A viola (pronounced vee-Oh-la) is a musical instrument which is similar to the violin and cello. The viola sounds lower than a violin, but higher than a cello. It has four strings, called the C, G, D, and A strings. The highest string is the A. The viola is played with a bow in the right hand. Playing with the bow is called arco. Sometimes the strings may be plucked (pizzicato).
When people see the viola, sometimes they think it is a violin. This is because the viola is only a little larger than a violin, and like the violin, the viola is held on the player's left shoulder. It is also because the sound of the viola is only five notes lower than the sound of the violin. The biggest difference between the viola and the violin is the different sound. The viola's lowest string is the "C" string and its highest string is the "A" string. So, to see whether a violin-like instrument is a violin or viola, one will need to pluck the thinnest string. The violin's lowest string is the "G" string and its highest string is the "E" string. Even though the viola and violin can play many of the same notes, they each have a special sound quality. Sometimes people describe the viola's sound as more "dark", "earthy", or "mellow" than the violin's sound.
The person that makes and repairs violas is called a luthier.
People who write music often use the viola for harmony notes. It is one of the main instruments in a string quartet, along with two violins and a cello. The viola is found in chamber ensembles of string instruments only, and also in full symphony orchestras where strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments play together. The viola can also be a solo instrument, but is mostly used in an orchestra. The viola comes in many sizes. The sizes are measured in inches, such as a 14-inch viola. The size of the viola is measured from the bottom to the neck of it (its body's length).