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a family of bowed musical instruments. Viols had flat backs, sloping shoulders, wide fretted necks, and five to seven strings tuned in fourths with a third in the middle. They were held in a vertical position while being played.
Viols were used in Western Europe beginning in the 16th century. There were soprano, alto, and tenor viols (there was a small base viol, also called a viola da gamba, or simply gamba) and large bass and contrabass viols. The instrument had a soft and muted sound. Viols were used for solo, ensemble, and orchestral work, mostly in aristocratic circles. In the 17th century, viols began to be replaced by instruments of the violin family, which were more suited to the demands of the new musical art. At this time a variation of the viol appeared which had resonating strings—the viola bastarda, viola d’amore (or viole d’amour), and viola di bordone, or baritone.