Violin Viola Cello Bass: What Separates These 4 Instruments?

What Are They?

The four major string instruments in an orchestra are violin, viola, cello, and bass (sometimes referred to as a double bass). All four are built from wood and contain many of the same parts. But there are some important differences for you to learn. Whether you’re trying to choose an instrument or you’re just wondering about what makes one different from the other. Here are some apparent and not-so-obvious differences:

Violin Viola Cello Bass

Size of the Violin Viola Cello Bass

Almost everyone can identify each instrument based on its size alone. The bass is the largest, followed by cello, viola, and violin. Despite the fact that the viola is somewhat larger than the violin, the two instruments are frequently mistaken for each other… well the viola is mistaken as a violin.

The essential thing to remember regarding instrument size is that it does not matter if the student is large or little. All instruments are available in a variety of sizes to accommodate even the smallest children. Small girls can play bass, while large boys can play the violin.

Playing Position for the Violin Viola Cello Bass

Violin and Viola Players usually play their instruments with their chin tucked into the headrest, so the instrument is held between their shoulder and chin. The Cello is played with an endpin stuck into the ground, or occasionally on a rock stop to keep the endpin in place (or a shoe if you are desperate). The Bass is played standing up, and you usually have a little chair to rest upon.

Violin Viola Cello Bass
Notice The Cellos and Their Endpins

Strings And Range

Violins, violas, cellos, and bass all cover different frequency ranges.

The Violin covers the highest of this range and thus has the shortest strings. The Violin plays in a treble clef or G clef, its total note range spanning from A7 to G3. Its strings are: G, D, A, and E (separated by fifths)

The Viola covers the note range of E6 to C3, and plays in Tenor Clef, also called E Clef. And its strings are: G, D, A, and E (separated by fifths)

The Cello is next, and its note range is from C6 to C2, it plays in Bass Clef, also known as F Clef. And, its strings are: C, G, D, and A (separated by fifths)

The Bass sits at the lowest end of the range, spanning from C2-C5, playing in the Bass clef, like the Cello, but in a register an entire octave lower. And, its strings are: E, A, D, and G (separated by fourths) I know it’s the same strings as the violin but they are in reverse order!

Role In The Orchestra

The violins usually play the melody and are the orchestra’s leaders. The Concertmaster is the first chair first violinist who tunes and leads the ensemble. The violas play harmonies, the cellos alternate between support, harmony, and occasionally melodies, while the basses are usually on supporting bass lines. Be aware, the bass may sometimes be resting for 10’s of bars, so be wary! (so do most instruments sometimes, just not as often)

There are more violins in the orchestra than any other instrument there can be up to 30! (split into first and second violin sections)

There are usually 10 to 14 violas in an orchestra

There are usually 8 to 12 cellos in an orchestra

There are usually 6 to 8 double basses in an orchestra

Take Away

InstrumentViolinViolaCelloBass
SizeSmallSmallerMediumBig
RangeA7-G3E6-C3C6-C2C5-C2
Play StyleTucked Under ChinTucked Under ChinEnd Pin In GroundStanding Up
Role (Generally)MelodyHarmonyHarmony/Lower MelodiesBass Line

I personally play the Cello and my favorites piece is Ernst Bloch’s, Prayer from a Jewish Life

Mark D.

Mark D.

Hi, I'm Mark. I've been playing instruments since I was just a little kid. I've played cello and piano for a few years, and recently picked up guitar. I've produced bad music. I also run this blog where I share interesting things I've learned. I hope you Enjoy my posts!

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