Viola Size Guide: What Size Viola is Ideal for You?

by | Aug 18, 2015 | Play Comfortably, Start to Play | 28 comments

It can be really confusing what size viola to choose. This video will help you find out which size viola is ideal for you.

This video will help you find out which size viola is ideal for you.

With violins it’s a bit easier. Violin sizes start with 1/16 (or sometimes smaller) up to 4/4. Everything smaller than the adult size 4/4 is considered a children’s size (or fractional size). Except from the 7/8 ‘lady’s violin’ that is slightly smaller than the 4/4 size violin.

When you are an adult starter on the violin, picking the size is quite easy. Go for a 4/4 except if you have short arms or think a 7/8 is more comfortable to play on.

For the viola there is not really a standard adult size. 

Viola sizes are always noted in inches (2,54 cm). The size of the body determines the size of the viola.

There are children size viola’s available that are the same size or smaller as a 4/4 violin. However, they are built differently than violins. They sound different caused by the the way they are built, the strings and the tuning. Mainly the body is a bit thicker, so the resonance box has more capacity to create the typical viola sound.

For example: a 13 inch viola has the same size as 3/4 violin and a 12 inch viola has the same size as a 1/2 violin.


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14 Inch viola’s are a bit special: they are the exact same size as a 4/4 violin. They are used as a children’s size originally. They are also used as an easy way for violinists to play viola: the distances between the fingers are the same.

The most regular viola sizes are 15 and 16 inch. For large people viola’s even come in bigger sizes: 17 and 18 inch… Almost a small cello!

A 16 inch viola gives a more cello size full sound and is the size people choose most. It’s still easy to play and to handle, even if you aren’t very tall. Some of my viola students even tell me their 16 inch viola plays easier than a 15 inch.

Choosing the size of the viola is very personal. If you are tall it doesn’t mean you have to play on a very large viola.

In the video I show you a way to check if a viola really isn’t too big for you. Put the viola on your shoulder, stretch your arm and put your hand around the scroll of the viola. When holding the viola in this way your arm should be able to be slightly curved. If you really have to stretch your arm and can hardly fetch the scroll, the viola really is too big for you.

Besides from the maximum size described above, you can pick any size you want. Just try different sizes out, listen to the sound and feel how the playing feels to you and if it’s comfortable.

I hope I have enlightened you a bit about those confusing viola sizes.


Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!


  1. Naveen

    hey Zlata! I had a quick question. I would love to play the viola but i need a viola that is under 100 buck and is a good beginner viola. If u could please tell me which viola is good quality plays well and is under 100 bucks. Also I u could also give some good tips that Would be great. One last thing. Could u please review the MA Mendini 13 inch viola. I want to but it but i dont know if its good. Its avalible on Thanks so much.

    • Violinist Zlata

      Hi Naveen, in my opinion there is no good new violin or viola under 100 buck. Sorry! Check if you can rent a good instrument somewhere or get one second hand.

  2. Michelle

    Hi, my son needs a 13″ viola. Could he get away with using a 12″ viola instead?

    • Violinist Zlata

      No, please go for a 13 inch, because the sound will be better and it will be better for him to play on.

      • Joel Dyer

        Hi Zlata, I’m just seeing this now years later, but you confirmed that I made the right choice choosing a 16 inch for my first viola. I practice on it then switch over to violin, and my playing on the violin is improved considerably. I may end up getting a decent 14 inch viola (or maybe a 15 inch but I’d l have to try out first) because it just seems that size works with my fingers/small hands better. (On the 16 inch my pinky is to flat to reach the 5th in first position on each string and I’m afraid that will negate my vibrato when I learn vibrato–I’m still a beginner.)

        But thanks for this article. It was helpful.

      • Zlata


  3. Karen

    My teacher says a 14 inch viola is my size but I have a 15 inch viola at home. Would it be possible I just use the 15 inch?

    • Violinist Zlata

      If you think the 15 inch is comfortable to play and your teacher agrees that you are able to play it, then go for it! Otherwise: go and try out a 14 inch somewhere and see if you like it better.

      • Angel P.

        Hey there! I suffer from really bad neck pain from any sizes larger than 15 on the Viola. I currently play both Viola and Violin but have my Viola as my primary as I have been playing longer (7 years). I’m about to finalize a purchase on a Viola (14 size) is that bad if I am about to perform a concerto with a very “tense” conductor? Will he comment on my size of Viola? Is it bad? Thanks!

      • Violinist Zlata

        Hi, of course it’s no problem to choose a smaller size viola to play more comfortably. However, I have of course no idea what the response of your conductor will be. Also you could first try to play more comfortably with a different chinrest and/or shoulder rest.

  4. Coroama Nicolai

    Hello Zalta! I play the violin, and I want to buy a viola. I’m almost 18 years old and my arms are 32 inches long. What is the best size of the viola for me to play? And what is the size of the viola that would make the transition from violin to viola easier, but still keeping that good sound of a viola?

    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Hey there, you might want to try a 15 inch viola. It’s a matter of trying different sizes out and seeing what you like best.

  5. Stephen

    Hi Zlata, I have playing violin for pleasure. Someone gave me an old violin (not sure if it was in fact a viola). It’s 14″ and heavier than my other full size violins. The neck is slightly shorter than that of a full size violins. My question is – does a 14″ viola has the same length of the neck of a full size violin? Thanks

    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Yes, most of the times the neck is the same, only the soundbox is a bit higher.

  6. Ernest Jackson

    My problem is that I have rather large hands. I love the viola. Though I am just a beginner at 63, I really want to become proficient. Would the 17 or 18 be better than a 16; and where in the world could I find an 18??? Did not know they existed until this article
    Many, many, Thanks!

    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Hi Ernst, it would be best if you find a good violin shop where you can try out different sizes and see what fits you best and what sound you prefer.

  7. Kevin

    Hi I’m struggling to buy a new viola right now I play a 15 1/2 in. viola but the viola I want is a 16 in. And I’m wondering if I should do the .5 I. Upgrade and do you have any advice for buying kinda cheap violas?

  8. pilar

    hi ! im 14 years old and i currently have a 14 inch viola, im getting a new one and im not sure if i should get a 15 inch one. ive had the 14 inch one for about 4 years should i get the 15 inch one? please help ! thanks.

    • Violinist Zlata Brouwer

      Try them out in a violin shop and see what fits you best. I can’t see from here what your length is and can certainly not know what is comfortable for you without seeing you. Good luck finding a beautiful viola :).

  9. Dimitris

    Hello, I have a question please: what is the exactly meaning of 4/4 viola size? Does it reffers to an ‘average’ 16+ viola size, or to a 4/4 violin size – 14′ viola? I recently bought from web a 4/4 viola bridge, but it is rather smaller than my 16.5′ viola’s bridge…
    thanx in advance

  10. A.P

    Hello. Nice explanation, thank you.

    I would like to know if it is possible for a child with 3 years old can learn viola. If so, is there a 1/16 equivalent size for viola?

    • Zlata

      Yes, certainly! Children size violas are quite rare, so what most teachers do is put viola strings on a fractional sized violin.

  11. Isa M

    Hi, I’m getting a viola made to my likings, but the maker said that the process would take a while since they specialize in making violins, not violas. I use a 14” viola, and was wondering if it would be the same if i asked for a full size violin, but bought strings for viola andout those on the viola (violin)?

    • Zlata

      Not entirely, because a viola would be optimized for that tuning even though the string length is the same. Usually 14 inch violas have a slightly higher soundbox. Why not choose a maker specialized in viola? Certainly to make a small viola sound good, you definitely want a specialist.

  12. Abi

    Hey Zlata. I am currently playing a 14″ viola, but I want to move up to a 15″. My private lesson teacher says it will be too big for me and that I shouldn’t move up. The only reason I am asking is does a 14″ viola sound as good as a 15″? I cannot move up a size, but I also do not want a squeaky instrument especially because I am becoming more advanced in my high school orchestra. Can I find a good 14″ viola that makes a good sound?

    • Zlata

      Hi Abi, in general because of the smaller soundbox a 14 inch viola won’t sound as good as a 15 inch, not scratchy, but just a smaller not so deep tone. However, especially in old instruments there are sizes in between and also violas with for example a larger soundbox and a shorter neck, so definitely try them out here and there. Your teacher is probably right, but maybe you can find a middle ground.



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