Though not often in the spotlight, the viol is worth getting to know..

Its popularity waxed and waned throughout time, but the viol’s distinctly warm, ringing sound has definitely made a comeback. Here are some things you should know about the instrument.

What is it?

The Viola da Gamba, or viol, as it is known in English, is a string instrument with frets, played with a bow. It has six or seven strings and is held between the player’s legs. Its size varies, from approximately the size of a cello to that of a viola. It was born in the Renaissance, enjoyed a golden age between the 16th and 18th centuries in Europe, was forgotten, then rediscovered in the 20th century and has been delighting players and listeners ever since!

Why learn the viol?

The Viol is a learner-friendly instrument, meaning that its basic playing technique can generally be learnt in a brief period of time, compared to other string instruments (violin, cello, etc.). Why?


Like the guitar, the viol has frets. Viol-frets are moveable strips which are tied across the neck of the instrument. Though their purpose is acoustic, they also provide learners with an invaluable reference point when they are learning how to place their fingers on the fingerboard.



The Viol exists in three sizes: Bass, Tenor and Treble. All viols have the same fret- system, so players can learn easily to switch from one instrument to the next, giving them an opportunity to learn three different instruments. Furthermore, these sizes are ideally suited for children’s growing bodies: a child can start off on a treble, move on to the tenor when they grow, and then learn the bass. Each size is an instrument in its own right!


Suitable for everyone

The viol has always been associated both with professional musicians and with amateurs. During its golden age (16th to 18th centuries) it was emblematic instrument of the noble amateur. That is why composers have left us with vast quantities of original material written for all levels of amateurs to enjoy and learn from.



© Giovanna Baviera