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Difference Between a Viola Bow and a Cello Bow

By August 29, 2019blog


Viola and cello are known as instruments mostly used for classical music that sets the mood and elegance of the song.  However, these musical instruments are also being incorporated in other genres such as pop, jazz, classic rock, reggae and dancehall music to name a few as musicians make covers of popular songs. Some of the popular reggae covers are from Bob Marley songs such as “One Love’’ a viola cover and “Redemption Song” a cello cover. The viola makes a deep and warm sound while cello makes smooth vibration that gives a vibe and rhythm, but both instruments adds spice to the sexy beat of reggae and dancehall music. It just goes to show that these instruments are offering a new and exciting twist to various types of music. 

Now that we’ve discussed how these two classical instruments can be used in different music genres, let’s now talk about how each of them differ from each other. Aside from the obvious that viola is way smaller than cello, they also use different bows in playing music. A viola bow can’t be used to play a cello and vice versa. The bows of these instruments have different characteristics that make them distinct from each other. Here is your definite list of references for the differences between a viola and cello bow.


  1. Frog – Also known as heel, both the cello and viola bow share a square-shape frog. However, the heel of the cello bow is shorter and weighs lighter (around 10 grams) than those of viola bows.
  2. Height – Comparing to the length of a typical viola bow, the cello has shorter bows. 
  3. Alto Clef – The usage of alto clef for viola makes it different from cello. If you’re already into playing viola for years, you know that it’s easy to read the clef once you’ve familiarized yourself with the knowledge that the middle C is the centerline of the music staff. Cello, on the other hand uses tenor clef often which is floating one line higher on the music staff.
  4. Sound – Of course, the sound produced through playing the bow into an instrument sound different. For viola, since it has thicker strings, the bow strokes should be able to accommodate a clear and loud sound so that it can be heard despite different instruments playing all at once. Moreover, it serves as an intermediary for the cello and bass. The cello, through the help of bow, produce human-like pitch sound which makes it different from the rest of the instruments in an orchestra.


The viola bow usually weighs 70 grams, making it lighter than a cello bow that weighs 80 grams at most. In terms of age, the bow size of viola varies as follows:

  • 15” or more – For 11 years old and up
  • 14” – For kids whose age range from 9–12 years old
  • 13” – Ideal for kids whose age range from 7-9 years old
  • 12” – Appropriate for kids whose age range from 6-7 years old
  • 11” – Ideal for kids who age range from 5-6 years old

The same also applies for cello bow appropriate to be used at certain age range:

  • 4/4 – Best for kids and adult starting from 14 years old and up
  • ¾ – For 11-13 years old cello players
  • ½ – For kids whose age range from 8-10 years old
  • 1/4 – For kids whose age range from 6-7 years old
  • 1/8 – Ideal for kids whose age range from 5-6 years old

Another reason for their differences is that both instruments have distinct strings. While both the cello and viola share the same tune in 5ths (A, D, G and C), the strings of the viola produce deeper tone and can play from C3 to E6, while cello plays at C2 to C6.

Also, physically, viola is played through putting it between a musician’s shoulder and chin while the cello is placed down between the musician’s knees with its end pin placed at the floor for balance. Thus, their bows should have different sizes and characteristics to provide efficient and superb sound.

Nonetheless, despite distinctions, both instruments play a great role in making today’s music sound mesmerizing and enthralling. An orchestra would not be complete without these two adding a rich taste to music that developed over time.

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