Learning To Play Cello:
As An Adult
New To String Instruments

Preliminary self-teaching by the book
and then with an instructor

Updated: 26 August 2021

Started: 19 February 2021



As an adult new to cello as a first bowed string instrument, this summarizes experiences starting with self-guided education “by the book”.

I had never touched a cello prior to 2021.

At roughly two months, face-to-face sessions with an instructor began, before any “bad habits” would have possibly formed.

Topics covered here include: techniques, tips, on-line resources, relevant apps, published books, so-called “print” sheet music (now mostly on-line, apps, etc.), accessories, sequence in which to upgrade each and of course the cello itself and future considerations.

(For children, consider beginning with Suzuki Method.)

This will be updated with new information as appropriate yet represents one person’s current state of learning. this document gets continuously edited and updated– rather than expecting you to wade through a series of blog posts from incremental learning.


Potentially, you could learn on your own.

The main book referenced below was written as the means to that end. However, having your own personal guide makes more efficient use of your time.

Let this document augment your own teacher’s (or author’s) instruction as secondary guidance for perspective or counter-point.

Not everyone has access to an instructor who has been playing cello for decades around the world, performs in a major metropolitan symphony orchestra, is an accomplished soloist and chamber performer– who is also excellent at teaching.

Hopefully, this saves someone a few months of background effort– beyond actual practice time, because there’s no substitute for practicing.

As many others also advise, having a private instructor is ideal.

Having in-person 1:1 sessions are best because your teacher can directly inspect your posture, fingering, bowing and intonation which leads to immediate corrections and avoiding bad habits.

In my sixth weekly lesson, I was beginning an activity that closely resembled “sightreading” but obviously using that word loosely and with humble apologies to anyone within earshot at the time.

That lesson corresponded with my three month anniversary of having first touched a cello or any other bowed string instrument. Daily practice was typically 30-45 minutes with cello plus time on either side for warm-up and stretches indicated by a qualified physical therapist (physio therapist).

Details of all that follow.

At six months, I relocated back to the US. Practice paused for one month during that transition. Picking the cello back up began with a thorough review from these notes alone.

The Least You Need To Begin


Begin with items in this summary for an excellent place to start an expedited search.

  1. Begin learning and practicing without a cello or bow, at least initially.
  2. Get one of the books:
  3. Get apps to help you practice while being in tune:
  4. While initially learning scales or otherwise unintentionally making squeaky/screechy noises, consider using a practice mute
  5. When you discover for yourself that recommendations from various books, videos, articles, etc. appear to contradict one another…
  6. Important accessories:
  7. Potentially unexpected items:

Further elaboration on each point above is sprinkled throughout this collection below.

Other items will be revealed in due time, such as acetone (nail polish remover) for dissolving rosin from bow hairs for occasional deep cleaning. You’ll find those along with further instructions when searching as you need them, so there’s no rush for such things prematurely.

Mentally Prepare For A Spiritual Journey

Learning to play a new instrument as an adult can be a spiritual journey.

Learning requires discipline: commitment, regular practice, effort for cresting the learning curve and mental fortitude of perseverance.

That same description could easily apply to military service or meditation.

As an adult new to cello as a first bowed string instrument– release any combative stance stemming from unfortunate childhood music lessons. That’s water under the bridge and now gone.

Read words of guidance. Watch videos of others' experiences. Hear wisdom of your personal instructor. Yet when practicing, also heed your own intuition such as when you’ve had enough for that day.

Begin. Then continue.

Hearing someone learn to bow or learn fingering positions while still developing dexterity can be unpleasant, but this is where we are at this stage of practice. Be okay with that. (Yes, there are such things as “practice mutes” covered in another section, but this is about one’s mindset.)

For the student, focus on one thing at a time.

Without spoilers for early lessons with an instructor:

For instance, find your Left Hand finger position first and hold it here without playing the note. Return to proper posture. Position your Right Hand for bowing that note but still without playing the note. Go through your mental checklist to release any tension and maintain healthy angles for wrists, elbow, shoulders, etc. Then and only then, play the note. Again, focus on only one item at a time.

My first instructor noted that even as someone playing cello for forty years, it continues being the same sequence. Of course, it eventually all happens much more quickly as experience and dexterity mature.

Also as a student, focus upon what you’ve accomplished by each stage!

Consistent tone will come.

Squeakiness will fade.

Keeping the bow in its lane will happen.

Fingers will find their positions for accurate notes.

These things require “muscle memory” which takes time to develop.

Be patient.

Most importantly, be grateful at each stage for what has been accomplished thus far!

Lesson Sheet Music Files & License

Exercises below with links to sheet music downloaded from this site generally use files for Musescore software.

This is open-source free software available for BSD Unix, Linux, Mac and Windows.

Apps for Android and iOS devices are also available on their sheet music repository and community website, Musescore.com.

Downloading sheet music associated with exercises below are offered with a CC0 License: full liberty for using or modifying those pages for your own interests, including commercial use.

Links to other sheet music, blogs, videos, etc. each are the property of their respective owners.


Collected research, annotated over the course of self-learning and working with an instructor via in-person lessons:

Searching For Videos

It began with a simple search on a video platform: beginning cello.

Videos from Jonathan Humphries came up first.

From there, recommended videos included those of Sarah Joy.

Note that many video streaming platforms rank search results based upon several factors. These include age of the content, number of views of the video, time since most recent upload, etc. Recently active channels are not necessarily an indication of the best content for learning, but the ones above provided an excellent starting point.

With more specific searches, such as “cello bow hold” (not “grip”), the following emerged. Be sure to also explore their channels and playlists.

Please send each of them some Cello Love by perusing their videos, channels and patron offerings (e.g., Patreon). Many of their videos contain valuable resources within descriptions of videos.

Violoncello or just ‘cello to friends and modern players

For deeper research, note that the word cello was originally an abbreviation of the historical term violoncello. Expand search results further with spellings from other languages, such as violoncelle and celle.

Early sheet music where copyright has long since lapsed into Public Domain may refer to it as such.

Rent vs Buy

Rent for 6 to 9 months, and only if still committed buy, but then buy an intermediate model instead of a basic student version.

Traditional Acoustic vs “Silent” Electric (or Avoid Disturbing Neighbors)

Learn the traditional instrument for building a proper foundation.

For some, practicing with a conventional acoustic wooden cello appears to be a non-starter due to risk of disturbances to neighbors.

Fortunately, there are options:

  1. Use a removable practice mute on an conventional acoustic cello (least expensive)
  2. Buy a “practice” cello (median)
  3. Rent or buy a “silent” electric cello (most expensive)

However, there are other factors that may be more significant due to physics.

Consider that the cello endpin propagates vibration/sound to the floor, and materials for constructing the room and floor might function like a giant speaker cabinet (resonance chamber).

  1. Conventional house or apartment building with less than 7 storeys:
  2. Modern mid-rise or high-rise apartment or office building:
  3. Sound propagation beyond the room can be mitigated and managed:

Practice Mutes:

Categories of mutes available that get placed temporarily on the bridge:

  1. Clam-shell clamp style:
  2. Round friction-fit “tourte” style
  3. Metal-framed rubber-coated “hotel” mutes
  4. All-rubber mutes

The best is sold by WMutes which ships from Spain:


See an informative comparison of the Artino versus WMutes by Richard Narroway so that you may make an informed decision.

Practice cello:

YUMI Travel Cello:


Electric or “silent” cello:

Yamaha Silent cello series

NS Design

Others reviewed by Cello Central and Electric Cellos, what NOT to buy.

Accessories & Environment



Maybe Later:

Self-Guided Lesson Planning

Initial lessons without an instructor were going “by the book” which is Vera Mattlin Jiji’s Cello Playing for Music Lovers.

This document essentially expands upon that book based upon perspective of someone new to string instruments.

See also other sections such as Bow Hold & Bowing Technique.

Posture & Ergonomics

Ergonomics is not a luxury!


Joining posture with motion, Amit Peled’s is the most comprehensive and self-contained explanation that I’ve found to date:

Additional material on Right Hand bow hold and Left Hand fingering with classic instruction from notable cello great, Andre Navarra, are below in the following subsections.


Sheet music stand position and orientation:

Eyeglasses / corrective lenses, if applicable:

If doubtful whether eyeglasses may assist:

Bow Hold & Bowing Technique


Full instructions:

Finger Positioning

While some Left Hand positions may be comfortable enough for early pieces when learning, those same positions become limiting for intermediate and advanced pieces. This single issue tends to limit many self-taught musicians and applies to several instruments including guitar.

The cello is a very ergonomic instrument but takes experience to recognize it as such.

For understanding proper angle of fingers as each meets the Fingerboard, try this exercise:

A decent instructor will correct each of these aspects– all in good time.

Starting with a slightly incorrect Fingering positions may be appropriate in the beginning. Playing out of tune due to slightly misplaced finger positioning may be appropriate in the beginning.

After adjusting to proper Finger Positioning, returning to earlier exercises for a while again may be appropriate.

These are all things where a good instructor will guide you as you progress.

But remember: what may be easy/comfortable in the beginning could become limiting when playing more advanced pieces.


From Pablo Ferrández:

From Jonathan Humphries

From Sarah Joy

Playing Higher vs Lower

Note that “up” with respect to notes or key means “closer to the bridge”.

My instructor suggested this memory device:

Rather than looking at the instrument as being nearly vertical, perceive it as if laying flat on its back (but never lay it on its back, even if only briefly– ever).

Then, top of the bridge becomes its highest elevation.

Thus, “up” and “down” seem reasonably applicable.

I never paused to ponder up/down again after that advice!

First Tuning

Open Strings

There’s a problem for a beginner musician with an untrained ear for that particular instrument. How would you know if the instrument is in tune? While you might find it by harmonics, is it possible to accidentally tune it to the wrong key?

Breaking the bootstrapping paradox can be done with another instrument of the same kind.

Without a second cello available, searching the internet for recordings of open strings became problematic. Each sample was too short for use as a reference by this beginner student. One day, a brief note should be enough but not yet.

There are generic devices for tuning any instrument, but again: what octave?

There are apps for tablets and other software available dedicated to the cello, yet there’s a more musical way to go about this. This is less about proper calibration of the instrument from an engineering perspective than also training the ear of the student.

Developing the ear is more important than perfect calibration, like the parable about teaching someone to fish rather than feeding them a single meal.

Search the Internet for name of instrument plus “drone” and the desired note. e.g., Cello Drones Circle of Fifths – playlist

See also the section, Frequencies & MIDI Reference.

Tuning Pro-Tips

When using a tuner or app with tuner function (e.g., Cello Coach), tuning or playing “higher” is with respect to acoustics, not physical direction. Therefore, higher means “closer to the bridge” along the fingerboard when playing a note, and it means “tighten the string” when tuning.

Likewise, “up” with respect to notes or key also means “closer to the bridge”.

(While on the subject of up and down: “up” bow vs “down” bow can be remembered by holding the bow across the strings as usual and then rotating your wrist such that the bow points to the ceiling. From that orientation, “up” and “down” bowing would match the physical directions. That might be easier than remembering pushing the pointy end means up and pulling the frog means down.)

When tuning with traditional wood pegs, turn each peg slightly. See How to tune a cello with the pegs for Nan’s concise instructions.


With wood pegs and most geared pegs, forget about rules when using a screwdriver or light-bulb. (It’s more like threads on bicycle pedals which are threaded relative to which side is being tightened.) Therefore, think in terms of rotating the shaft to which each string is attached:

Rotate as if rolling away from the bridge when tightening.

Another tip when tuning if you have fine-tuners on the tailpiece below the bridge, occasionally loosen the fine-tuners almost completely and then tighten the pegs more. This resets capacity for fine-tuners to do their job as strings stretch over time. If they’ve been tightened and tightened, eventually there will be no more tightening available.

For geared pegs, expect a 4:1 (or 8:1) exchange ratio: four turns of the knob is required for one whole rotation of the shaft to which the string is attached. When geared pegs are used, the instrument likely omits fine-tuners.

Finally, when strings break it’s most likely to occur while tightening a tuning peg or immediately afterwards. Therefore, hold the cello away from your head while tightening a peg and plucking the first note. Ideally, hold the cello at arm’s length (rather than merely turned away).


Frequencies & MIDI Reference

The driving question for the day one with a rented cello was how to acquire an adequate reference of each note, suitable for tuning a cello by someone completely new to playing the instrument. (Vera Mattlin Jiji’s book had not yet been delivered, and she addresses this situation.)

This was only an issue because of my own ignorance with music theory and naming conventions. This could have been simply resolved by searching an audio or video service for “cello” plus “drone” and the desired note. e.g., Cello Drones Circle of Fifths – playlist

For reference:


MIDI note numbers and center frequencies

Caveats When Applying Tape To Fingerboard

Each piece of tape applied to the fingerboard slightly alters acoustics of ebony (wood).

A subtle note missing from many sets of instructions from videos and podcast instructors: when applying tape, find each note, apply tape, and confirm that one note before continuing to find the next note and definitely before applying the second piece of tape. Otherwise, each subsequence note will be slightly off key. Re-confirm tuning after applying all tape.

Also, the maximum width for tape to use is 1/8th inch.

The wider the tape, the more it will disturb the acoustics.

When applying tape, play the D string because it’s easier to read for some tuners.

Locating First Position

First, some background.

The sequence of notes along each string begin with the note for which the string is named, of course. After open strings and starting from the Half Position above First position, each note follows the progression of notes including sharps/flats:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A

(Remember that an octave is nominally written with same note letter at beginning and end. Also, G# is identical to A♭, and E# is identical to F, which is consistent with the omitted ebony keys on a piano keyboard. Whether to use G# versus A♭ should make sense within context of the Circle Of Fifths.)

When facing the fingerboard from perspective of the audience:

C   G   D   A
C♯  G♯  D♯  A♯
D   A   E   B   First Position finger 1
E♭  B♭  F   C
E   B   F♯  C♯
F   C   G   D   Third Position finger 1
F♯  C♯  G♯  D♯  Fourth Position finger 1
G   D   A   E
A♭  E♭  B♭  F
A   E   B   F♯
B♭  F   C   G
B   F♯  C♯  G♯
C   G   D   A   Higher octave than open string
C♯  G♯  D♯  A♯
D   A   E   B
E♭  B♭  F   C
E   B   F♯  C♯

Preliminary: Physical Warm-Up & Stretching Afterwards


First Lessons: Self-Learning

Reading Notes From Sheet Music

Jonathan Humphries:

Hand Positions: Left & Right

From Hans Zentgraf

From Virtual Sheet Music


Taking a break from lessons for absolute beginner, delving into a bit of history maintained the overall cello theme.

A recommended video somewhere along the line included the making of a violin. It might also be suitable as “ASMR” for strings-geeks, making of a violin by Mirecourt, Dominique Nicosia, Luthier.

Lot of recommendations for videos and other products seem to conflate members within the family of stringed instruments, so be vigilant of that.

A quick search for making of a cello brought a few short clips plus a lengthy presentation from Museum of Science, Boston.

Solving the Stradivarius Secret - William F. “Jack” Fry and Rose Mary Harbison covers physics of acoustics including materials, position of the bass bar, position of the peg, strategic wood scraping of inside the instrument for fine adjustments, the “tongue” and why there are two pieces of wood glued together to form the back.

One of the various history or “making of” videos also mentioned that the glue used is weak enough that the instrument should come apart rather than crack under certain conditions. That’s a feature, not a bug.

Circle of Fifths

The cello is based upon half tone intervals and fifths.

From Music Matters

From Gracie Terzian

From Brian Kelly

First Lessons: Self-Guided


This follows guidance from the book, Cello Playing for Music Lovers, by Vera Mattlin Jiji, PhD. (Other books were discovered later.)

Her directions are complemented by instruction from videos, blogs and podcasts from current noteworthy cello soloists such as Johannes Moser and Alban Gerhardt, who has most of his full-length content on patreon.

The late great cellist, André Navarra, is also represented here.

Earliest videos that laid the crucial foundation were mostly from Jonathan Humphries.

As a taller person (over 185cm/6ft), guidance from Johannes and Alban were most suitable for my circumstances. For taller, Amit Peled was a basketball player and stands at approximately 2m/6’5”, so his writings and tutorials might address this.

Ultimately, all of that self-learning and discovery was further corrected once working with an in-person instructor.

It’s too easy for we self-learners to dwell on insignificant details for our stage of practice while also being completely blind to more serious flaws that could be easily corrected. A good teacher helps with finding that balance with you.

The section below on First Lessons addresses those points.

The Book

Camera setup

Video Recording

OBS Studio

Self-Guided Lessons

When you can perform the exercises with sufficient quality and grace, there’s a simple test to confirm that you are ready to move on to the next phase:

Can you perform the actions while maintaining a natural smile?

When the answer is yes, you’ve habituated to those actions such that those motions are now part of your subconscious.

Bowing Open Strings

Based upon Vera Mattlin Jiji’s book with further assistance from Andre Navarra - My Cello Technique (English subtitles by Cello Australia), focus is on:

Beware of visual anomalies due to wide angle of most webcams and their loss of depth-of-field, so ensure that you’re actually measuring what you think you are!

Feedback from watching videos of self:

Further exercises and considerations from Kirin McElwain recommends:


Playing From Simplified Sheet Music

Various simplified versions of J.S. Bach’s Suite 1 Prelude may be found by searching the Internet.

This is the one that I have been using:

First Lessons: with instructor 1:1


Initial sessions should be in-person because video chat becomes cumbersome for the crucial initial instruction. There are lots of little things that a good instructor would observe and be able to make recommendations. There are questions that the student is unlikely to know enough to ask. There are so many reasons for having an instructor.

It’s a privilege being taught by someone with forty years of cello experience and an active member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Cello Quartet, an accomplished soloist and chamber musician.

I’m especially grateful as an adult new to the instrument.

(Spoilers: Without his guidance, I would not have begun sightreading after a mere three months since first touching a cello or any other string instrument.)

Video conferencing with an instructor

Initial instruction would be best with a teacher in the same room, but circumstances may prohibit that.

Next best thing is using video conferencing app/software over the Internet.

However, video chat services are typically optimized for human voice and may need to be configured to prevent a musical instrument from being considered background “noise” to be filtered-out.

Tips to improve the quality of calls between instructor and student:


Search the Internet for your particular app/software for more current guidance.


Bow hold


When you see someone like Johannes Moser’s video on bow hold, bow arm and related exercises, understand that those are advanced lessons– not necessarily suitable for an adult new to cell.

The handle “wiggle” observed of many accomplished cellists will come in due time. Expect that this may take years to develop. Account for longer period of time for adults new to cello who might not be as flexible as a child that is still growing and body still changing.

Right Hand: Bowing Technique

Exercise to get the feel of the elbow motion and upper arm rotation:

  1. place your right hand on a flat surface
  2. Such as top of a closed grand piano (which you have in every room, no?)
  3. Something a bit taller than a kitchen or dining table will do
  4. While maintaining that shoulder at a fixed height
  5. enforce right shoulder height by resting the left hand on it
  6. Raise your right elbow slightly
  7. This requires a slight rotation at wrist and shoulder joint
  8. Again, height of shoulder remains fixed while that joint rotates

Augmenting my teacher’s instruction: for maintaining bow to be perpendicular to each string, rotate with fingers (rather than at wrist) for bowing straight.

On-going work:


Left Hand: Fourth Position

My instructor guided through the use of First Position but exercises begin with Fourth Position.

Fourth Position is easier to find for new students than First because it is where the fingerboard meets the cello body (resonance chamber).

Exercise 1 – Finding Notes:

Exercise 2 – Finger Dexterity:

Once comfortable with those basic exercises– even though notes will still be played out of tune– name each note before playing it!

That is, say the name of each note out loud before actually playing it. Begin as usual by finding the note with Left Hand, then focus on Right Hand bow hold, and before playing the note, say the note’s name. Finally, then and only then, play that note.

Of course, make subtle refinements until your Tuner indicates that the note is correct, and play it again correctly more than the number of times that were incorrect.


Left & Right Together Again

Third lesson with instructor:

Exercise – Spock Hands:

Exercise – Bowing near and far from bridge:

Exercise – Half & Quarter Bowing:

Exercise – Left hand finger press & lift combinations:

Exercise – Slide from First Position to Fourth Position:


Purchased a wedge-shaped seat cushion (10lb density foam) for improving posture in playing position.

Scales in one and two octaves

First and foremost at this stage, go back and re-read the section on mentally prepare for a spiritual journey.

Fourth lesson with instructor:

He suggested improvements in technique on bowing the lower strings, G and C. When starting on an up-bow at the tip, more pressure needs to be applied.

By way of analogy for those who have driven cars without adaptive all-wheel drive, when the drive wheel slips such as on wet pavement, it’s because the wheel accelerated too quickly.

Just as a wheel that slips continues to slip until releasing and starting again with proper traction, so too a bow that slips continues to slip and never quite gets traction on the string.

Pressure gets applied via index finger without any perceptible motion or rotation by the finger or hand. As stated earlier, maintain the proper bow hold which means a grip so loose that the bow may nearly fall to the floor. (In fact, if you haven’t actually dropped your bow a few times in the beginning, you have yet to find that sweet spot. After all, it’s difficult finding this threshold without crossing over it, which in turn means experiencing the bow actually falling out of your hand.)

The rationale for applying this extra bit of pressure at the tip on an up-bow: due to the heavier gauge of the lower strings, more work is required to move each to a state of vibration. By work, this is the term from physics: work equals force times distance. With less distance available to vibrate the string for the same note, more force is required.

By contrast, at the frog, there is naturally more weight on the bow due to gravity’s effect on the right hand.

Therefore, slightly more pressure is required for the tip.

The key word in all this is slight. Any increase in pressure is very subtle, very little increase compared to remainder of the bow stroke.

Exercise – one-octave scales in First Position:

Exercise – two-octave scale in G Major:

Arpeggios in one octave

An arpeggio is playing a scale but with only the first, third, fifth and eighth notes.

For purposes of an exercise at this stage, play the one-octave version.

Exercise – Arpeggio in one octave:

This was the last lesson that the instructor would mention notes to play by finger number.

Other aspects of the lesson focused upon traction of the bow specifically to an up-bow versus down-bow.

Essentially, consider that due to rosin on bow hairs, bow hair “grabs” the string from one side or the other. For an up-bow, the bow hair pushes the string. For a down-bow, the bow hair pulls the string. The practical implications of this are imperceptible when performed by an experienced cello player, but the student would need to exaggerate the effect in the beginning.

Playing a real song!

Moving beyond scales and arpeggios, the sixth lesson with a private instructor involved sightreading (for some loose definition of sightreading).

It sounds more challenging than actually was because of his graceful style of teaching, being so accommodating and having utmost patience for a student’s learning curve.

He mentioned the title, knowing that I would probably not associate correctly. He played the first few bars which he knew by heart. “Ah, yes, that one!” He presented its sheet music. We discussed aspects of the particular notes used and their arrangement. Finally, he prompted me to name and then play each note of the first line. (Needless to say, the pace at which my notes were actually played had little resemblance to the familiar tune, but we each have to start somewhere!)

My instructor selected this from sheet music published by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada: Cello Preparatory Level Repertoire, 2013 Edition, rcmusic.com

Beethoven’s Ode To Joy is the first song in the booklet and instantly familiar to most when hearing it even if not recalling it by that name.

There are sixteen bars (measures) with all notes played in First Position, making for an ideal first piece.

Continue with previous guidance when learning your first piece:

  1. Read the note
  2. Name the note
  3. Play the note

Of course, each item is loaded with a multitude of sub-steps.

Reading each note first requires understanding time and key signatures. Applying the key of D Major involves transposing each F note to be played as F#. (C# was unused within the sixteen measures presented.)

Naming each note means speaking its name out loud. Its first notes are: F# F# G A.

Prior to actually playing each note, check-in with yourself to ensure proper posture. Release any tension.

When playing the note– then and only then– look at any Finger number information as an aid. Just don’t let it become a crutch!

And so on.

Since familiar tunes might annoy others nearby while you learning it, consider using a practice mute.

Other collections of études commonly cited, in alphabetical order by composer:


Some challenges were observed while practicing this week’s lesson.


Remember to take breaks!

The number of things that your mind is juggling right now is an achievement in itself, so account for physiological effects of learning. For instance, your body temperature may rise while practicing. Alternatively, it might lower if holding too much tension!

Second song

Seventh week with an instructor:

Adjustments and refinements:

The second piece of sheet music was Au clair GE la lune (not to be confused with Debussy’s Clair Ce Lune).

Grasping this piece as music rather than a collection of notes was elusive. The accompanying CD contains tracks with the accompanying piano and with just the piano.

However, getting a better sense of the proper notes for cello still eluded me. This was largely due to my own squeaky and strained notes while reading and playing. A huge help came from transcribing those sixteen measures into Musescore and having its software synth perform the notes as a cello solo.

It was crude but effective– poor sound quality due to my cheap computer gear.

(Because that is a copyrighted arrangement, my version of it has been omitted.)

When doing this for yourself, be sure to properly apply all of the tempo, dynamics and other marks in your version of the score. It should appear on screen exactly as it does in the book. The Musescore software synth adjusts its intonation accordingly.

F Major Scale & Finger Extensions

Eighth week with an instructor:

We also discussed how humbling the learning curve can be.

This session marked my second full month with a proper instructor– as opposed to time just getting acquainted with the instrument, reading a self-guided instructional book and following along with videos from an Internet search.

While practicing and playing before the instructor, I experienced cognitive stalling– for lack of a more accurate term. It’s like the difference between stammering versus stuttering. This form of mental stammering while playing manifested as a momentary lapse of being able to read and/or process a particular note on the sheet music, even though the piece is virtually memorized at this point.

Be okay with that.

Children stammer when learning to speak, and learning a new musical instrument has many parallels with learning to speak a new language. A first bowed string instrument, then, is not unlike learning your first language.

Slurred Notes With A Slide

Again, a set of slurred notes are those where the Left Hand fingering changes while the Right Hand bowing continues uninterrupted. On sheet music, the notation for this is a curved line just above or below the sequence of notes being joined.

Lesson 9 with an instructor introduced no new material, but he directed a new combination of existing techniques: two octave scales with slurs for every pair of notes. Optionally, try for triplets too.

Apply this to each of the C Major, G Major and F Major scales that start in First Position. Remember that G Major ends in Fourth Position, and F Major includes a Finger 1 stretch (noted on sheet music as 1x) and ends in Third Position.

When reversing G Major and F Major scales, the slide along the A string from E back to D also involves landing on a different finger. This may feel a little mind-bending at first, but that’s the delicious bit of this particular learning curve!

Most importantly, have fun!

On that note, we discussed thoughts on practice versus performance.

(When practicing, it’s valuable to be self-critical for purposes of correcting mistakes. Then, practice the correction twice. Once is for countering the mistake. The second is for having practiced the correct version more than having practiced the mistake.)

He suggested that when practicing, focus upon one thing each time: fingering, bowing, intonation, timing, rhythm, keeping the bow in its intended lane, etc. Use a mirror or video camera when appropriate, etc.

Beyond that mode, it’s important to also practice a few rounds of playing through the entire piece without being self-critical:

Play the piece for the sheer enjoyment of performing it.

I would add:

Play through for the enjoyment of performing it at least as many times as having played while critiquing, so then you are practiced in performance while enjoying your own performance!

Rosin, Bow Hairs & Strings

When to apply more rosin to bow:

When to apply more rosin to strings:

Tuning By Ear for Equal Temperament

Instead of using an app or mechanical tuner, train your ear from comparing with a sample, such as an A note from another instrument or tuning fork.

With one string in tune, the other strings may be tuned from it.

Tuning via Harmonics

You can tune a cello using harmonics, but understand that word to have very specific meaning.

Harmonics occur when touching a vibrating sting at one of its nodes –using terminology from physics.

The harmonic at 1/3 length of the string should be the the same note as ½ the length of the lower string, which is also a harmonic.

Accurate Tuning

However, if you tune your strings using harmonics alone, it will be tuned to Perfect Fifths (no “beats”– as in binaural beating) and then the D will be slightly flat, the G more flat, and the C very flat compared to the Tempered Scale used by modern orchestras.

For Equal temperament (from vstrings), compare Bach’s 3rd Suite with tuning using Perfect Fifths tuning (via harmonics), and C will sound very flat.

Competent piano tuners actively listen for the beats of a Tempered Fifth: only one or two beats per second, which is very difficult to hear on a Cello’s complex tone.

Most cellists don’t play open A, D or G for any significant length of time, so Perfect Fifths tuning isn’t noticeable. Then, they simply re-tune C higher by a little to match the orchestra “by experience”.

t=7m24s “I emphasize that the fifths must not be in any degree wide and only slightly narrow. Do not tune using harmonics [alone]. It gives Pythagorean Fifths [which leads to the Pythagorean Comma] which the string may in many ways be false.”

“You usually see cellists using harmonics, but that’s to check that the string hasn’t slipped.”

t=9m10s Baroque uses lots of open strings, so it’s best to tune to the keyboard’s Temperament.

See also:


Correction: this is tuning via harmony– not “harmonics” as an experienced cellist would understand the concept:

  1. Start with a proper tone:
  2. Tune each lower string initially by harmonics:
  3. Finish tuning each string by accounting for beats or beating:
  4. When tuning this way, err higher than lower pitch:



Lessons – Beyond The Basics

Interviews, Blogs, Podcasts, etc.

Play everything by heart

On thoroughly enjoying an otherwise high-stress performance

Successful performers, when asked before a big event, “Are you nervous?”, will answer, “No, I’m excited!”

The effects and symptoms of nervous stress from anxiety is physiologically indistinguishable from that of excitement from anticipation. Therefore, reframing that feeling in your mind to “excitement” can have a dramatic benefit.


The following subsections are a continual work-in-progress.

Sheet Music

Easy strings sheet music for beginners– print free or download in PDF:

Sheet Music creating/editing/playback software:

If the software synth version of other instruments is unsuitable for your needs, search the Internet for “backing tracks” or “karaoke”. A well-respected brand in this field dates back to 1950, Music Minus One based just outside of New York City.

Lessons With A Soloist

According to notes within Alban Gerhardt’s patreon membership levels, fees for lessons with a soloist generally range between EUR €200 and €400 per lesson [which are greatly discounted for his Patreon subscribers, but expect that his discount may be limited to 2020-2021].


Twentieth Century:

For context, Alban Gerhardt on Patreon discusses contemporary cello concertos; e.g., his opinions on why only Dutilleux’s and Lutoslawski’s– and no other concertos– made it into the standard repertoire.


Professional Audio Recording for Cello

Acoustic Treatment for Sound Dampening Practice Room

Cello Physics

Purchasing A Cello

Common Advice

Advice consistent from many, many sources:

First, rent for several months before buying anything. Rent different types to try before buying anything until you are certain of what to get.

See/hear an excerpt of A Cello Tasting where two similar models are played in sequence: one had just been made and the other had been played heavily over the prior year and a half.

Essentially, there are many factors that go into selecting a cello to buy that’s right for you.

Consider an upgrade for everything else before buying a cello:



Bridge designs:

Pernambuco wood bows:

Carbon Fiber

An excerpt as stated by Ricci Carbon Instruments:

From the earliest construction of string instruments, far back in antiquity, wood has been the dominating material used.

But if the old and innovative masters had had available a material with better qualities, they would have used it.


Carbon Fiber soundpost:

Things to consider:

From a review of Luis and Clark carbon fibre VIOLIN vs wood, mid-2017:



Document revision history:

Copyright © 2021 Daniel Joseph Pezely
All Rights Reserved.