Viola?

Viola?

I just made an impulse purchase of a viola after a couple months of flirting with the idea. So if I just play fiddle tunes using the same fingerings, I am playing down a fifth from normal pitch, and everything sounds, well, fairly awesome as far as I am concerned. But I am sure this sort of “cheap thrills” effect will wear off eventually.

I am curious who else uses viola in Irish trad music . Just what you do with it? Do you work out how to play the tunes in regular pitch? Do you play with other viola players? Do you come up with harmonies, counterpoints, and such? So you bring your viola to sessions?

Re: Viola?

Channeling the words of an ex-viola player:

His experience is that he went out and bought a fiddle (viola was the first instrument he learned). To make tunes fit in the same key you have to transpose them an octave down – at least most of them. It’s a struggle to make them work in the same tunings. In a band it might be fine since you can choose your tunes, arrangements, and the keys in which you play them but in a session it is very hard work. You can theoretically play harmonies and counterpoint but then you run the risks of anyone who plays accompaniment. At least on guitars, zouks, etc. you can bring the rhythmic element into it but violas don’t really have that going for them.

Also, how many bands have you heard with a viola? Tommy Peoples plays a track on the “Quiet Glen” on one a fifth down and in that solo context, it can work. But for sessions it doesn’t fit very well. Maguire brothers, “Buttons and Bows,” use it occasionally but it’s not at all prominent.

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Viola can work nicely if you’re playing with a flute, pipes, or whistle in Bb. So if you have a Bb session around, you’re all set. 🙂

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A friend plays viola, transposing tunes down. It sounds great, having the deeper voice below the other instruments.

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Our very own Llig also plays Viola. Hopefully he will be along soon to offer some advice.

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and you take the risk to be the target of as many bad jokes as bodhran players… in a classical orchestra, viola has about the same status as bodhrans… give you a few :
difference between violin and viola ? - a semitone
another answer : violas take longer to burn down.
Waht’s written at the beginning of a viuoloa score ? - right : bow, left hand : viola.
and there are some more…
but to take jokes away, viola is a wonderful instrument to play with.
It can be tricky for very fast tunes, but it gives a beautiful deep sound.
BTW, I met people like Didier Oliver, who used to play waht he called a tenor violin : same size as a normal fiddle, but an octve lower (with thicker strings).
And my good friend Philippa Palmer from Australia plays a 5 string fiddle, with a low C, making it fiddle and viola at the same time…

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Viola score, of course… noway to correct once it’s posted…

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I’ve got a million viola jokes for ya:
Why do the germans call the viola “brastche”? That is the sound it makes when you sit on it.

How are a violist’s fingers like lightning? They never hit the same spot twice.

Why is a viola better than a violin? IT HOLDS MORE BEER!

You see a violist and a conductor standing in a road, which do you drive over first? A: The conductor. Why? Business over pleasure.

Why are violas bigger than violins? A: They aren’t, it is an illusion. Violins just look small, because violinists have really big heads.

I’ve play viola classically for a while. The first few tunes I learned were from a friend with the Portland collection book. Learned Star of Munster down a fifth, which sounds neat, and a few others. One tune by Amy Cann (spelling?) that goes great on viola is Catharsis, because you can play it straight with no arranging. (the viola can even do some really wicked low C double stops/drones)

Just look for tunes that don’t use the fiddles E string or can be easily changed to a setting that replaces those notes/phrases. Those would be best to learn for session tunes.

I have never use a viola in a session. Not only is the music just more suited for violin, it is much easier to play quickly and cleanly. Viola strings are heavier, and the response is different, and the viola is not as loud and can get drowned out easier, and ends up being a background instrument.

Something I would like to do, is learn some irish aires on viola. Seems like that is a bit more common than learning the dance tunes.

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Oh, I’ve tried playing some tunes by going into third position to play the high end fiddle notes on viola. It is possible, but a pain in the neck to play it up to speed. But it is doable. I’ve seen a cellist pull it off, so violas can too if you are determined enough.

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Is a viola a fiddle?

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Viola is just fine in session. When you play fiddle, start practicing transposing tunes down the octave in the second section. When that’s easy, take the viola and transpose both parts down. Shifting I wouldn’t really recommend - it’s the wrong sound.

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“Is a viola a fiddle?”

Mandolin - mandola
violin - viola
fiddle - fiddola

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Thinking of buying myself a harmonicola. Often when thirsty I’ll order a pintola.

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Ahh - I hadn’t seen that Llig was suspended. Goodness knows what happened this time. Hopefully he took a crazy or two with him when he went. What a public servant.

Either way perhaps, as his suspension is lifted tomorrow, he will be back with some observations then.

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the great thing about the viola is that it’s not merely an octave below. It occupies a space that is normally open in diddley music and most people who dabble with the viola miss this point.

I get my viola out when the company consists of three or five really good tight fiddle players. This is where the instrument really comes to life.

Yeah, play the tunes on it. And yeah, it’s physical. But you can play reels and stuff on the thing with all th rolls etc, it’s hard work (physically), but you’ve got to go for it. Just dig in and put in that extra effort.

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Thanks Michael. I am loving the viola so far. I feel more at home on it than the fiddle. And the sound…wow.

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Charlie Lennon plays the viola on some great tunes in “Turning the Tune”. I particularly like the “Wishbone” reel which is is also playable on the fiddle, only going down to the G string. There is a great rawness that the Viola sound adds.

I´ve had the same thought as mentioned above of making use of the “open” space that the C-string allows e.g. by applying lower-octave, but my initial idea was to get hold of a 5-string fiddle.

However, realizing that a fiddle really is only ideal for the G-E range, I think getting hold of a real viola is a better way to go.

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Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh have both played viola on albums of theirs to good effect, though Caoimhín’s is a 5-string.

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I’ve never heard a 5-string violin or a 5-string viola work well acoustically. I think that both are too much of a compromise.

Also, it has to be said that individual violas can sound very different. Mine is a small one that is loud and bright as buttons and though I’ve played larger and much better ones with more of that darkness too them, I think mine suits diddley music much better.

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Didn’t Sean Keane play viola on a track or two on Gusty’s Frolicks, or am I misremembering?

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I started on viola and have played Irish music on it for years, especially for airs and the odd planxty with its soulful tone. Speed is challenging since you have to let the weight of your bow arm lay heavier on it than you would on a violin. Since the viola is 30% smaller than the ideal acoustic size for its tone range, you have to bow heavier for that mellow viola tone. Additionally, the thicker gauge strings take a fraction longer to produce sound so you will need to anticipate the beat a touch before anyone else in the session to play at tempo.