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Learning About a New Instrument: The Cello


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I just purchased, for myself, a cello! :ph34r:

Why did I do that? :blink:

Well...I have always loved the cello :wub:. Over the years I have spent a lot of time reading about the cello...history, construction, repertoire, etc. One of my favourite things to do is to engage in something "new", etc.

Originally, I had no intention of ever getting/playing a cello, but several years ago I thought it might be fun to monkey about with one. Over the past 4-5 years, off and on, I started seeing if I could find a suitable used one.


The very few I found were either out of my price range or were horribly overpriced cheap ones. And I was concerned about ending up with an old cheap one that would need expensive repairs to make it playable, etc.

So, I went for a new one.

There are very few of those available locally as well. We don't have a lot to pick from in person and in this instance I didn’t want to order one online. I wanted to see it in real time.

The student outfit I bought comes with a surprisingly nice soft case, an inexpensive CF - and a rosin!!! It's has a solid wood back and front and laminate ribs. It was manufactured in 2023.

I compared it to the cheapest student model (relatively expensive as well), which was all laminate with badly painted purfling...and to a model 2 levels up, which was really pretty and sounded better but which was also out of my price range.

I can't play the cello...at all...other than open strings. In fact, this was the first time I've even tried! Luckily there was a very nice adult beginner at the store who did play them for me...and mine sounded pretty good!  Not as good as the more expensive model (due to the laminate ribs?), but not bad at all! I was pleasantly surprised.

Aesthetically, I actually don't mind how it looks (the laminate one was awful). It's a Strad model. The varnish isn't overly orangey - but is very shiny. It has real purfling. The wood on the front is actually rather nice. The back is plain, but not "dead plain". Ribs, laminate or not, look fine.

Why didn't I rent one if I just want to try one out?

Because I don't want to deal with, or stress about, a time frame. 

My goal is to see what I can do with it, whenever I have time/inclination. If I can sound decent in first position I'll feel I've arrived! Otherwise, I will enjoy it purely as an objet d'art...and dust it! :D

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Check out the book

New Directions in Cello Playing

It will carry you far. The bow hold and the left hand position are different than for violin, so be careful with those. A single lesson with a good teacher might get you headed in the right direction - it worked well for me. But I did continue on with cello lessons for another 28 months in my mid teens.
If you already play the violin I can tell you that the equivalent to playing in 1st and 3rd positions on violin is playing 1st and 4th positions on cello and the natural positioning of the fingers (in the lower 4 positions) is half steps apart rather than whole steps.
It is not a bad idea to start with the Suzuki cello books OR just get out  some of your violin music and read the treble clef an octave down. Then internalize bass clef and add tenor clef later.
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Thanks Victor! :)

That's helpful!

The fingering on viola wasn't ever an issue, I can adjust for intonation easily enough.

But the fingering/spacing on the cello is very different, LOL. :blink:  I am going to try without using tapes though...unless it gets too frustrating.

I have no problem reading bass clef, so that makes things easier. I have the Suzuki Cello books.

Tenor and alto clefs? Totally different story...:angry:

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11 hours ago, outofnames said:

I bought an Amazon cello a couple of years back for much the same motivation as you described.  It looks really nice and it was fun for a time.  Then I went back to working on learning how to play the violin.  I couldn’t focus on more than one at a time and I like my violin more.

Yes! :lol:

Violin will remain #1!

And I am still committed to learning more chords on my guitar...and maintaining my hard won calluses.

...I think, deep down...I'm secretly motivated to become my own quartet...

I can call myself "Oh Solo Me Oh! :ph34r:

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I am not my own quartet, but I have played all the quartet parts. In fact, one day I took all 3 instruments to our (now defunct) weekly piano trio session and played violin for Bach "Double," viola for Mozart "Sinfonia Concertante," and cello for Mendelssohn #1 piano trio.

It felt good.

You cannot see tapes on the top of a cello's fingerboard and play with good posture. However it can be handy, when playing above the octave harmonics, to have a little mark on the right side of the fingerboard for the natural harmonic locations for left thumb positioning. That occurred to me about 50 years into my "cello career" since I had been mostly playing the chin instruments.

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That's an impressive accomplishment too! :D

I will consider tape when I get to harmonics.

In the meantime...today I managed (very badly :wacko:) to play a recognizable Long Long Ago and Judas Maccabaeus from Suzuki Book 2!

Now I need physio...think my right arm fell off...^_^

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...and...could be, in part, my imagination and bias against CF bows...but I don't think I like mine :mellow:.

I  really have no basis for that opinion yet (like, how would I even be able to determine anything at this point?)...but still...

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2 hours ago, Rue said:

...and...could be, in part, my imagination and bias against CF bows...but I don't think I like mine :mellow:.

I  really have no basis for that opinion yet (like, how would I even be able to determine anything at this point?)...but still...

Activating longer, thicker cello strings is a different activity. Our ears tell us what we want to hear, so tend to initially overplay.

Of course there are many different composite/ CF cello bows out there ( with crappy hair and too stiff ) but after awhile, there might be sweet spot in tension where the activation speed is just right.

Posture and saving hearing are bonus for cellists. There are many different right hand holds and wrist work, the arm and shoulder work is different. Relaxation requires some gentle friction work and lowered arm and shoulder on the c- string and generally nothing rises above mp until that grip and activation become secure in the middle and lower part of the bow.

A suggestion only to those who are patient and have a degree of commitment:

About a 1/3 of my younger violin ( and some adult ) students want to try cello. If they can get through Suzuki Book 2, I lend them a cello. If they sight read treble clef, we generally go straight to thumb position. This is not recommended to everyone, but have worked with most of the kids. Since most everyone has played some piano, the transition to the lower octaves come with time spent bowing the cello.

Hate to think of it this way, but both arms are a bit in suspension, but if the arms can remain semi- balanced for a few minutes at a time, the D major scale is studied very slowly. Activation is easier, and pitches and placement are more familiar as well as the clef. Up bows at a good contact point will be the most fun. Slowly work the lower octave, learn the unspiraling of the left arm, compared to that of the violin and try practicing with various elbow angles while maintaining arching in the fingers.

The string tension at the upper octave is lower. The feel for the string might develop there for both hands.

Bow speed, firmness, weight, changes with the lower octaves. We make awful sounds with a contact point at the bridge and then try to locate the best bow angle near the fingerboard with short bows. With some breathing exercises, we increase bow length, staying in the lower half. After about a month, they have more fun. Some will continue to play cello in their schools if there is an arts requirement.

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Just an approach. If the cello has a reasonable set up, one might also lower the string height at the nut. Once the left hand strengthens and bowing becomes more efficient, the string heights can be restored.

Again, another approach for those trying out a cello. My middle school teacher put me on bass in jazz band so that had an effect on violin intonation. 

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Great tips! Thank you!

I think I might need to take a lesson...just to help put me in the right position. I can't see myself - to see what all I'm doing wrong or inefficiently.

Everything feels very awkward and totally backwards, lol.

On the plus side...I was a little faster playing the little pieces I tried out yesterday (by that I mean finding the notes on the fingerboard).

...arm still wants to fall off though. Pretty sure I'm holding the bow wrong...

Good thing I have no plans to give up my day job!  :rolleyes:

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Well! It's been a whole week of cello-ing! :D

I'm still disoriented and not bowing cleanly. I am not holding the bow properly. Grip is totally insecure and I keep defaulting to a violin bow hold...and my arm still wants to fall off <_<.

But I can play a scale (very slowly) in tune (pretty much), in first position - with no tapes!

...and Judas Maccabaeus is getting better!

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Today's advancement:

Tuned the cello using the pegs! :D

The fine tuners were getting to the end of their tuning range, so I loosened them all, and tuned back to pitch with the pegs.

It was fine! Pegs turned well!

I was worried about tuning with the pegs...because I don't think I've ever actually seen anyone ever do it! :huh:

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Rue, Shortly after I had installed geared pegs in my own cellos I had an internal smile while I watched a professional cellist put down her bow, turn her cello around (so the strings were facing her) and grip the resistant peg with her whole right hand and wrestle with it.

It's good that your friction pegs turn well! Mine had gotten tough for my old hands (early 70s) so I actually ended up installing geared pegs in all my instruments (and then for the rest of my playing family members - 14 sets of pegs in all, including one 5-string "viola"). That was probably about 15 years ago and I have never regretted it.

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LOL! Great story! I can see that the struggle is real! ^_^

Glad the geared pegs are working well on your instruments. 

I will keep my finger crossed that my pegs stay well-fitting. I'm a little concerned, given it's a brand new instrument, it might not acclimatize smoothly. Guess I'll find out.

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...while I can read bass clef AND I know where the notes are on the cello fingerboard; somehow I can't readily translate the note on the paper to the location on the fingerboard...

There's an odd disconnect.

...not worried...it will happen...just might be a slower process than anticipated.

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Did not mention fingering, but there is a similar discussion at another site.

Most adopters are used to thumb opposite index ( pointer ) finger. Across middle finger is the more traditional cello and with work related to Sussmanhaus there are upper string players who also center their thumbs across the middle finger.

Each hand is different as is the player. We also have varying layers of patience and accumen. The last two ( of several ) students who adopted cello were impatient despite learning for fun.

But the equalizing of the left and right hands, centering the holds, balances quite a few aspects of playing including vibrato.

Producing lower frequencies requires a particular amount of energy. Better, more experienced players activate ( threshold ) early and minimalize input as they bow. There is a vertical component and a horizontal one, one after the other, a blink and a nurturing stroke. I equate it to starting a fire with "flint" and shavings, for each stroke.

Somewhat tragic and with some guilt, there are some fantastic cello teacher who teach great fundamentals and I teach their students music and more advanced technique. I do want them to return to their original teachers after a year or so, but the parents generally do not listen. I can take frustrated, disciplined students and address their needs. Why hold them back. But crappy students and parents not need apply or understand.

There are improvements at the 1k, 10k and 100k bow strokes. I did some calculations when starting to teach and it occurred to me that on some weeks I bow the equivalent of several years of crappy student lessons. That is why I am also such a crappy percussionist, etc.

Be patient. Enjoy the sounds you make. 

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Thanks! :D I am in no rush. I am happy I can figure out as much as I have.

There is a visceral thrill when I bow a healthy note! :wub:

And...I think I will spring for a lesson two as well...to make sure I don’t inadvertently teach myself unnecessary bad habits. 

I should be able to find someone who won't mind.

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