • Pluck with tip of index finger (not nail) -- pluck away from where the bow will be... about 1.5 to 2 inches from the end of the fingerboard is good.


  • Curved thumb, inside corner of thumbnail touches inside corner of the bow where frog meets stick.
  • Fingers draped comfortably over stick without impeding bowing on string.
  • Pinky on top of stick, curved.

Page Contributor:

Ashland Murphy, violist and teacher