Learn how to play the viola 

and have much more fun

(also violin players can read here!)

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Congratulations on your decision to learn how to play the viola, whether you switch from violin or not (even if you decided and started already years ago).

It is a beautiful instrument, although a lot of people can't even tell the difference between viola and violin). Many think it's very hard, like violin, you can only start young, you have to suffer months of horrible screeching noises...

I'm happy to reassure you that all this is not true. Like any other activity, as long as you really want to learn how to play and enjoy it, you can start at any age. It may take longer or not, you may be come more or less skilled, but you can start.

Also another myth is about very difficult initial times. Everything people "know" about horrible noises that family and neighbours (not to mention the learner) have to suffer for months if not years is not true, we don't have to. This fear of horribly hard times is what discourages people from starting to learn how to play the viola. Also, since many do experience hard times at the beginning, due to lack of correct information on how to play, a lot of those who actually start then give up soon because can't see much progress.

All this can be avoided!

When you want to learn to play the viola the difficulty is not physical, it is in the concentration, in the ability to focus that is required. In today's society we are so used to doing many things at the same time, such as making a phone call while writing at your pc and surfing Internet and having a tea and... more.

The cause of bad sound
and a lot of other problems too

The horrible sound, or rather noise, that beginners think they have to endure is caused by tensions in the body, by the right hand gripping the bow and pressing on the strings, by the left hand and shoulder clamping the instrument for fear of dropping it and pressing the fingers down on the fingerboard.

This not only produces physical tension that causes horrible noises (especially at the beginning), faulty intonation, inability to play fast and to play double stops and chords, in the most serious case it causes physical injuries (tendinitis) following which some players have to completely stop playing, after having surgical operations.

Physical tension also causes more or less pain in the back, neck, arms, thumbs and nerves, stage fright. Physical tension and emotional tension are connected, like everything else in playing (and not only...). Also, pain is nothing else than a message your body is sending you, it's telling you that you are doing something wrong, you are mistreating it.

You can have a beautiful tone  from the beginning

It is notorious that the viola is a more recalcitrant instrument, it is more difficult to produce any sound from it than from the violin, not to mention a beautiful tone! one has to be even more careful, gentle with the viola.

However, any player can produce a nice tone from the beginning and if you are not a beginner you can also have a better quality tone. A beautiful tone is a rich and warm tone, and this depends both on intonation and the way the tone is produced by the bow contact and friction (not pressure) on the strings and by the softness of the left hand, that leaves the hand supple and able to play fast, play chords so that the player can focus on expressing himself or herself rather than on the technical problems.

What is really important in order to learn how to play (or to improve if you can already play) and achieve results quickly, is the ability to control every single movement of your body and to do this you need to focus your mind on one thing at a time, one movement at a time and then, once you can control individual movements, put them together.

How to prevent physical injuries when you play the viola

That of physical injuries nowadays is something a lot of players are well aware now (if you are not, you should start now, before you have problems). The necessity of preventing injuries is especially important if you play the viola, because being it bigger than the violin it's easier for players to strain their body to cope with the instrument. Players may tend to press more with the fingers, with the bow, with their chin and hunch their shoulder to support the viola, causing themselves tiredness, pain in the thumbs, shoulders, back, neck etc. and worse.

Videos on the basics of how to learn to play viola

(as well as violin)

Therefore, on this subject of preventing tension and

 physical injuries from the very beginning when one starts to learn to play, I recommend you to watch the following videos where the famous violin and viola teacher Kato Havas explains the basics of playing. The concepts exposed here are fundamentals, which means they are the foundation for any player, not for beginners. So if you've already played for many years but have pain here and there, get nervous when you have to play for any sort of audience or find many things very difficult, the advice in these videos is for you too.

So, no matter what you are, a beginner, an advanced student or a professional or even a teacher, if you want to save time (I mean, years) and save yourself a lot of frustrations and wish to learn how to play the viola, or improve your playing or teaching, in a way that leads you to your target in an easier and more effective way, start right from the beginning, watch these videos and read Kato Havas's books, particularly about stage fright.

Each video deals with a specific aspect of playing. I recommend you to watch them in sequence and then focus on specific ones, all of them will last just over an hour, but you don't have to watch them all at the same time. They are for practical use, don't just sit there and watch them, see yourself at the workshop, grab your viola and do the exercises, one video at a time, one exercise at a time and feel comfortable.

A workshop with Kato Havas

What she teaches applies to the violin and to the viola as well, because it has to do with how to use our body to play. I studied with Kato Havas for many years, I translated three books of hers and I've seen a complete difference between the way I used to play the viola and what I've learned from her. Therefore, I was happy to take part in these videos to help her explain some aspects of her teaching.

You'll see that her teaching is quite different from what most people know about how to play viola or violin, that's why she's special. I myself have learned that when somebody has a really serious physical or emotional problem related to playing, with her they find the solution.

If you have any problems watching these videos check this YouTube page


The audio is a bit low, make sure the subtitles are on. After starting the video, move your mouse over the CC on grey background, in the bottom right corner, then click on it: the background will become red and you'll see the picture below and you'll be able to select the subtitles you prefer. Click on English (o other). They can even be translated in many languages (other translations are not mine, I don't guarantee the results).

Subtitles for Kato Havas videos

1. The rhythmic pulse

How to prevent and eliminate physical problems and stage fright, the importance of the rhythmic pulse in any music, of imagination, how to learn to play from the very core of your being, not from the fingers. The first, simple exercise to achieve this.

2. Suspended arms

The importance of having light arms, suspended arms, how to achieve it. With exercises: the winging, flip flop, the "no viola-hold".

3. The right arm movement, 1: the lower half

The right arm movement, in the lower half of the bow, Allegro quavers. Where the arm movement originates, the two hinges in the right arm, the "no bow-hold". The connection between the touch, the eyes and the voice. What stiff wrists cause, how to prevent this.

4. The right arm movement, 2: the upper half

The right arm movement, in the upper half of the bow, Andante quavers. Where the arm movement originates, the two hinges in the right arm. Teach your body what to do, focus. Cause of problems with the elbow, the connection between wrist and elbow.

5. The left hand action

The simplicity of the New approach, the left hand movement, the interval shapes, there are only three intervals in your hand. The importance of a soft hand, you play with the hand, not with the fingers.

6. The bridal, a folk tune

A lovely English jig: sing and clap, to get the feeling, then play. This applies to all playing, at any level. Try!

7. The trembling bow

The reason for the trembling bow, how to prevent, eliminate it; the importance of the thumbs, what stiff thumbs cause.

8. The thumbs - Telemann

The importance of the thumbs in string playing, what stiff thumbs cause. Use imagination to create. A real example applied to Telemann's viola concerto.

9. Sing the note names 

The importance of singing the note names, the left hand power, the drama of the intervals. A real example applied to Telemann's viola concerto.

10. "What I learned from the Hungarian gypsies"

Here is what Kato Havas says she learned from the Hungarian gypsies about music and playing. I think this final video is very appropriate as a conclusion, it really explains the purpose of music and playing, the new approach is not just about doing the right movements and playing all the right notes. I wish you to enjoy your playing much more and that also your listeners enjoy your music much more.

To learn more, buy Kato Havas's teaching DVD. If you wish to have some help to learn how to play more easily and with less worries and more enjoyment for you and your listeners, get in touch.

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