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
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
- Begin learning and practicing without a cello or bow, at least initially.
- You can practice a bow hold and some exercises with just a pencil
- You can practice fingerboard positioning from printing one on paper
- Learn to sing the notes before playing them: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si
of the solfége or solfeggio method’s syllables
- Start doing stretches for cellists from physical therapists (physio)
- Start building dexterity for fingering with “spock hand” exercises
- Get one of the books:
- Get apps to help you practice while being in tune:
- Recommended advanced tuner with scope and reporting multiple notes,
each with octave:
Tuner by Bill Farmer
- Recommended for practical beginner exercises and quality basic tuner:
- other apps
- While initially learning scales or otherwise unintentionally making
squeaky/screechy noises, consider using a practice mute
- Your family / housemates / neighbors will thank you
- When you discover for yourself that recommendations from various books,
videos, articles, etc. appear to contradict one another…
- Get an instructor for quality 1:1 lessons!
- Inquire with local orchestras, as many players also offer tutoring
- Check with your local music shops, as many offer instruction
- Check with local colleges and universities for faculty and students
because an advanced student will have teachable pointers top-of-mind
from experiencing diversity of their classmates
- Search the internet for a potential candidate to learn about their
methods as indication of good fit
- Important accessories:
- Sturdy music stand: should hold a heavy music book or tablet/iPad;
e.g., minimum capacity of 0.5 kg or 1 lbs
- Metronome: lots of quality free apps for various mobile devices;
(Tip: if its noise bothers you, some apps offer a visual or vibration mode)
- Rosin: wherever you obtain the cello, they will recommend one based
upon your bow and strings,
but ensure that it’s Cello rosin!
- Potentially unexpected items:
- Full length mirror to watch yourself playing;
ideally, wider than the type that easily mounts on a closet door
- Video camera on tripod for recording yourself playing
- The means to view those videos– ideally with larger screen than on a
mobile phone or tablet
- Flannel or microfiber cloth for wiping rosin from strings after each practice
(but maintain enough rosin on strings so the bow performs adequately…)
Further elaboration on each point above is sprinkled throughout this
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
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.
Most importantly, be grateful at each stage for what has been accomplished
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
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
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:
came up first.
From there, recommended videos included those of
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
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.
- See Jonathan Humphries channel for excellent points.
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:
- Use a removable practice mute on an conventional acoustic cello (least expensive)
- Buy a “practice” cello (median)
- 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).
- Conventional house or apartment building with less than 7 storeys:
- Wood frame structure with wood floors (regardless of carpeting or other
- The entire room becomes a sound propagation chamber
- A cello may seem louder to someone above/below the room than in it
- Notice how soloists in orchestras are usually on a small wooden
platform, because this helps project sound
- To counter this effect, get a rubber cap for your endpin and play on carpet
- Modern mid-rise or high-rise apartment or office building:
- Steel reinforced concrete structure (including cast concrete over re-bar)
- Dampening of sound propagation was probably a factor of the design and
materials; e.g., concrete recipe
- If neighbors are unable to hear the words of your conversations, it’s
a good indication that a student cello practice will be reasonably
quiet (low decibels) from the neighbors' perspective
- Such structures may have relatively thin walls made from sheet-metal
studs and gypsum drywall, so concrete floors won’t matter to lateral
- Sound propagation beyond the room can be mitigated and managed:
Categories of mutes
available that get placed temporarily on the bridge:
- Clam-shell clamp style:
- Ensure that it has spring-loaded action
- Ensure that is has a rubber or cork where it grips the bridge
to stay in place
- Made from solid brass or alloy with suitable acoustic-dampening
- Those properties above will prevent it from loosening during practice
until you intentionally remove it
- e.g., WMutes
or The Heifetz Mute
- Round friction-fit “tourte” style
- This style mounts on middle two strings
- Commonly seen hanging below the bridge of cellos played by professional
musicians, because it’s always within reach for compositions requiring
a “concert mute”
- Beware of all-metal friction-fit models, because those can damage the
bridge or cello body when they vibrate loose
- Metal-framed rubber-coated “hotel” mutes
- These also rely on fiction to stay put
- Reported to eventually vibrate loose several times during same practice
- The rubber coating makes it unlikely to cause serious damage cello when
it vibrates loose
- All-rubber mutes
- Arguably, these just make the sound of your cello muddy
- Will still be heard by your neighbors
- These tend to vibrate off too easily several times during practice
The best is sold by WMutes
which ships from Spain:
- Highly recommended! (See Richard’s comparison video linked below.)
- Clam-shell clamp style
- Spring-loaded action
- Rubberized cork to grip bridge safely
- Made from solid brass coated in silver, onyx or gold
- Won’t mar your bridge!
- As of early 2021, price is EUR €107
- Shipping & handling to western Canada: add EUR €11
(or grand total of CAD $187, waylaid over one month in Canadian Customs
without updates to tracking websites, yet zero import Duty and arrived
- Very much worth the price and wait!
(I maintain this perspective even after learning about the Heifetz mute;
- Compared to cost of renting a Yamaha Silent 50 cello, the cost of buying
from WMutes was recouped within two months of returning the Silent 50
and getting a (non-laminated) student cello instead!
- Their blog has a sound analysis
based upon the violin mute
- No affiliation other than happy customer with happy neighbors
- The Heifetz Mute
- Named for Twentieth Century cello great, Jascha Heifetz, who
collaborated on its creation
- Similar in concept to those from WMutes
- Metal core construction that attaches to bridge via spring-loaded clamp
with rubber grip which prevents it from vibrating off while playing
- Might be comparable to WMutes' concert mute
(rather than their practice mute)
- The 1989 redesign edition sells for USD $10.99
- Original editions based upon the 1947 US Patent sell for USD $500
- Also available from
- No affiliation and no direct knowledge of these being used for cello,
but for a mere ten bucks, it might be worth trying!
(I already have the WMutes version and am quite happy with that)
- Artino is the
“best cheap practice mute”
- Consider using Jonathan Humphries' affiliate link after watching that
video, if you wish to purchase one; the link adapts to your regional
locale served by Amazon, when outside US
See an informative comparison of the Artino versus WMutes by
Richard Narroway so that you
may make an informed decision.
YUMI Travel Cello:
- Available from
André Theunis, Luthier,
- Design includes an acoustic sound chamber, albeit much smaller than a
- Approximately 2 months to be made
- Available in any size: 4/4, 7/8, etc.
- (No direct experience or relationship with this)
- Full range of a traditional acoustic cello, just not as full-bodied
- Omits the sound chamber, f-holes, etc. for far less acoustic projection
- Fits in airline overhead luggage compartment
- Unfortunately fingerboard not made from ebony, thus tone may differ
- Approximately USD $1450
- (No direct experience or relationship with this)
Electric or “silent” cello:
Yamaha Silent cello series
- e.g., Yamaha Silent 50 cello
- Playable and functional without an amplifier or headphones
- Not zero decibels but quiet enough with sufficient acoustic response
“under the ear” (to the musician)
- Loud enough when performing for friends and family members– without an amp–
in an average room within a conventional home
- Genuine ebony fingerboard (ebony wood– not just “ebony” in color)
which resonates properly when strings are played
- People in adjacent room will hear every note of a student playing it
- Neighbors in adjacent apartment/flat with thin walls did NOT hear it
- Points of contact are consistent with a traditional acoustic cello,
but there are distinct tactile differences
- Rental fee rate is on par with an “intermediate” grade cello, or
approximately 3x the monthly rental rate of an entry-level student cello
- Happily learned/played on this model for initial two months (before
learning about WMutes) yet never used an amp with it!
- Several models available
- Several models, including with additional strings
- Amp required
- Ideal for studio musicians; e.g., performing looped & layered tracks
- With their strap/harness, old jokes of
cello in marching band
become possible reality
- (no direct experience or relationship with these)
Others reviewed by Cello Central
and Electric Cellos, what NOT to
Accessories & Environment
- Tuning apps
- Recommended advanced tuner with scope and multiple notes, each with octave:
Tuner by Bill Farmer
- Recommended for exercises and basic tuner:
from Jonathan Humphries, et al
- Audio reference tracks
- Vera Mattlin Jiji’s book,
Cello Playing for Music Lovers,
includes a CD (or MP3s) with cello open string samples
- See section below on MIDI reference for generating your own
- Cello practice mute from WMutes
- Spring-loaded clamp with rubberized cork grips without marring bridge
and without slipping while playing
- independent review by Richard Narroway
- Crucial for those of us living/practicing within modern structures that
have poorly engineered walls and floors!
- Music stand:
- Get a classic model such as Manhasset, which are highly recommended by
orchestras and instructors due to stability
- “Don’t waste your time with a cheap folding/collapsible model; you’ll
–according to cellists and instructors everywhere
- Even without the Soundbrenner wearable
vibrating gadget, their mobile app is free and functional by itself
- Functions well as visual metronome by muting sound from within the app
(rather than for the entire device)
- Rock Stop, for keeping end pin from slipping on smooth floors
- An area rug or carpet fragment also works for practice
- Cello stand / holder:
- Best Cello Stand for Electric Cello or Acoustic Cello
- For the Hercules stand holding a Yamaha Silent 50, it helped to manually
depress the padded bar since the cello’s “scroll” is more like a modern
acoustic guitar than a traditional cello; otherwise, it works great!
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!
- Endpin of cello should be approximately equal distance from each foot
- Cello body will be rotated slightly along axis of endpin
- This rotation should favor your bowing arm to maximize its reach
- Observe that the bridge has an irregular curve that when the cello is
rotated, this curvature becomes symmetrical– easier seen than explained
- Cello body rests on sternum between solar-plexus and collar bone
- Note that this person
considers himself “taller”
- cello is often a
30-45 degree angle
from vertical (which may depend upon your chest measurement [girth])
- Some cellists recommend that the cello rests at top of niche of
solar-plexus, and others recommend higher on the sternum
- The sternum is longer than many people might have guessed without that
knowledge of anatomy, so spend time with different variations of
- On a wooden acoustic cello, where the fingerboard mates with the
body (resonance chamber), there is a protrusion which may feel
uncomfortable at first
- By third week, I found my posture and cello positioning along with
familiarity with the instrument such that this protrusion went barely
noticed by that time
- Wedge-shaped cushions:
- Depending upon your preferred angle for the cello, you may want to
eliminate the C peg’s knob to keep from hitting your neck or interfering
with your posture:
Joining posture with motion, Amit Peled’s is
the most comprehensive and self-contained explanation that I’ve found to
- Video begins with metaphor of “dinner posture”
- It’s ultimately about making the cello an extension of your body
- Amit Peled makes copious use of metaphor and analogy for making the
instruction easy to grasp
- Each is accompanied with a totem by way of an emoji
- Each emoji makes it easier to scan through the video again later when
seeking a refresher on any one particular point
- The Cello Emoji Video Guide - Amit Peled Cellist
- Positively worth watching the entire video, yet calling-out notable items
- Note that during a close-up of his feet with cello endpin, it isn’t
fully revealed but he uses a bent endpin; its proximity to his feet will
be very different than if it had been a conventional one
Hand shape like when eating an apple
Cobra (stands proud before striking) when going up
Picking (like plucking a guitar string) when going down
anticipating slides, “fingernails should face the bridge”
which also helps eliminate undue tension in thumb and wrist
more about slides (or jumps), where the slide ends one note shy
of the target before striking the target note– with noted exceptions
Vibrato when practicing/learning versus when performing
Bow hold with close-up
Exercises illustrating why flexible fingers of Right Hand
while bowing is so important
infinity (or figure 8) bow motion
playing a rapid sequence of notes, because playing it too slowly is a
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.
- Consider that my barefoot standing height is 185 cm or 6'1" tall:
- My ideal seat or bench platform would be 51-55cm (or 20-21.5 inch)
- Preferably sloping 5° for a forward-leaning tilt towards the cello
- While practicing at home, I use a chair from a dining table set:
- It happens to be comparable to the “orchestra” chair in the music school
- Its seat may be perfect for me while eating and for lengthy dinner
- However, it’s slightly too low for my proper posture while play cello
- Beware that many chairs have a reclined sloping seat/platform bad for playing
- Ensure either a level, horizontally flat seat while playing
- or forward-leaning tilt towards the cello
- A wedge-shaped cushion from The Foam Shop makes the height just right
- Tapers 3 cm to 9 cm over a span of 40 cm
- The interior foam is probably 1" to 3.5" over a span of 16"
- Only the lower half of the cushion actually gets used while playing
- I bring this cushion to the studio for each lesson (no student lockers)
- It weighs less than the Vera Mattlin Jiji book
- Easier to carry than a folding stool!
Sheet music stand position and orientation:
- Remember to adjust music stand to within easy gaze
- When playing cello, the natural “cone” of one’s gaze should have the
Fingerboard and bridge at the lower bound, and see your sheet music on the
stand with little eye- or head-motion
- For the Manhasset stand, there is virtually no extension in height, even
for many taller cellists
- Sheet music on the stand should be just beyond arm’s reach while playing
- The little hook at tip of the bow accommodates catching an individual page
which comes in handy for turning/sliding pages of sheet music just out of
- A good music stand should accommodate three sheets of music side-by-side,
even if only two side-by-side would lay without extending beyond the edge
- This makes reading the music much easier while maintaining good posture
Eyeglasses / corrective lenses, if applicable:
- Consider having a dedicated set of eyeglasses just for sheet music while playing
- The goal is to minimize head motion while allowing full range of eye motion
- There should be zero distortion anywhere in the lenses
- Avoid “progressive” lenses
- Frames should be taller than minimal “reading” glasses
- Else suffer awkward neck angle (because of tuning pegs) which constrains
- Focal length should be 100-110cm (or 40-48 inches)
- If you can otherwise see well enough to not wear glasses full-time,
consider frames proportioned to be more rectangular:
- Wide enough to cover peripheral vision for three sheets of music on the
stand and possibly sheets of your adjacent band-mate’s
- Short enough to look above them such as to observe the conductor, Master
of Ceremony, etc. and to look under them for seeing Left Hand on
- Opt for UV filter which is transparent or “blue blocker” coating which
gives a slight amber tint
- This can help reduce eyestrain when reading from a computer screen or
- Also reduces eyestrain caused by common indoor lighting
- However, these treatments are inappropriate to use as sunglasses!
If doubtful whether eyeglasses may assist:
- Try non-prescription eyeglasses from neighborhood drugstore/pharmacy:
- Prices were low– around that of two coffees with two croissants
- In my case, the lowest non-prescription magnification (125%) significantly
improved my performance while reading both familiar and unfamiliar sheet
- I didn’t realize that I was straining while simultaneously reading and
- This was because (spoilers) reading individual notes, saying the note
and then playing the note worked easily enough
- My instructor and I both went through this at approximately our 8th
lesson together; otherwise, it may have been missed and led to undue
- Remember to take lots of breaks when first using corrective lenses:
- e.g., pause after the equivalent of a sheet or two of music, even if
playing the same four lines repeated 3-4 times
Bow Hold & Bowing Technique
- Be relaxed– eliminate all tension throughout your body!
- Let gravity apply the pressure (weight of your arm)
- The motion of the arm begins in the lower back
- The arm pulls the fingers
- Yet video may inadvertently appear to imply fingers leading the motion,
- Fingers leading the action should rarely be the case (except for very
- Andre Navarra - My Cello Technique Part 1 (New English subtitles): The Bow Technique of Navarra
- Andre Navarra (1911-1988), great French cellist
- Video begins with posture
- Importance of the Bow
- Bow hold t=2m53s
“the dead hand”
The grip is different for each of us; some have fingers closer
together, while others may have fingers 1 and 4 wider with 2 and 3
- Regardless, your correct grip requires that it be without any tension
Finger 4 (pinkie) goes above eyelet of the frog with first joint
wrapping around the baguette
Finger 1 (index finger) second joint wraps around the baguette
“This gives the hand a tilt, with the wrist direction towards
Finger 2 “The middle finger, in order to control the bow,
rests between the metal part and the hair.”
- That is, Finger 2 on the metal thingy attached to the frog controls
roll along axis of baguette for playing with:
- all hair (square) to the string
- little hair (edge) to the string
- RECAP at t=4m45s
Thumb’s “right side” [edge that touches Finger 1 with a gentle
clasp] touches where frog meets baguette, as this gives the hand its
natural tilt while holding the bow
- REPEAT at t=6m5s
- Bowing t=7m30s
- “The tone depends on the weight of the shoulder on the bow”
- “each individual must have their own sound, just as each singer has
their own voice”
- Start with elbow close to body when frog is near the string;
- then open the arm while naturally raising the elbow.
“This allows you to effortlessly produce the same sound at the frog and
the tip– or at the tip and the frog.”
- But bending the fingers– all fingers– including thumb
in order to find the grip of the bow on the string.
Demonstrates without the bow: motion is sweeping of hand,
like pushing something away, opening elbow and arm as you go.
“That way, the Weight of shoulder always reaches the bow.”
clarification on finger motion
“The weight of the shoulder transfers to the pinkie finger in
that direction, that is from top to bottom.”
Bow changes at the frog, “what we call a bow return.”
“not anticipating the movement”
(otherwise that would potentially introduce a slight pause!)
“And when I go back,” motion begins with the arm (not fingers)
importance of the pinkie
(because fingers 1 & 2 take care of themselves, automatically)
“Pull your fingers with your arm.”
when practicing, “Don’t look at your hand but at the tip of the
bow. If the movement is good, the bow shouldn’t move (wiggle). It
“when you have a bow change, always watch the tip of the bow.”
Bow Changes At The Tip
“Don’t concern yourself with the sound quality (yet). Work on the
“Find in the
a G minor étude.”
“… use it as a foundation…”
- Use the arm, not the fingers or wrist
- First, use whole bow
- Then, from the (bow) tip to the middle but not beyond
- Then, from frog to middle; start with the wrist high
- Then, practicing the ends of the bow
- Andre Navarra - My Cello Technique Part 2 (new English subtitles): Bow Technique & the Left Hand
- “You don’t play with your [right hand] fingers. You play with your arm.
But the fingers need to be flexible enough so as to be pulled by the arm.”
“Here’s what you do without moving your arm or write.”
[playing the same
G minor étude
from Jean Louis Duport
as from end of Part 1]
“Of course, these exercises need to be practiced daily.”
“10 or 15 minutes, but every day.”
“Once you’ve mastered your bow stroke, practice faster until you
With example of playing the etude fast.
begins The Left Hand.
- German cellist, Alban Gerhardt, about how to use the bowarm
- Entire video is filled with excellent insights, tips and exercises
- Close-up of his bow hold at
- Andre Navarra - My Cello Technique Part 2 (new English subtitles): Bow Technique & the Left Hand
begins The Left Hand
“The position of the left hand [fingers to thumb orientation] is
exactly the same [as that of the right hand bow hold].”
Thumb gets placed between Finger 2 and Finger 3
Tip of thumb touches center of neck
Wrist-to-forearm should be a straight line; use side of bow’s
baguette to confirm
When changing strings, elbow moves slightly– with no other
“The thumb doesn’t move. It always stays in the same place.”
- t=13m observation: with articulation for Finger 3, Finger 2 releases
thumb always stays in the middle
“always slide with the finger that’s about to play.”
Fourth Position to Fifth Position
Position of the Thumb (before discussing a shift towards the thumb)
preparing thumb for leading the shift/slide
(Again, lead with the finger that’s about to play.)
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
- Place your Left Hand palm-down on a flat surface such as a table:
- The seat of the palm and fingertips are the only points of contact with
the flat surface
- Curl finger just enough so that each fingertip is aligned as if along
a string for four notes in First Position
- Spread your fingers as if reaching to spread across five notes, only if
you can do so easily and without pain
- But a sixth note becomes problematic for all but those with very long
- Next, roll your Left Hand towards its thumb:
- Base of Thumb now contacts the flat surface– rather than heal of palm
- Side/edge of each fingertip touches the flat surface
- Now, spread fingers as if reaching further along that imaginary string
- You should find greater range to span more notes
- Translating this to the Fingerboard:
- Elbow will likely be aligned with both shoulders
- Someone should be able to hold a meter/yard-stick and have it nearly
touch your elbow and both shoulders
- Wrist-bones should likewise be aligned approximately with shoulder
- If there’s any perceivable difference within either of these alignments,
you will eventually experience pain and possibly tendinitis or worse
(e.g., carpal-tunnel syndrome)
- Changing from string to string then becomes a “simple” matter of raising
or lowering the elbow from the shoulder
- As bonus, it becomes easier to play notes by applying minimal pressure
- This is due to shape of the bone at fingertip at this point of contact
- That in turn relieves the tendency for new students gripping the
Fingerboard tightly– both thumbs should always be relaxed!
- Finally, it’s easier to let fingers “hang” from the Fingerboard when
playing any note from First Position to Fourth and beyond
- The only pressure on strings should be from weight of the arm– gravity,
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 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!
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
Search the Internet for name of instrument plus “drone” and the desired
Cello Drones Circle of Fifths –
See also the section,
Frequencies & MIDI Reference.
When using a tuner or app with tuner function (e.g.,
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
Likewise, “up” with respect to notes or key also means “closer to the
(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
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
- Wikipedia entry for Cello
- Linked to MIDI file with ten seconds of: C G D A D G C
- Orchestral strings are usually tuned for Twelve Tone Equal Temperament
(also known as 12-TET or just Equal Temperament, as opposed to tuning
by harmonics alone
with Perfect Fifths due to the “Pythagorean Comma”)
- From high to low, cello strings are A3, D3, G2 and C2:
- Left to right when holding cello in playing position and from player’s
- Consider that a Piano’s Middle C is C4 and is 261.63 Hz
- On a piano, octave numbers count up from lowest notes (left-most keys)
starting with A0, B0 and then C1 immediately follows
because Piano octaves are from C to C
- Concert pitch tuning forks are A4 at 440.00 Hz (MIDI note 69)
and on a piano, five ivory keys higher than– to the right of– Middle C
- C2 is two octaves below middle C and 65.40639 Hz (MIDI note 36)
- G2 is 97.99886 or 98.00 Hz (MIDI note 43)
- D3 is 146.8324 Hz (MIDI note 50)
- A3 is 220.0 Hz, which is one octave below A4, 440Hz (MIDI note 57)
and is two piano ivory keys lower than– to the left of– Middle C
- Edited MIDI file via
- Generated four .WAV files, each with 30 seconds of open string: A D G C
- Played MIDI file via TiMidity++
MIDI note numbers and center frequencies
Caveats When Applying Tape To Fingerboard
Each piece of tape applied to the fingerboard slightly alters acoustics of
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
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
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
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
- Day usually begins with Hatha Yoga
for 30-60 minutes
- Hold each pose for long, slow breath count of 20-60 for most positions
- Certain postures such as “plow” held for 100, minimum
- Alternating days for rigorous versus light routines
- Generally only one day per week omits Hatha Yoga
- Always end with quiet meditation
- Rehab For Better Life: 5 must-do stretching exercises for cellist
- 30 seconds each for warm-up
- 40-60 seconds each for stretching afterwards
First Lessons: Self-Learning
Reading Notes From Sheet Music
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,
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
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
- Music Theory - Understanding The Circle of Fifths
- 3 circles forming a clock face
because there are 12 keys: A-G plus sharps & flats
(except that C doubles as B-flat)
- Major scales
- Minor scales
- sharps and flats
- However, it’s not a perfect circle as explained and corrected via the
which works like a familiar Leap Day or Leap Year in
From Gracie Terzian
From Brian Kelly
- 8 Facts About the Circle of Fifths that you May Not Already Know
- e.g., E Minor is “sadder” emotionally toned version of G Major
and vice-versa, “happier”
- Useful for writing songs:
the 6 diatonic chords for each key are grouped together;
i.e., Visually, the diatonic chords appear as a geometric sector, where
the diatomic chords for C forms a keystone shape at top of the circle;
e.g., F C G D-minor A-minor E-minor
- Sympathetic out-of-key chords may be found within adjacent,
non-overlapping sector of Minor (counterclockwise),
such that C Major’s would be C Minor, A Major’s would be A Minor, etc.
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
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.
- Cello Playing for Music Lovers
- Ordered book via Amazon Canada, shipped from US
- Book doesn’t seem to be available from anywhere else than Amazon
- Last page facing the back cover provides instructions for obtaining MP3
versions of audio tracks, if the CD isn’t viable for you
- Requires your order ID number
- Webcam on tripod
- Tripod with 2/3 extension for legs
- Tripod top cranked up to height equivalent to 2x width of palm
- Position tripod to be square with (perpendicular to) cello
- cello should be located within direct center of camera frame
- Use natural lighting from window to illuminate cello & player
- e.g., north/west-facing window will yield soft light in morning
- Distance of tripod should be enough to see bow hold at extreme extent of
down-bow on each string.
- OBS Studio Software
is available for Linux, Mac and Windows
- File -> Settings
- Output tab: Recording -> Recording Path = /data/recording
- Sources: Video Capture Device (V4L2)
- You should then see webcam image within Preview panel
- Adjust framing within Preview pane
- Move slider (located between Preview and Program panels) until you see
same image in both Preview and Program panels
- Only need to do this once, ever
- Defaults for everything else provide acceptable results for self-learning
- For uploading or streaming, you may want to change resolution of the video
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
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:
- Slow, consistent motion
- Staying within center of area between bridge and end of finger board
- Working towards consistent sound across full length of bow
- Recording video of practice
- Multiple video recordings per practice session
- Each clip focuses upon a different technique: bow hold, music from book,
sheet music, etc.
- Wipe strings between each recording for visual of where bow/rosin touched
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
Feedback from watching videos of self:
- You may think that you’re going slow, but cut that in half, and half again!
- By day three, speed was sufficiently slow to accomplish consistent motion
- Each day indicates visible improvement in steadiness of consistent bowing
- However, there’s still some wiggle
- Watch the bow’s tip, not just where the bow hair meets the string
- Because physically you have the least control over the tip
- The tip exaggerates any inaccuracies of bowing or string changes
- Wrists aren’t as flexible yet as would be preferred
- Therefore, finger 4 (pinkie) is straight but ideally would be curved
- However, it’s not quite “tea time with the Queen” pinkie
as described by Johannes Moser in his video on
- Work for improving thumb:
- Thumb occasionally reverses (curves outward / hitchhiker thumb)
- Thumb occasionally slips passed frog
- Once pinkie straightens, playing notes become disrupted when changing
back. Therefore, returning pinkie to its original bow hold position
tends to only occur during rests or between sheets of music.
- When the bow bounces on strings without the intention of that outcome, try
one of these:
- Apply more weight from arm through wrist through hand to Index Finger
- Maybe tilt the bow, so instead of hairs flat against the string, only
the edge of the hairs engage the string
- Draw the bow faster across the string
- Become aware of the quality of your bow hold:
- not too loose, not too tight– but just right
- Andre Navarra’s didn’t work for me
- Next, trying Jonathan Humphries’ bow hold
- Finger 3 on eyelet of frog
- Without any fingers below bottom of frog / hair line
- Pinkie is curved and hangs slightly over baguette, close nut
- Pinkie adds stability
Further exercises and considerations from
- Before bowing with entire bow, start with roughly one third closest to
the frog, and check your bow hold between each up bow and each down bow
when beginning this exercise
- Similarly for string crossings: use roughly one quarter of the bow per
string, and focus on smooth transitions with even duration per string
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
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:
- Use an external microphone rather than a built-in one
- But if using built-ins, keep device at least 18cm or 1ft away from cello
to keep the device from clipping the audio
- Disable automatic adjust for mic/input volume
- Disable suppression of background noise
- Disable suppression of intermittent noise
- Disable all visual effects such as background blur or background
- Ensure lots of light on the subject
- Soft, even “fill” light works better than harsh spotlights
- Webcam “ring” lights are relatively cheap and widely available;
e.g, London Drugs in Canada
- Consider an external webcam on a tripod
- Then, you can easily move the point-of-view for the other person
- Allows focusing on finger positions, bowing, posture, etc.
- Avoid connecting any external camera or mic through a hub
- Some USB Hubs can slow the data transfer thereby reducing quality
- Ensure USB 3.0 or higher devices
- Use wired Ethernet (rather than Wireless) when possible
- Modern WiFi works best when device is within line-of-sight of
but not without controversy regarding potential impact to your health
- Use separate microphones for instrument versus voice
- Because an acoustic cello range is within range of human voice, a quality
voice-over mic should be suitable
- A classic ribbon mic dedicated for the cello gets the best sound quality
- If considering a separate instrument mic from one for your voice, such a
setup would require an audio mixer, either hardware or in software
- Use headphones rather than built-in speakers
- If you have a choice, use an Internet Service Provider offering dedicated
- Such as DSL from a telephone company
- (rather than Internet service from cable TV provider which is typically
- Dedicated bandwidth beats bursting for consistent, sustained throughput
required for a video conference or streaming
Search the Internet for your particular app/software for more current
- jitsi for music lesson
- Jitsi is free, open source, Libre video conferencing
- The brand name derives from the Bulgarian “жици”, or “wires”
- Apps for Android, iOS; or use a regular web browser
- No account needed
- Commercial features available from 8x8
- Optionally host your own server for better privacy
- Sit on edge of chair
- Sit square to the chair
- Both sit-bones resting evenly on the chair’s platform
- Both feet flat on the floor
- Keep back close to vertical yet leaning slightly towards cello
- This lean will meet the weight of the cello.
- (For contrast: it’s not quite as aggressive of a posture as some concert
piano players– those who appear to be attacking the piano keyboard)
- End pin should be positioned directly in front of you
- Approximately and equal distance
- (Others advise a slight angle off-center of 5-15 degrees, but that
requires further compensation, reaching, adjustments, etc.)
- Relax shoulders
- Before thinking about the bow hold, relax your shoulder!
- Start with “dead hand” as indicated by Andre Navarra’s instructions
- Middle finger touches edge of metal thingy
- straddling metal thingy and bow hair but not necessarily touching hairs
- Index finger’s second bone is in contact with baguette
- Pinkie may initially start close to being straight
- Pinkie will eventually be able to curve in due course of practice,
- Overall angle of fingers close to 45
- For someone new to cello, this angle is what would be necessary when tip
of bow is on a string and arm is extended.
- However, even when frog is close to the string, fingers should retain
this same angle!
- Orientation of bow hairs should be as if resting on the floor
- parallel to the floor
- only edge of bow hairs in contact with strings
- this way, when you apply pressure (transferred from weight of the arm)
more hairs come into contact with the string
- relax the shoulder
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
- Relax shoulders
- Practice with a full length mirror to check yourself as you go
- Entire arm moves as a single smooth motion:
- wrist, elbow, rotation at shoulder
- but shoulders always remain relaxed
- Keep angle of bow hairs parallel to the floor
- but this doesn’t apply to angle of the bow to any string!
- Relax shoulders
Exercise to get the feel of the elbow motion and upper arm rotation:
- place your right hand on a flat surface
- Such as top of a closed grand piano (which you have in every room, no?)
- Something a bit taller than a kitchen or dining table will do
- While maintaining that shoulder at a fixed height
- enforce right shoulder height by resting the left hand on it
- Raise your right elbow slightly
- This requires a slight rotation at wrist and shoulder joint
- 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
- Maintain proper head/neck posture
- When looking at bowing, neck naturally protrudes forward too far
- Maintain lane when bowing
- Keep bow to middle of region between end of Fingerboard and Bridge
- Be mindful of parallax view where bow placement appears different when
looking along Fingerboard versus from an objective observer seated in
front of the cello
- Go with the objective reference point; e.g., use a mirror
- Maintain consistent tone when bowing
- Arm motion produces choppy sound
- For maintaining bow to be perpendicular to each string,
rotate with fingers (rather than at wrist)
- Might be reaching with Right arm/shoulder too far
- With tape on bow’s baguette, measuring quarter lengths of bow
- Play open strings for each quarter of bow
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:
- Find proper finger position for Fourth Position for your cello
- Each cello’s nook at base of neck behind fingerboard may differ
- Play the note of Finger 1 on a string, and then play the open string
equivalent for that note
- But before playing each note, stop!
- With Left Hand finger in place, now ignore that hand
- Focus entirely on Right Hand bow hold
- Focus on bowing for quarter of bow length:
- Play down bow
- Play up bow
- Repeat for other fingers
Exercise 2 – Finger Dexterity:
- No bow required
- With tape on fingerboard for First Position, focus on approximate placement
- Place Finger 1, then 2, then 3, then 4
- Place Finger 1, then 2 & 3, then 4
- Place Finger 1, then 2, 3 & 4
- Use different patterns:
- Use varying sequences, but choose the sequence with intention (rather than randomly)
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
- For fourth position, begin with D string
- For fourth position, starting with Finger 2 was more successfully accurate
than other fingers
Left & Right Together Again
Third lesson with instructor:
Exercise – Spock Hands:
- No cello or bow required.
- This improves finger dexterity
- It’s ultimately for Left Hand
- But for balance, repeat with both hands– individually, at least in the
beginning– for proper focus and attention
- Begin with hand on perfectly flat, rigid, smooth surface such as table or wall
- Maybe remove rings to avoid damage or to be free from concern about damage
- Begin with all fingers together and in straight line with palm: completely
- Start with fingers together, and then make Spock hand gesture
- Safeguard against the natural tendency to cup the palm during these exercises
- Next: spread each finger individually and then bring all fingers together
- Do this for each combination of creating space between index and middle
fingers, then middle and ring fingers, then ring finger and pinkie
- Regularly check and adjust against palm raising
- When flat palm may be maintained, use of flat surface may no longer be
- but allow for many weeks before that plateau
Exercise – Bowing near and far from bridge:
- This develops control over sound volume
- Consider speed of bowing versus pressure exerted by index finger
- Speed can increase sound: bowing faster
- Pressure can increase sound: bowing with more pressure applied from
- However, bowing closer to bridge exhibits a decrease in string vibration
due to less freedom of movement by the string, which in turn is due to
constraints of the bridge
- Therefore, more pressure is generally required when bowing close to bridge
- Bowing closer to fingerboard accommodates little pressure
- Pressure applied by index finger ultimately starts from forearm
- Index finger need not change its position on bow
Exercise – Half & Quarter Bowing:
- This builds timing, consistency of bowing and ultimately rhythm
- Begin with a slow count: 1, 2, 3, 4
- Cross the half-way mark on 3
- Change direction on the subsequent 1
- Try tapping right foot to keep time
- Maybe use a metronome later after having acquired the rhythm of this
- Initially, your own count may likely be uneven, and that’s fine for the
first few sessions practicing this exercise
- Being able to count without one is also an important skill
- Your shin and particularly calf muscles may get sore quickly when in
playing posture; it’s yet another muscle to develop and strengthen
- Begin with using just the middle half of the bow
- Put tape on bow baguette indicating half and quarters, if necessary
- Sequence of bowing:
- On count of 1-4, bow from first quarter mark to third quarter mark
- On count of 1-2, change direction, and bow to half mark
- On count of 3-4, change direction, and bow back to third quarter mark
- On count of 1-4, change direction, and bow all the way to first quarter mark
- On count of 1-2, change direction, and bow only to half mark
- On count of 3-4, change direction, and bow back to first quarter mark
again, ending where this sequence started
- Focus on the counting while bowing
- Even if you have tape or other markers on your bow’s baguette,
change bowing direction on the count rather than at the marker
- Use those markers to check yourself during video playback
so that you can measure what needs to be improved next time
- Strive for consistency in bowing speed and tone
- Strive for consistent speed before, during and after changing direction
- This is much more challenging than it may seem at first
- The tendency is to go faster just after changing direction,
so focus on consistent speed at this particular region
- A few attempts may be necessary before keeping smooth time while bowing
- Simply begin again, and continue
- For each round with a mistake, do it twice correctly;
one of those merely cancels the mistake,
and the other cements the correct approach
- Repeat by beginning with up-bow versus down-bow
- Repeat by using different halves of the bow:
- Quarters 1 and 2
- Quarters 2 and 3
- Quarters 3 and 4
Exercise – Left hand finger press & lift combinations:
- This builds dexterity of Left Hand finger positioning and string touches
- Begin with Left Hand in First Position
- Begin with D string, because it’s convenient
- Begin with Finger 1 above its placement position for the string
- Play the open string
- Place Finger 1 on its position
- Observe yourself for posture: back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers
- Observe yourself for relaxed: back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers
- Observe your thumb has only a light touch on back of fingerboard
- With that finger in place, forget about it, and focus entirely on bowing
- Play the note with at a full bow
- Repeat for each finger in progression
- Repeat in reverse, starting with Finger 4 down to Finger 1
- Repeat with each string
- Repeat for Fourth Position
- Later, this exercise may incorporate the Half & Quarter Bowing exercise
Exercise – Slide from First Position to Fourth Position:
- This build awareness and dexterity for finger placement combined with motion
- This begins arm and finger familiarity, comfort and dexterity for later use
- Bowing is optional for this in the beginning
- Begin with Finger 1 in First Position
- Slide Finger 1 down to Fourth Position
- Slide Finger 1 back to First Position
- Repeat with Fingers 1 and 2
- Repeat with Fingers 1, 2 and 3
- Repeat with all Fingers
- Tendency to lean right, as if subconsciously avoiding fingerboard from
- Bring awareness of body weight being equally distributed across sit-bones
- Tendency with fingering in First Position to hold thumb as if in Fourth
Position, so that needed awareness and to be corrected
- Tendency when lifting fingers in First Position– in playing position but
without touching any string– was to raise fingers too high, which is
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:
- As before, find Left Hand finger placement and then check-in on
- Wrist position
- Arm angle
- Then forget about all that, and focus on Right Hand with proper
- Name each note before playing
- Say it out loud initially to develop that feedback loop
- Ideally, read these notes from sheet music as well
- Use Musescore to create your own, if necessary
- After a few practice sessions, use sheet music without finger
- As an intermediate stage, keep only fingering guides for
distinguishing between Finger 2 and 3 (applies more to next exercise)
- Play each of A, D, G, C Major one-octave scales slowly and deliberately
- Begin with Left Hand fingers in playing position but first bow the open string
- Then add Finger 1
- Then add Fingers 2 or 3, applying sharps as appropriate for each scale
- Then add Finger 4
- Then move to the next higher string and continue with the same sequence
- With the obvious exception of A string
- On the A string, after playing the 4th note, continue to Fourth Position
- Beware that while checking Left Hand finger positioning, wrist angle,
etc. that the body’s tendency is to lean right, so make corrections before
moving focus to Right Hand for bowing
- Be aware of any unnecessary tension in the body, and release it
- e.g., eliminate any tension in foot, toes, etc.
- sheet music
Exercise – two-octave scale in G Major:
- Instructions and guidance from previous exercise applies
(Scales in First Position)
- G Major scale in First Position:
- Begins on G String
- Ends in Fourth Position on G
- All F notes are played as F#, as indicated by the music notation where
the sharp symbol (#) appears on the F line
- C Major scale in First Position ends on A String on C (Finger 2)
- Be sure to read each note from sheet music and name it before playing,
- See instructions for one-octave scales in First Position
- sheet music
Arpeggios in one octave
An arpeggio is playing a scale but with only the first, third, fifth and
For purposes of an exercise at this stage, play the one-octave version.
Exercise – Arpeggio in one octave:
- Start in First Position
- When deriving notes of a Major scale:
- Use the pattern: Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half note steps
- Step within: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A
- Confirm by the scale sequence beginning and ending with the same note
letter, albeit one octave further away
- Arpeggio in C Major scale:
- Remember that the C Major scale uses only Natural notes– no sharps or flats
- Start on C string with an open note
- Move to G string
- Arpeggio in G Major scale, which uses F#:
- G Major: G A B C D E F# G
- Start on G string with an open note
- Move to D string
- Arpeggio in D Major scale, which uses F# and C#:
- D Major: D E F# G A B C# D
- Start on D string with an open note
- Move to A string
- Arpeggio in A Major scale, which uses C#, F# and G#
- A Major: A B C# D E F# G# A
- Start on A string with an open note
- Move to 4th Position on the A string
- sheet music
This was the last lesson that the instructor would mention notes to play by
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
Playing a real song!
Moving beyond scales and arpeggios, the sixth lesson with a private
instructor involved sightreading (for some loose definition of
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
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:
- Read the note
- Name the note
- 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
- First Position Etudes for Strings by Samuel Applebaum
- The Art of Cello Playing by Louis Potter, Jr.
- 170 Foundation Studies for Violoncello by Alwin Schroeder
Some challenges were observed while practicing this week’s lesson.
- Relying too much on Fingering in sheet music:
- While no Fingering numbers appear on the RCM sheet music, part of the
assignment was to pencil these on the paper
- After a few practice sessions with Fingering notation, it was prudent
creating clean sheet music without any Finger numbers
- Patterns to playing wrong notes were fascinating:
- In a progression going lower or higher while reading from sheet music
without numbering, I would occasionally go in the wrong direction:
higher or lower, respectively
- Each mistake observed during practice was immediately corrected
- When catching such a mistake, be sure to go back a bar or two and play
it again properly
- But play it properly at least one more time than with the mistake
- This “cancels-out” the mistake and you have practiced the correct
version more than having “practiced” the mistake
- Maybe play it one more time correctly just for good measure
- Mental fatigue would hit after playing all the way through a few times
- This was remedied by taking a break for tea
- After returning 20-30 minutes later, playing through seemed easier
- Finished with (proper) bowing open strings
- …because so much emphasis was on everything else for the song
- Also did a few rounds of Half & Quarter Bowing exercises
from three weeks ago
- Posture was better than previous couple of weeks
- With aid of a mirror (rather than video camera), it has been easier to
correct the inadvertent leaning
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!
Seventh week with an instructor:
- Play familiar items by continuing in same bowing direction for pairs of
- e.g., scales in one and two octaves
- Introduced slurred notes:
- Continue bowing uninterrupted when playing two or more adjacent notes
- On sheet music, this appears as a slight curved thin line “connecting”
the notes involved
Adjustments and refinements:
- Corrections for Left Hand finger angles and elbow position/orientation
- Advice from many instructors and performers: beware of Left Hand fingering
oppressing Right Hand bowing
- Place the Left Hand and fingers into position, but then forget about
- Then, focus entirely on Right Hand bowing
- When finishing each practice, end with bowing open strings since so much
focus and concentration would have been on Fingering
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:
- Play the F Major scale which includes B-flat
- Start with F on C string
- B-flat on the A String is a half step above the familiar First Position
used thus far
- Fingering notation on sheet music is
x implies “extension”
- Notes along the A string:
- Play B-flat using Finger 1 Extended Position (
1x) from First Position
- Play C natural using Finger 2 in its usual position for First Position
- Then slide Left Hand such that Finger 1 lands where Finger 3 would
ordinarily be for First Position
- Now your hand is in Third Position
- Play D natural using Finger 1 in Third Position
- Play E natural using Finger 3 in Third Position
- Play F natural using Finger 4 in Third Position
- Return by going in reverse, as usual when playing scales
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
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
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
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:
- Look at bow hairs from a perspective that would contact the strings
- Anywhere that the bow hairs appear to shine, more rosin should be applied
- Professional cello players likely apply rosin before or after each
practice or performance
- Students practicing lessons for 30-60 minutes daily might get by with
applying rosin once (or occasionally twice) a week
When to apply more rosin to strings:
- First and foremost, only apply rosin to strings from your bow
- Never use the rosin cake directly on strings!
- When transferring rosin from bow to string, align bow hairs completely
flat to strings, and apply pressure on bow (which also increases volume)
- When it sounds like a few measures from Heavy Metal or Industrial Music,
- When your bow– with a proper (loose) bow hold– tends to slide along the
string towards the bridge unintentionally, the strings probably need a bit
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
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.
However, if you tune your strings using harmonics alone, it will be tuned to
(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
For Equal temperament (from
vstrings), compare Bach’s 3rd Suite with
tuning using Perfect Fifths tuning (via harmonics), and C will sound very
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”.
“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.”
Baroque uses lots of open strings, so it’s best to tune to the
- Cello Coach app
- Includes exercises for confirming that you are playing in tune
- Korg TM-60 Tuner Metronome, USD $30
Correction: this is tuning via harmony– not “harmonics” as an experienced
cellist would understand the concept:
- Start with a proper tone:
- e.g., “A” 440Hz tuning fork (A4 or MIDI note 67)
- The Cello’s A string is a Piano’s A3 or two ivory keys below Middle C
- The Cello’s A string is 220.00 Hz (MIDI note 57)
- After being struck, place base of vibrating tuning fork on cello bridge
and base of your ear to C peg while plucking or bowing each string
- With both notes playing, listen for smooth “ringing” without any artifacts
- Tune each lower string initially by harmonics:
- However, beware that this will be Flat when compared to other
instruments within a modern orchestra
- Modern orchestras use Equal Temperament
- Without Equal Temperament and tuning by harmonics alone yields
Pythagorean Tuning with caveats and limitations of the Pythagorean
- Finish tuning each string by accounting for beats or beating:
- These beats may be familiar from binaural beating, which provides a
way of experiencing the acoustic phenomena
- D string should have 1.5 beats per second (precisely 1.49830) compared
to A string
- G string also should have 1.5 beats per second but compared to its
immediate higher neighbor, D string
- C string should have 2/3 (0.6674) beats per second compared to its
immediate neighbor, G string
- When tuning this way, err higher than lower pitch:
- “human hearing and perception finds it slightly more acceptable to be
off-key yet slightly higher in pitch than lower”
–paraphrased from an instructor
- [seeking a citation on this…]
- Consider geared turning pegs with rotation ratio of about 4:1
- Soundbrenner offers a few varieties:
- Apps for mobile/tablet
which offer a visual metronome mode by muting sound from within the app
(rather than for the entire device)
- Wearable devices for vibrating/silent operation
- Tempo metronome app for iOS also comes highly recommended
Lessons – Beyond The Basics
Interviews, Blogs, Podcasts, etc.
Play everything by heart
- Johannes Moser interviewing Alban Gerhardt
- JM: You premiere Brahams by memory… Does it come naturally to you?
… Do you have a strategy? How does it stick?
- AG: I’ve always played everything by heart.
When I grew up, it was normal to play everything by heart.
The rules from violin playing from 1905 or so: Good sound, good
intonation, blah, blah, and one of the ten rules was playing by heart.
It was as important as playing in tune.
[Special memorization technique available to his Patreon subscribers]
- AG quoting an earlier conversation: Something about photographic memory:
… Photographic memory is cheating; it’s not playing by heart. You see
it there; you still have to flip the pages [in your mind]. …
That’s why in the English language, “To know something by heart” is
different than to just memorize. Knowing by heart is really knowing
inside-out, to penetrate the whole piece.
But you have to practice twice as much…
- Alban Gerhardt on Patreon
6 July 2020
Memorizing Technique Videoblog
- Paid subscription required
- I would ascribe Alban’s “Learn to play by heart” technique as “overcoming
the common tendency to ‘look but not see’” aptly applied to sheet music
- He advocates for ultimately teaching yourself to truly see the music
rather than mere notes on the page
- Filling-in details Alban omits of his methods, look to contemplative
meditation techniques such as those taught in Chris Humphrey’s classic
text, Concentration And Meditation
On thoroughly enjoying an otherwise high-stress performance
- Pablo Ferrández “TALKING CELLO” with Johannes
- PF’s Episode 5 with subtitles en Español
- At t=16m11s,
JM talks about his “mental coach” taking him through the day of his
performance with Berlin Philharmonic– via meditation, well in advance–
because “my heroes belong on that stage; I don’t belong there, but now I
have the engagement, so what do I do?”
- JM explains that meditation exercise at
- That story leads to JM explaining how it’s really about finding that one
point where it’s all worth it– getting beyond the stress of travel,
airport checkpoints, hotels, as well as anxiety of the performance.
It’s important from the beginning not to say, “You don’t have to be
nervous,” or “Try to overcome your nerves.”
No! Confront them!
Confront the devil. Confront the daemons that you have…
Learn to live with your nervousness…
People get nervous because of how they feel on stage…
Get used to the fact that you will feel that on stage!
And that’s okay…
Accept that as the rule [for you].
Successful performers, when asked before a big event, “Are you nervous?”,
will answer, “No,
The effects and symptoms of nervous stress from anxiety is physiologically
indistinguishable from that of excitement from anticipation. Therefore,
reframing that feeling
to “excitement” can have a dramatic benefit.
The following subsections are a continual work-in-progress.
Easy strings sheet music for beginners– print free or download in PDF:
Sheet Music creating/editing/playback software:
- for Linux, BSD, Mac, Windows, etc. with Android, iOS apps
- Accommodates beginners and professionals
- Free, open-source, Libre
- Great reputation; very mature software
- e.g., Suite I: Prélude by J S Bach (BWV1007)
via menu: Add -> Text -> Fingering
(may require starting with Experimental Mode enabled for v3.2)
- or you can map a keyboard shortcut for Fingering
- or pick from the Fingering palette, which first requires changing from
“Basic” to “Advanced” drop-down menu in lower-left corner of main app
window on the desktop version.
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].
- Johann Sebastian Bach:
- Each score has a unique number within the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV)
catalog, first published in 1950 and updated in 1990
- Much gratitude to his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, for providing
- Presumed to have written cello suites circa 1720’s
- Lots of legends, little facts about origins of the cello suites
- Legend: cellist Pablo Casals “discovered” Bach sheet music prints in a thrift store
in Barcelona at age thirteen
- Similar legends about Brandenberg concertos
- Most of these stories circulated heavily in 1930’s
which coincides with marketing of recordings (e.g., 78rpm format which
predated 33rpm LP vinyl records)
- The Well Tempered Clavier (BWV 846-893) influenced generations of composers
- One of Bach’s favorite students, Johann Christian Kittel
- Kittel’s favored student, Johann Friedrich Dotzauer (cellist, composer)
- Johann Peter Kellner, circa late 1720’s
- Publisher: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1826
- Dotzauer’s student, Karl Dreschler
- Dreschler’s student, Friedrich Wilhelm Grützmacher, was editor of the
copy found by Casals, which brought the Suites “into the 20th century”
with superfluous chords and notation “reminiscent of the silent movie era”
- Grützmacher arranged/re-arranged Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B flat Major
- Became popular during Early Music revival in the 1960s
- Musical Heritage Society contracted Nikolaus Harnoncourt to record cello suites
which used the rearranged versions
- 1970’s returned to historical techniques with notable recordings by
Anner Bylsma and Sigiswald Kuijken
- Contemporary efforts at recording Bach’s complete catalog:
Netherlands Bach Society’s
All for Bach series and
Voices of Music
- Béla Bartók
- Joseph Haydn
- Fritz Kreisler
For context, Alban Gerhardt on Patreon
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.
- Philharmonia Orchestra (London, UK)
- Twelve Tones
- Experimental string instruments
- Great insights to the history of musical tuning
- From 4000 years ago in China through Babylonia, European Renaissance and
Twentieth Century’s use of 12 tone Equal Temperament to Glenn Branca’s
influence on Sonic Youth circa 1980
Professional Audio Recording for Cello
- “Nothing records stringed instruments better than a ribbon mic,” as was
commonly used in early- to mid-Twentieth Century
- e.g., remastered versions
of Pablo Casals from late 1930’s has a contemporary dynamic range based
upon source materials from that era largely due to quality equipment of
the day, such as a ribbon microphone
- Frequency range accommodates wide reach: 20Hz to above 20kHz
- Progress isn’t always strictly forward, especially with technology
Acoustic Treatment for Sound Dampening Practice Room
Purchasing A Cello
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:
- video camera for consciously and objectively observing yourself play
come in many different
- high quality practice mute; e.g., WMutes.com
- sturdy music stand for home (separate than travel types)
- cello stand
- proper chair/stool
- longer endpin, if taller
- hard case
- acoustic tiles in practice room
- teachers (a good instructor should be able to tell you when you’ve
- band mates (play with a variety of musicians)
- North American subsidiaries of Gliga of Romania:
- Cellos from ViolinsLover.com, which is Gliga Violins USA
in Las Vegas, Nevada
- Cellos from ViolinsLover.ca, which is Gliga Violins Canada
in West Vancouver, British Columbia
- “European string cello handmade in our workshop in Romania”
Pernambuco wood bows:
- Why this type of wood:
- At room temperature (22℃, 72℉) it offers the most stable transmission of
vibration than other woods– least dampening of vibration
- Of the 125 varieties of pernambuco subspecies, only 12 used for bow-making
- New wood needs to season for a minimum of 10-12 years before being made
into a bow
- Avoid bows that bend/skew to the left when either tightened or loosened
- See also:
Exploring Bow Sound
from Aitchison Mnatzaganian
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.
- Luis and Clark
- The original
- Invented by Luis Leguía
- Company based in Massachusetts
- Made in US
- Company originally known for carbon bows, now also known for cellos
- Constructed like traditional wood cellos but with carbon fiber materials
- Company based in New York
- “bows made in our own North American facilities”, thus their instruments
probably are too
- Available in black carbon fiber or
premium option of airbrushed wood imitation finish
- Make in Germany
- Ricci Carbon Instruments
- Ebony wood or optional carbon fingerboard
- Optional “wooden optic”
- “manufactured manually by specialists in Austria and Germany (Bavaria)”
Carbon Fiber soundpost:
Things to consider:
From a review of Luis and Clark carbon fibre VIOLIN vs wood,
- For creating a balanced sound:
- Her local luthier changed the sound post
- and found a new location for it
- Going against all principles, if it had been a wooden instrument:
They positioned the new sound post directly under foot of the bridge
- “And suddenly, we got a balanced sound!”
- Nice voice that blends in with an orchestra
- However, might not be the best option for soloist
[opinion circa 2017; situation likely differs today]
- Other valuable information and considerations for those dealing with
severe climate and/or extreme temperature shifts such as traveling from
air conditioned space to scorching outside heat (Australia) to car with
A/C to outside again and into another air conditioned space
Document revision history:
- 2021-08-28 Revert to American English after returning from Vancouver
- 2021-06-06 Updated physics of cello material, harmonics, tuning
- 2021-06-02 Added from Amit Peled’s instructional materials
- 2021-05-18 Ninth weekly lesson: practice enjoying your own performance!
- 2021-04-27 Sixth weekly lesson with instructor, first sightreading
- 2021-03-23 First 1:1 in-person instruction
- 2021-03-05 Started working through Vera Mattlin Jiji’s book
- 2021-02-19 rough draft based upon notes and browser history
- 2021-01-26 Rented a “Silent” cello for discovery and experimentation