Almost everyone knows about the violin family, which includes violins, violas and cellos, but many people are not aware of the somewhat similar viol family.
The viols are older than the violins and used to be very popular. They are a charming set of instruments with a pleasant sound. They were, however, quieter and easily overpowered when played with other instruments. They just couldn't compete with the louder violin family and eventually became very rare, except for the double bass which is still regularly played today.
The viols are making a small comeback. Their charm is undeniable and their soft gentle tone actually seems like an advantage in our increasingly loud and hectic world. Besides, we can now turn up the volume on viol recordings if we wish.
The first video can serve as a brief introduction to viols. This is a viola da gamba. It is kind of like a cello but if you look closely you may notice some differences.
"Chanty" Thomas Mace
The viola da gamba has frets and is held between the legs. The viola da gamba also usually has six strings instead of four for a cello (although this one has seven).
This next video will highlight an unique playing style of viols.
Sonata by Carl Friedrich Abel
Did you notice how she held the bow from behind instead of from the front? She also used a lot of fast arpeggios. The viols are tuned more like guitars than violins so they are well suited to playing the arpeggiated chords that are a common feature in viol music.
This next video is of a baryton, an unusual viol like instrument.
This next instrument is a pardessus de viole, kind of a hybrid between a violin and a viol.
Pardessus de Viole