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The size of violas over the last several years has been become a lot more varied in what people search for and what different people find comfortable to play. Several body dimensions are very important, more so with this instrument than any in the bowed string range, to ensure the biggest reduction in stress on the body to find the correct size instrument.
You want an instrument that you can play for life, not just a few years until it creates too much stress on the body to do the amount of playing you would like to do.
There is just a huge world of variety available on this instrument, with really, the largest range of proportional sizes of any of the modern bowed string instruments. Historically, several sizes existed with this playing range over the centuries, and although in modern times we treat them as the same instrument, were created for this very reason, the modern name has just become larger encompassing as a size range.
At the beginning of the C20, Lionel Tertis promoted the use of 16 ¾” violas as the accepted minimum size of instrument to be a “true” viola. However, later on in the century this generally lowered to around 16 ¼” – 16 1/2”.
Many players are now opting to play smaller instruments for playability and comfort as violas are particularly stressful on many people’s bodies due to the increased reach and length of playing arm needed to play comfortably. This has seen many playing instruments more towards 15 ½” which can make a significant reduction in strains caused from playing over-sized violas for one’s particular body size. At the higher end, violas can go up to 18 ½”, which the majority of players will find completely unplayable except for novelty, but those with body dimensions to match may love.
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