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About the Viol

What is a viol?

A viol (which rhymes with 'smile') is a bowed, fretted string instrument which typically has six strings. Viols come in many shapes and sizes but all are held vertically between the legs. Hence, the Italians called the instrument 'viola da gamba,' literally a 'leg fiddle'! Whether you say 'viol,' 'viola da gamba,' or just 'gamba,' doesn't matter. These names all refer to the same instrument.

Viols were developed during the Renaissance and were popular instruments in Europe especially during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. They became rarer during the 19th century before their triumphant revival in the early 20th century when they were enthusiastically embraced by amateur and professional musicians alike. Some viols look similar to cellos but the two families are actually quite distinct. Viols can play all sorts of music, they're easy to learn and fun to play. Please use the links below to learn more about the beautiful viol family.


Suggested further reading:

Essay by Elizabeth Weinfield:


Bettina Hoffmann: The Viola da Gamba (Routledge, 2018)

Annette Otterstedt: The Viol: History of an Instrument (Bärenreiter, 2002)


Michael Fleming and John Bryan: Early English Viols: Instruments, Makers and Music (Taylor & Francis, 2016)


Ian Woodfield: The Early History of the Viol (Cambridge University Press, 1988)


Peter Holman: Life after Death: The Viola da Gamba in Britain from Purcell to Dolmetsch (Boydell, 2010)


Photos on this page and subsequent linked pages relating to About the Viol, copyright by Francis Beaulieu, Wesley Brandt, Joseph Brookes, Sarah Mead, and Warren Shingleton. For inquiries about use of any of the images on these pages, contact the website committee by using the link below.​

Tobi Szuts, chair of the website committee

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