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Music Notation for the Viola

Music for the viola is primarily written in the alto clef, but can also be written in the treble clef when playing in the high register. The standard tuning for the open strings is as follows:


As with the violin, the viola has a range of 2 octaves + a M3 in first position. This is the range that is used in beginning (elementary) level repertoire. As the player learns to shift, the range demanded in music expands higher, but not to the same extent as the violin. Much of the music for orchestra written in the 18th century did not require shifting for the viola. Nevertheless, many violists use shifting for color (darker tone on lower strings), and also for comfort (the hand does not need to stretch as much in 3rd position). Playing much of the standard orchestral repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries only requires the ability to play in the intermediate range, however, some composers do like to write very high parts for viola. Solo and chamber music repertoire require an expanded range as well.*

**Please note that my choice of the upper limit is approximate - many scores do not require playing that high, others require playing higher.


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