Frequently Asked Questions
We hope you’ve enjoyed our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning Cello’ series. Please do contact us if you have any more questions or suggestions, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday…
Choosing An Instrument
A cello is quite expensive, that’s no secret. The better ones, even more so. If you want to start learning but money might be an issue, rent. Buying a cheap cello is inadvisable because a poorly constructed one will likely cost more in repairs than what it is actually worth. And starting out on a bad instrument is not going to help your playing if you’re a beginner. Renting an instrument can help you avoid that because companies that rent them out make sure that they’re well-maintained and set up the right way. And if they’re set up right, then your learning journey starts off well. But by all means, buy a good one if you have the money for it.
There is no one number we can give. The cheapest can run for a few hundred dollars at least. If you want good baseline quality, expect to pay at least $1000 (£800). That’s the low end, however. Cellos at that price range are good for students and will last them quite a while.
In the higher end, this is where we go to crazy price territory. You can find good brands in the $3000-$5000 (£2500-£4000) range, which is obviously not cheap. That’s why a lot of stores offer financing. Cellos cost that much because a lot of work goes into making them and making them sound good, which is the most important thing. The more work put into the instrument, typically the more expensive it will be.
What separates a bad cello from a great one is the way it’s made. Lower-end cellos in the $1000-$5000 (£800-£4000) range are priced as such because they feature only some handcrafted parts. But that pales in comparison to the higher-end cellos, which are exclusively handmade. True high-end cellos are built with extreme (emphasis on “extreme”) attention to detail, from the wood type to its grain and everything else in between, and they’re crafted by the finest cello luthiers the world has. All that work and experience produces an instrument with a full, solid sound that you will never get from a cheap $250 (£200) one.
Again, it depends. There are hundreds of brands out there and they all cater to specific types of players. For beginners, go for brands such as D’Luca, Merano, Cecilio, and Yamaha. These brands are known for making affordable beginner to intermediate cellos of great quality. Anything else cheaper than what these companies offer are not good ones to start with, more so if you want to focus on taking your cello skills to the next level.
4/4 is the full size which usually applies for young people and adults. Anything else below that is suited for children.
The only way to know which size to get depends on the student’s measurements. Always remember that kids and teenagers will eventually outgrow their instruments over time.
A cello should always, always have a case with it, whether you rent it or buy it. If you’re being offered one without a case, avoid it at any cost. The instrument is a very delicate one which could suffer irreparable damage if not stored inside its protective case, whether it’s a hard or soft one.
If buying your cello on-line, sometimes a case is not included, so check this and order a suitable one at the same time.
After you put it in the case, remember to store it away from extreme humidity and temperature levels. Even the slightest change in these parameters can cause the cello to go out of tune, because the wood reacts with the environment around it. If you can, buy a humidifier and set it to 30-50 percent humidity, to prevent damage from too much dryness.
You can choose to buy and apply a special instrument cleaner to keep the polish and wood’s integrity of your cello. If you don’t have one, a mild disinfectant will do. Spray this on a clean, lint-free cloth and start wiping the instrument with it, covering the front, back, sides, and almost everything in between. But remember to NEVER spray directly on the instrument, and NEVER use undiluted bleach, alcohol, or any abrasive or caustic product.
Or if you don’t want the trouble of chemicals touching your cello, simply a clean cloth is enough to wipe it down.
Cello bow hairs are delicate. The most important thing you can do to maintain their integrity is to loosen them after use. Because if you always keep them tightened, they will gradually degrade and won’t be able to grip the strings as much.
You should also wipe off excess rosin from the bow hairs after playing. All you need do is take a clean cloth, loosen the hairs, and wipe them with a back and forth motion. Excess rosin residue can also damage the bow hair.
The short answer is every 3 to 5 months. That’s for players who practice for at least an hour every day. Practicing more or less than that time frame means you’ll have to adjust the replacement frequency accordingly. In other words, practice harder and you’ll need to change strings more often.
You will know if your strings are deteriorating when they don’t sound as good as they used to. Or maybe they’re harder to tune. Those are two major tell-tale signs that they need immediate replacement.
The truth about this question is, it’s a matter of preference. For cellists who practice more than others, you may need your instrument easily accessible. Hanging it on the wall will help with that, meaning you won’t have to fiddle with taking it out of a bag or hard case. But there might be problems with hanging it in the open air if the room’s temperature and humidity aren’t maintained. It is almost always preferable to keep it on the floor in a protective case so as to not do much damage to the instrument’s durability over time.
When you’re taking it out of the case, make sure you hold it by the neck. It’s technically the sturdiest part of the cello, but still handle that with care. And when you’re playing, don’t put too much weight on the instrument, more so if you’re tense at any point during a performance.
Yes. This is to keep the wood and the instrument’s integrity over time. After playing, carefully wipe your cello down with a soft cloth. This will clean off the oil from your fingers as well as rosin residue from the bow. Too much rosin or oil can dampen the sound, more so if they build up. Be sure to cover every spot in the cello that you can reach with the cloth, because dirt and grime can often find their way there and remain unnoticed.
You should ideally keep your cello in a room where the temperature doesn’t exceed 80degF (27degC). Heat distress on your cello could cause a lot of things. It may cause the instrument to buzz, rattle, or lose sonority. The angle of the neck can also change in high temperatures. This means that you might not be able to press the strings on the fingerboard easily, because the strings are of different heights now. Take your cello to the nearest repair shop as soon as you experience these symptoms to avoid any further damage.
The main purpose of vibrato in music is aesthetics. More often than not, a note with vibrato sounds way better than if it’s without vibrato. To improve yours, there are several things you must consider.
When doing vibrato, never move your wrist by itself. Keep the rotation strictly from your elbow to the wrist, making sure that nothing else is moving with it. Or if you want your vibrato to sound wider, try pressing on the strings with the fleshier underside of your fingers, instead of your fingertips. That way, you have more space to pull the pitch back further.
Our dedicated guide on cello technique covers vibrato and more.
If you’re asking how much practice you should do to learn cello, the answer is entirely up to you. Do you want to be the absolute best cello player you can be? You’ve got to be ready to put in the work; practice everyday whenever possible. 15-30 minutes of high quality practice everyday, is enough time for your mind and body to internalize the concepts and for muscle memory to kick in.
If by “good” you mean above-average musicality and technique, anybody with prior musical experience and training can be good in cello in around 2 to 4 years. That’s the best case scenario. For someone who attends regular cello classes (coupled with regular practice), that timeframe is possible. Learning from a qualified cello teacher can fast track a student’s learning curve by a good margin, coupled with enough practice. Self-learning the instrument will inevitably take longer.
You play the cello by sitting down. Its size makes it too big to rest on your collarbone like the violin or the viola, and it also makes it too small to be played standing up like the double bass. While sitting down, the player rests the instrument’s endpin or spike on the floor, between the player’s knees. The instrument’s weight rests solely on that spike. Its upper bout rests on the player’s upper chest, whichever side the player’s dominant hand is. If you want a more detailed explanation why not jump over to our How To Play Cello page…
Lots of different woods can be used to make a cello. Traditional ones often feature spruce wood for the top, and maple wood for the back, neck, and sides. Other luthiers sometimes use woods such as willow or poplar for the sides and back. This is for the better-quality cellos, though. Lower-quality, cheaper ones tend to use laminated wood. Weirdly, laminated wood is more durable than the carved wood on higher-end cellos, and thus it’s used in youth orchestras where they’re more likely to be bumped or dropped.
Lots of musicians swear by the cello’s sound because it occupies a kind of middle ground. It’s not as loud or boisterous as the violin, and not as low and booming as a double bass. It produces a deep, layered, rich sound that you won’t get from any other instrument. One can say that a cello’s sound is easier on the ears than the double bass or the violin. Some even say that the cello sounds so good, it’s comparable to the human voice.
In a full orchestra, the cello’s warm, resonating sound helps provide the melody and can rival the violin in terms of overall musicality. The richer tones make the cello perfect for providing counterpoint melodies to the more flamboyant violins. That’s why in many classical music pieces, the cellists often have the honour of playing the most soaring, enigmatic solos. And with the frequency with which it’s been compared to the human voice for centuries, it’s no surprise the cello sounds so pleasing to our ears.
Since the cello is a stringed instrument, it must withstand the intense tension from the tight strings that run from end to end. All that tension can make the cello collapse in on itself without proper support. That’s the main purpose of the soundpost. It acts as a pillar that helps keep the instrument sturdy and rigid.
That’s not its only job, however. The soundpost also contributes to the cello’s overall sound because if it’s in the wrong place, the sound won’t transfer efficiently from the strings into the cello and then out of it. Musicians call this the soul of the cello, and for good reason.
Unless you have perfect pitch, you’ll need a pitch pipe or metronome tuner to tune the cello. It also requires tuning after every performance. The four strings must be tuned C, G, D, and A, in ascending order. You tune them by turning the tuning pegs on the end of the neck accordingly. The pitch pipe is a great tool for keeping the instrument in tune, though some players have developed enough musicality that they can tune it by ear. Either way, tuning a cello isn’t that complicated as long as you know the right notes.
Despite its size relative to the violin or viola, you don’t need to be a powerlifter to move a cello around. A full size one often weighs around 5.7 to 7.7 pounds (2.5kg to 3.5kg). Not that light, but still not too heavy. That’s why you normally play it sitting down, placed between your knees and resting on its spike. If the cello is heavier than this, it often means that the wood used is too thick or too dense.
Lots of people play the more “common” instruments such as the violin, but there aren’t many cellists. What this means is that if you play the cello, you will stand out from the crowd. Plus, the cello’s smooth, flowing melodies tend to be more pleasant to the listener’s ears due to its rich, smooth tone. It’s not as booming as the double bass, and not as squeaky as the violin. It’s just right. And if you get good at cello, you will be playing great music that will be universally loved.
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