small violas for children georginas story

Georgina’s story

Georgina has played my instruments since borrowing one of my half size violins from the Benslow Loan Scheme at the age of seven. After that she moved to a ¾ size from my rental scheme, and in 2016 her parents commissioned me to make a full size violin for her.

At the age of 11 Georgina achieved an outstanding 145 (distinction) in her grade 8 violin exam, playing on my cornerless ¾ size violin. She has been a member of the National Children’s Orchestras since she was six, and co-led the NCO’s Main Orchestra in 2016. She is now a String Leader in the National Youth Orchestra and studies with Catherine Yates at the Junior RNCM.
The highlight of Georgina’s growing number of concert appearances was when she played the solo part of the Vivaldi Concerto No. 3 with Nicola Benedetti in front of a full Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in September 2015.

Small-size violas

The design for small violas evolved from the violins, and I found that the cornerless model was ideal, as it has a naturally darker sound than a conventional model. I use this design for violas with the same body and string length as three-quarter and full-size violins, and for 15 inch (38cm) violas the outline has two small upper corners.
These small instruments sound like real violas, with strong and responsive C strings and an overall warmth and darkness of sound. They are light in weight and easily manageable, made with careful attention to detail, including well-shaped necks and good-quality fittings.

Until we found you, I felt quite dejected as to how limiting it was for young musicians to not have access to very good instruments in the rental market. You and your instruments make such a phenomenal  difference, as exemplified by Harry’s journey and so many others I am sure. Aarti Rughoo, whose son Harry has played my 14 1/4 and 15 inch violas before commissioning his ‘forever’ viola from me.

It has been absolutely wonderful and often admired by others. She has just returned from her Under 13 NCO course where she led the viola section and her viola was commented on favourably by the viola tutor. Laura Baker, whose daughter Catriona played a 15 inch two-cornered viola before buying one of my adult-sized violas

She is enjoying her viola and the instrument gets lots of compliments and interest whenever she plays it – so that’s great for her confidence. Mary Elford, whose daughter played one of my 13¼ inch violas

13¼ inch (33.7cm) and 14¼ inch (36.2cm) violas

small violas for childrenviola custom madeThese violas feel exactly the same as three-quarter size and full-size violins, so it’s easy for young players to swap between violin and viola; they are ideal for violinists starting on the viola as the left-hand position is identical. I achieve a viola sound by making the body wider in the central and lower part of the outline, with wider-spaced and longer soundholes than a violin. The set-up is also carefully thought out – the bass-bar, bridge and soundpost position are designed to give a viola rather than a violin response. Light weight is achieved by economy in the internal construction and by making a simple compact head.

Lilya’s story

While she was a student at Chetham’s school of Music, Lilya Tymchyshyn played all my sizes of viola, starting with 13¼ inch, then working through 14¼ inch and 15 inch as she grew and her playing developed. Finally she commissioned a 15¾ inch viola from me.  After Chetham’s she continued her studies at the University of Music and Arts in Munich, and during that time won first prize at the Beethoven’s Hradec 2015 International Viola Competition in the Czech Republic. She has also toured regularly with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, most recently as co-principal viola.

15 inch (38cm) violas

These violas are an ideal intermediate stage for young players who are not ready for their final viola. Since I started making them, I found that some adult players were keen to have this model too.
The same design principles hold as for the cornerless viola; the weight is minimised by careful attention to the structure and by making a light head, and I pay great attention to the choice of materials, arching and thicknessing of the back and front and then all aspects of set-up to create a responsive and powerful viola with a strong, warm C and a flexible sweet A.

Kristen’s Story

Kristen Chen, a member of the San Juan Symphony Orchestra in Durango, Colerado, bought a 15 inch two-cornered viola from me in 2019. She writes:

As a small framed person, I have been struggling with my violas since I switched over from violin in high school. Not knowing the options, I played on a larger viola for years. The long symphony rehearsals and concerts killed me, causing extreme back pain and discomfort. My love for the instrument and the music kept me coming back, but I knew that I needed to find a solution. I tried out several smaller violas, which did wonders for my comfort, but the sound quality was dismal. It seemed that finding an instrument that felt good and sounded good was an impossibility. Until I met Helen. 

I came across Helen quite by accident while scouring the internet for answers. I happened upon a thread, and way down deep into the discussion, someone had mentioned Helen Michetschläger. I did a quick Google search and found her right away. I devoured her website with her information and expertise on the science of small violas, which is unlike any I have ever heard. This was ground-breaking for me. 

Everything about working with Helen was easy, timely and friendly. She immediately showed great interest in helping me, even though I live an ocean away. She answered my myriad questions with great insight and wisdom. When it came time to send instruments for me to try out, she went over the top in shipping quickly and giving me plenty of time to try out the instruments and get to know them. Everything went smoothy and Helen walked me through every step of the way.

I chose Helen’s 15 inch 2-cornered viola. There was no question: I loved this viola from the first notes of the Bach C major Suite, the first piece I played. The viola’s singing and ringing filled my room and everything felt easy. The fit was perfect and everything about the viola nestled right into the size of my neck, arms and hands. It’s considered a small viola, but it does not sound like a small viola. I don’t know how she does it, but Helen’s thorough knowledge of the science behind building smaller instruments results in magic. 

Helen’s magic has given me my joy in playing and I couldn’t be more grateful. 


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