Most people have never heard of a viola and so their first instinct when choosing a stringed instrument is to go to violin, cello or double bass. There is another stringed instrument that is often forgotten and tends to get over-shadowed by its smaller and larger counterparts.
In the violin family, the viola falls between the violin and cello. It is tuned a perfect 5th down from a violin. Some parents equate the early stages of learning the violin to many high pitched, "squeeky" sounds. While this phase is usually short lived if your child has a good teacher, you generally won't have that on a viola! The viola has a dark, rich, more alto to tenor voice than the violin. A student-sized viola can be the exact same size as a student or full sized- violin, looking exactly alike. It isn't until one plays the instruments that it can be determined which one is the viola. A full- sized viola is about 1.5" to 2+" larger than a full-sized violin but is still played cradled between the chin, shoulder, and collarbone. Playing technique is very similar but not identical.
The viola is just as important of an instrument in an orchestra as a violin, cello or double bass. It has its own amazingly beautiful repertoire, just like the violin, cello and bass. If you or your child are on the fence between choosing to study either violin or cello, you might find a perfect match in the dark, rich, beautiful timber of the viola. Please let me know if you have further questions about this gorgeous instrument.