Violas are instruments that are crafted to create unique sounds. Some violas create dark and warm sounds, while others create brighter tones. These differences in sounds are the results of different viola designs and materials. Violas, however, are built with many of the same components.
Understanding the anatomy of a viola will help you to understand how to select a viola and how to maintain your own viola.
The Anatomy of a Viola
From its scroll to its endpin, the viola has several parts that work together as a system to produce sound.
Many of these parts serve dual roles, however, and also provide structure to the viola.
Each of a viola’s parts is essential for the viola, but the body of the viola is its main component.
The body of a viola ultimately allows the sound of the viola to grow and project.
The scroll of a viola sits right at the head of the viola.
The scrolls of most violas feature a simple spiraling design.
However, there are viola scrolls that have unique designs, such as animal shapes.
A viola’s scroll, along with the scrolls of several other stringed instruments, is purely decorative and is included on the viola as a way to add elegance to the instrument.
The pegbox of a viola sits underneath the viola’s scroll and is carved from the same wood as the scroll.
The pegbox features four holes, which tuning pegs are inserted into so that the viola can be tuned.
A viola’s pegbox is hollow so that the ends of the viola’s strings can be easily accessed and adjusted.
Tuning pegs are very essential parts for a viola and provide anchor points for the viola’s strings.
There are four tuning pegs that are on every viola for each of the viola’s four strings.
Each of a viola’s tuning pegs has a small hole in its body so that a string can be passed through the peg and anchored.
Tuning pegs are regularly used by violists to tune their instruments.
When a viola’s string is either flat or sharp, a violist can simply turn the string’s tuning peg to change the tension in the string, ultimately changing the string’s pitch.
The tuning pegs in a viola’s pegbox are placed in a specific order.
At the top of the pegbox is the hole for the D-string’s tuning peg.
Next, is the hole for the viola’s G-string tuning peg.
The third hole in the pegbox is for the A-string’s tuning peg.
The final hole in the pegbox, the one that is closest to the viola’s body, is for the viola’s C-string tuning peg.
While this is the standard order, some violists do choose to rearrange their violas’ tuning pegs for a variety of reasons.
The nut of a viola is a small part that is located below the viola’s pegbox and at the top of the viola’s fingerboard.
The viola’s nut is the raised portion that sits in this location.
The nut is a seemingly minuscule part that plays an important role.
It raises each of the viola’s strings above the viola’s fingerboard so that the notes of the strings can be played.
A viola’s nut has four evenly-spaced grooves that are cut into it.
These grooves allow a viola’s strings to sit properly on the viola.
The fingerboard of a viola is the part that allows a violist to make different notes with their viola.
Fingerboards are commonly made of ebony wood and are specifically glued onto the necks of violas just so that they can be used to play notes.
There are fingerboards that are painted black to resemble ebony fingerboards.
A viola’s fingerboard extends past the viola’s neck and hovers over the body of the viola towards its bridge.
This design provides an even playing surface, where the strings of the viola can be pressed down onto the fingerboard, actively changing their lengths and pitches.
The nut of the viola allows the viola’s strings to remain elevated over the viola’s fingerboard.
The neck of a viola is located at the back of the viola and connects the viola’s pegbox and scroll to the viola’s body.
The neck is an important structural component for a viola, as it is the part that carries the most force from the tension of the viola’s strings.
A viola’s neck is typically made of maple wood, a solid wood.
The strings of a viola are some of the most noticeable and quickly recognized parts of the viola, which may be due to the fact that a viola’s strings are the components that are changed and adjusted the most on the viola.
Strings are also the parts that create the sound that a viola amplifies.
There are four strings on a viola.
From left to right, a viola’s strings are the C-string, G-string, D-string, and A-string.
Each of a viola’s strings has different gauges, also thought of as thicknesses or widths.
A viola’s C-string will have a higher gauge, or be thicker in its profile, than that viola’s A-string.
A viola’s strings are connected from the viola’s tuning pegs to its tailpiece.
The strings rely on tension to vibrate, which is what ultimately allows them to create sound.
A violist creates and reduces tension in the strings of their viola when they adjust the tuning pegs of their instrument.
A viola’s body is the viola’s largest part.
On an acoustic viola, the viola’s body is hollow.
The hollow body of an acoustic viola picks up the vibrations that the viola’s strings produce and naturally amplifies these frequencies.
In conjunction with a viola’s strings and the mechanics of the violist, the viola’s body can produce different sounds.
However, a lot of a viola’s tone is inherent to the design of its body.
The sound post of a viola is the only part that is located inside of the viola’s body.
The sound post is a structural component that is positioned perpendicular to the viola’s face and back.
The post acts as a support beam for the body of the viola but also affects the sound that the viola produces.
A viola’s f-holes are not actually parts that are placed onto a viola, but are parts that are cut out of the viola.
The f-holes are the two f-shaped cuts that are on the face of a viola, on top of the viola’s body.
These two holes allow sound to leave the body of the viola.
As with the size of the viola’s body, the sizes and shapes of the viola’s f-holes have been altered over the previous centuries to produce the best sounds from the instrument.
A viola’s bridge is a free-standing piece that elevates the viola’s strings above its fingerboard.
The bridge is held up solely by the tension in the viola’s strings.
With the strings sitting directly in its own four grooves, a viola’s bridge is responsible for directing vibrations down into the viola’s body.
A viola’s tailpiece is an anchor point for the viola’s strings.
The tailpiece usually has four holes, where the ball-ends of the viola’s strings can be placed in.
However, there are tailpiece designs that accommodate strings with loop-ends as well.
Fine tuners are small parts that are equipped on the tailpiece of a viola.
Fine tuners allow violists to make small adjustments to the intonations of their violas’ strings.
The screw-like design of fine tuners provides a method for violists to incrementally adjust the tensions of their violas’ strings.
Not every viola has fine tuners, however, and some violas may only have one or two fine tuners, as opposed to four.
The endpin of a viola is a small component that can be easily overlooked.
The endpin is the small piece at the bottom of a viola’s body that provides an anchor point for the viola’s tailpiece.
Without an endpin, a viola’s tailpiece cannot be fixed in place, ultimately preventing the viola’s strings from having any tension.
Without tension in its strings, a viola’s bridge and soundpost will also collapse.
Unlike with a cello or bass, a viola’s endpin is smooth.
The endpin of the viola is placed against a violist’s neck as they perform their music.
Therefore, the endpin can create a small amount of discomfort over extended periods of time.
A chin rest is an essential part of a viola that is typically added to the viola as one of its last components.
A viola’s chin rest provides a comfortable and convenient place for a violist to place their chin as they play.
Chin rests come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
The chin rest of a viola is usually located to the right or the left side of the viola’s tailpiece, depending on what dominant hand the viola is designed for.
There are also chinrests that are mounted right above the violas’ tailpieces.
The difference between the location of a viola’s chin rest depends on the violist’s personal preferences and needs.
The viola is an instrument that has survived centuries of innovation and improvement.
Over these centuries, many of the parts of the viola have remained the same.
These various parts of the viola all work in conjunction with one another to produce the elegant tones that people enjoy the viola for.