Viola da Gamba = viol of the leg, or leg-viol

Various sizes include pardessus de viole (high treble), treble viol, alto viol, tenor viol, bass viol, and violone.

Violone is an ambiguous term, usually referring to a large bass viol. Today, qualifiers are used to help disambiguate: G-violone, D-violone, Viennese-violone, etc.

Unlike violas da braccio (violin, viola, and cello), viols contain:

- a flat back (rather than curved)

- sloped shoulders (rather than rounded)

- C-holes, but F-holes and flamed-holes occasionally used

The Bass Viol


- 6 or 7 strings tuned in 4ths with a 3rd in the middle

- from low-to-high, the standard tuning is (A)-D-G-c-e-a-d’, but scordatura (mistuning/alternate) tunings used


- top strings are usually made from plain gut (intestines of sheep, and/or cattle)

- lower strings are usually gut-wound with metal (pure silver, silvered-copper, and/or copper)


- 7 gut-frets line the neck

- frets often adjusted, pending the temperament (tuning system)


- slightly convex (curves outward), and held underhand

Extended Techniques

Interestingly, the Scottish composer, Tobias Hume (c.1569-1645)––writing much of his music in tablature––included instructions to “play nine letters with your finger” (pizzacato) or “Drum this with the back of your Bow” (col legno).

- Pizzicato (pinched/plucked)

- Col legno batutta (with the wood/back of the bow)

- Vibrato: viewed as an ornament

- Glissandi: more effective above the frets

- Trills: above and/or below, but should be notated

- Harmonics: natural & artificial harmonics used; should include roman numerals (to indicate the string)

and/or diamond shaped note-heads (to indicate finger placement)


Historically, numerous clefs were used––baritone, bass, tenor, alto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano. Today, bass (F-clef), alto (C-clef), and occasionally treble (G-clef) are used.


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