Cellos are used mainly in classical music – orchestra music, chamber music and classical solo cello music.
Cellists read music on the bass clef.
The strings on the cello are the same as on the viola, except they sound an octave lower.
Why play Cello?
Cellists have the opportunity to play in orchestras and chamber music ensembles. String quartets are comprised of a First Violin and a Second Violin, as well as a Viola and a Cello. A great amount of music has been written for solo cello, including pieces intended to be played either without accompaniment, or accompanied by an orchestra or piano. The cello has been used occasionally in pop and rock music. In recent times, Cellist Yo Yo Ma has been particularly creative in expanding the range of music for cellos by collaborating with folk musicians.
Cellos are made in a range of sizes, including small sizes appropriate for young musicians. Usually a student is ready for a full-size cello around age 12.
Young cellists often begin by studying with teachers who teach the Suzuki method. With this method, the young musicians first learn to play by listening and imitating and later learn to read music. Slightly older students may be able to start to learn to play through school orchestra programs, as well as with private teachers.
Where To Buy A Cello
Cellos for beginners can be found at both local or online stores that specialize in stringed instruments or at larger retail or online stores that carry a broad range of music and electronic gear.
See “Where To Buy Musical Instruments” for general buying advice on:
- Buying in a Specialty Store vs. “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- Buying Used Instruments
How To Buy A Cello
Cellos are made in several different sizes to accommodate younger students with smaller fingers. A full-sized cello is 4/4, while the smallest size normally available is 1/16. In between, cellos are typically available in 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 7/8 sizes. (Note: These sizes do not indicate literal measurements. That is, a 3/4 size cello is not literally 3/4 the length of a full-sized cello.) At a local store, the salesperson can help you determine the right size. Online stores often have videos and other help resources via website or phone to help with this as well. The best option for giving advice on which size to choose, though, can be your own teacher if you have one.
Cello prices vary widely, depending on the quality and age of the wood and the skill of the makers. Some less expensive cellos are made with laminate, which usually doesn’t produce as good a tone, but is more durable, which can be a plus for younger students. If considering a less expensive instrument, take into account the workmanship, playability and sound, as trying to learn on a poor quality instrument can be very frustrating for students. It is very important to have well-fitting tuning pegs that are easy to turn and then hold the string in tune. It is also important that the cello is set up properly so that the strings are at a proper height to avoid discomfort or buzzing of the strings.
Sample Cello Prices
$500 – 600
$900 – 1,200
If you are buying your instrument from a specialty music store, inquire about a trade-in policy. When your student is ready for a larger or higher quality instrument, they will often give you a good portion of the original instrument price back when you trade it in.
In addition to the cello itself, a cellist will need a good bow and case. A tuner and metronome are also recommended, along with a music stand. The cellist will also need a chair that will allow proper posture. To keep the cello from sliding, the player places a rubber “donut” under the endpin on some floor surfaces. Also, a cellist will need a cake or block of rosin to rub on the hair of their bow to enable it to grip the strings and make sound.
Bows can range in cost from approximately $50 – 200 for a beginner bow, to $300-700 for an intermediate and $900 -2500+ for an advanced player. In addition to traditional wooden ones, bows made from synthetic materials, ranging from fiberglass to carbon-fiber, are now available. These durable synthetic bows are a good alternative for younger players. Choice of bows becomes more important as the student advances and develops techniques that produce different sounds. Bows vary in weight and flexibility, allowing for differences in dynamics and tone. By the intermediate level, most players notice differences in bows and start to develop personal preferences.
The cello will need tuning every time you play it. From lowest to highest, the strings on the cello are C, G, D and A. Start by tuning the “A” string to a tuner, accompanying instrument, such as a piano, or designated instrument in an ensemble (usually the oboe in an orchestra). Then tune the other strings by ear in perfect fifths to that (or continue with a tuner if you are using one). Use the fine tuners to perfect the tuning.
Cello Care and Maintenance
Cello strings must be replaced every few months. It is wise to have an extra set of strings on hand at all times, as a string will break on occasion. The “bridge” of the instrument, the part that raises the strings, should be checked and straightened often so that it stays perpendicular to the cello. Occasional inspection and conditioning by a skilled technician is also recommended.
Stringed instruments are very sensitive to temperature changes and extremes. They should be stored with care to avoid very warm or cold temperatures. They should not, for instance, be left in the direct sun, next to a heater or in a warm or cold car or trunk. When they have by necessity been carried outside in colder temperatures, they should be allowed to warm up to room temperature inside the case. Stringed instruments are also very sensitive to humidity fluctuations and extremes. Storage at humidity levels of 40-60%, or use of a “Dampit” – a device that is soaked in water and than inserted into the instrument to provide humidity – is recommended.
After playing, wipe the cello carefully with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints and rosin.
The bow also needs good care. Be careful not to leave your bow where it can fall, be knocked down or stepped on. The horsehair on a bow shrinks and stretches with with changes of humidity. To avoid damage, loosen it when not in use and then tighten it before playing. The hairs wear and occasionally break with use, so the bow also needs to be re-haired periodically – usually about twice a year.
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