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How Do I Learn Viola Chords?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

Musicians who want to learn how to play chords on the viola need to figure out music theory for this instrument, understanding the way the viola is made and how it is commonly tuned, as well as how the normal chord structures look for this instrument. There are many different ways to go about learning viola chords, but most of them include some key basic steps. Beginners should get the right resources and put practice time into learning chord structures on this or any other stringed instrument.

One essential element for learning viola chords is visual resources that help beginners see how chords are set up. Sheet music is one alternative for this type of music theory learning. For musicians who can’t read sheet music, tablature for the viola may be available. Beginners can also find chord books showing the fingerings for chords on the viola. These chord books are available for most string instruments, where a fretboard is drawn and specific note fingerings are illustrated by numbers, letters or other characters.

The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.
The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.

To understand the chord structures for the viola, the musician should figure out how the viola fretboard is set up, according to the way the instrument is commonly tuned. Experts identify the common viola tuning as a cycle of perfect fifths, often starting with C on the lowest rating, then G, then D, and ending with an A on the top string. This setup determines how major and minor chords will be formed on the instrument’s fretboard. The musician can also research alternative tunings for the viola, and see how these affect viola chords and their structures, which is helpful if other musicians use alternative tunings in collaborative projects.

In order to play chords with the viola, the musician will need to learn the chord fingerings. It’s also necessary to figure out how to play a chord structure on this instrument using the bow. These dramatic combined notes on the viola produce a specific sound result, but require an advanced use of the bow in order to perform them correctly.

The biggest key to learning and using viola chords is practice. Musicians will have to practice this instrument for a long time to really master chords and other musical progressions. With practice, the hands will become more adept at creating chords and other note structures on the instrument fretboard. Training under the guidance of an expert instructor in this context can be invaluable.

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Discussion Comments


@hyrax53- I think a lot of beginners' books have helpful guides too. I think it's good to go to a friend who plays the instrument, or ask someone at a music store, though, to make sure you are doing things like holding the instrument properly. It's also important to make sure you're taking proper care of it, because a damaged instrument is not going to work as well for anyone, no matter how hard you try to learn.


You can get really basic handouts and lesson videos and such on the internet for many instruments. A few years ago I wanted to learn some guitar chords so that I could play a song at an audition for a play.

They worked pretty well! I think if you wanted to play anything more complicated, though, you would need to get actual lessons.

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    • The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.
      By: milkovasa
      The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.