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. Commented 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. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 17:15
  • @AndyBonner whether these sound better than a more traditional viola is of course a matter of opinion. To me they sound rather more like a cello. I rather like the way violas sound on the lower strings; it's part of the instrument's character.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 2 at 17:58
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    dimensions x = y = z = 0 . Look, a new viola joke! Commented Jun 8 at 23:03

4 Answers 4


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?"

  • 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. Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 17:16

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"?

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

The larger you can play the better. Nowadays, I'm playing with a 16.5" Iizuka based one. Great tone on medium and bass registers.

The ideal of modern viola is to be the middle step between violin and cello - but this size (something like 21 or 22") is unpractical to play under the chin, so you need to compensate with other features in the instrument. Hiroshi Iizuka instruments, for example, try to expand the tone palette and projection by enlarging the instrument body (based on a previous baroque viola model). This different shape usually achieves a better blend of registers (no weak spots on tone) and better projection and, IMHO, warmer colors on all registers, specially at first two octaves. Some player don't like this warmer sound and soloist-like projection, so they use other instruments - like 17 and 17.5" "normal" violas. But, with a good crafted instrument and good strings, a player can compensate any weak spot and make the viola shine.


The ideal size for a Viola would be 21 inches making it the size of a 1/8 Size Cello. That means it becomes practical if you hold the instrument vertically like a Cello which does alot of good things, 1) it relieves weight off the shoulder, & 2) it makes the larger Violas even easier to handle than before. It also allows the sound to be directed towards the walls which produces a much fuller sound than you'd otherwise have.

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    This needs more explanation. Why is 21" ideal?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 2 at 16:50
  • I added more explanation. Commented Jun 8 at 21:01
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    You really have only reworded your answer without providing new information. Why is holding the viola like a cello any more practical than holding it like a viola? And why does that outweigh carrying around a heavier, bulkier instrument? Most importantly, does it have a positive impact on the sound, and why?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 17 at 16:09
  • 21 inches would be ideal because it's 1.5 times the size of a Violin, & that actually lands us in the size of a 1/8 Size Cello. Acoustic research has found out that a Viola made in the ideal size is playable if you hold it vertically like a Cello. Commented yesterday
  • I see. So "ideal size" is based solely on how one holds the instrument but does not impact the sound.
    – Aaron
    Commented yesterday

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