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I know that there isn't a standard "full size" for viola, but most people stop at 16 inches. However, I've also been told that for violas, the bigger the better. Is this true? If so, would it be more ideal to stop at 16 inches or get a bigger viola?

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    No. "Ideal" would mean that everything is good, but the concept of an "tenor violin" causes a conflict between playability and sound that is impossible to resolve without major compromise. Sep 5, 2023 at 6:30
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    One of the "ideals" is suiting the needs of the player—the size they find comfortable, and the tone they like. In that case, it's like "is there an ideal size for a shoe"! But in abstract terms of acoustic ideals, as ttw says, the true ideal would be something much larger; various experimental instruments have tried. Sep 5, 2023 at 17:15

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That depends on the definition of "ideal." To achieve the tone quality of a violin but tuned a fifth downward would require a viola about 3/2 the size of a violin. (About 26 Inches long.) However, one needs the ability to move quickly and such a size would make such an instrument impossible to play. The compromises chosen work while also giving the viola a somewhat different timbre from that of a violin. (Bach, Mozart, and Hindemith like the viola though.)

Further reading: "What Size Viola?"

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  • I added a comment about it but now I think about it maybe you'd like to add to your answer: there have been experimental attempts to accommodate the ideal dimensions. Sep 5, 2023 at 17:16
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A viola is tuned a fifth lower than a violin (size factor 3/2 in oscillator dimension) and an octave higher than a violoncello (size factor 1/2). Compared to its next cousins, it will be undersized. The carrying power of its low notes is a compromise.

So how do you define "ideal"?

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  • I'm measuring "ideal" in this case by tone; a significantly richer tone would be more ideal. Sep 5, 2023 at 6:31

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