January 13, 2011 – I Can Read Alto Clef

As a violinist, nothing is more beneficial than being able to play and teach viola when asked. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you might think. Here is the process I recommend to assist you in getting better sound from your viola.

1. Plays several songs that you already know for memory on your violin on the viola. This will allow you to become accustomed to the larger spacing between the notes and hopefully assist you in pulling tone from the instrument. I find getting a clear and crisp sound especially hard on the viola. Once you have some good sounds coming out of the instrument, you can work on reading.

2. Resist using “tricks” to help you play the viola. It doesn’t work. You just have to know the clef and how to play the notes on the instrument. I would suggest working through a book such as Essential Elements or I Can Read Music, then go on to more advanced literature like the Suzuki Books 1 and 2. These present enough reading challenge for a violinist new to alto clef.

3. Work through an etude book that you don’t know as well. If you are playing Kayser or Kreutzer on the violin, don’t use those. Pick something simple like Foundation Studies by Wohlfahrt. It’s not going to hurt you to play through some etudes you are less familiar with. Eventually move on to something like “Introducing the Positions” by Whistler so you can read in position and get to know half position.

4. Pick a few repertoire pieces that you have always wanted to play but are usually played on viola. (Haven’t you always wanted to play that Bach Prelude?)

5. Play viola in a quartet or ensemble to really test your skills. Try not to sight read, you’ll probably find this difficult.

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