An Introduction to the Cello
Tools for Success
The metronome is an electronic tool that produces a steady stream of clicks. Metronomes help to assist the student in playing the proper rhythm at a steady tempo.
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A music stand is required for proper posture. If the music is not placed at the appropriate height for the student (approximately eye level), this will have a negative impact on the posture of the student. Improper posture also has a negative impact on the student's sound.
A notebook is great tool for success. With one, the student or teacher can make notes about new terms they learn, what music the student needs to practice, what the student's goals are, etc.
Pencils are useful for writing in the student's notebook and also in their sheet music. It is best to make notes on music in pencil in case they need to be changed later.
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This is a soft cloth for wiping excess rosin cloth off of the cello. When rosin dust builds up on the cello, it can dampen the sound and will make the instrument sticky to the touch. Too much rosin dust can eventually cause damage to the varnish. A yearly professional cleaning is still recommended, but using the polishing cloth will help maintain your instrument in between cleanings.
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Rosin needs to be applied to the bow hair at the beginning of each playing session. There are two basic types of rosin: light (or amber) rosin and dark rosin. Dark rosin is generally the recommended kind for cellos, due to how thick their strings are. This is because dark rosin is stickier than light rosin and is more effective in creating the necessary friction between the bow and strings.
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An endpin rest, also referred to as a 'cello doughnut', is a circular disc with an indentation. The endpin on a cello can be sharp, so then endpin rest helps protect wood floors from being scratched and carpet from being snagged or ripped. If the floor is slippery (tile, for example), the endpin rest will prevent the endpin from slipping.
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This is an electronic device that helps students make sure their cello is in tune before they start practicing. If the cello is not in tune, the student can be playing perfectly but still won’t be able to produce the correct notes.
About Your Cello
Pegs are the four black knobs at the top of the cello. They are used for making medium to large tuning adjustments.
The fingerboard is the long black piece underneath the strings. If the bow is played on top of this part of the cello, it will be extremely difficult to get a proper sound.
The cello has four strings. Listed in ascending order, they are: C, G, D, A. The C is the thickest and lowest-sounding string. The A is the highest-sounding string and the thinnest.
The F-holes are the two holes on the front of the cello. They help the cello project its sound, so it is important not to cover them up while playing. The f-holes on the cello are much larger than those on the violin or viola, so one must take extra care to make sure nothing falls in them.
The bridge is the piece of wood located between the tailpiece and the fingerboard. It holds the strings up. The bridge feet should be resting flat on the face of the cello. There is a high side of the bridge and a low side. The high side should be under the C string and the low side should be under the A string.
The tailpiece is located on the bottom front of the cello, just underneath the bridge. All four strings attach to it. It typically has four fine tuners as well.
The fine tuners are the little screws located on the tailpiece. They are used for making minor tuning adjustments. Turning them to the right makes the string sound higher in pitch, and turning them to the left makes the string sound lower in pitch.
The soundpost is a wooden rod located on the inside of the cello. You can usually see it by looking through the f-holes. It helps to amplify the sound of the cello and also adds to its structural integrity.
About Your Bow
The stick of the bow is the long wooden part. It is important to make sure that it is never too tight. The stick should always have a 'recurve', or should curve under slightly. If the stick is straight, or worse bowed over, it is too tight and will eventually warp.
The hair of the bow, traditionally made from horsehair, is found opposite the stick. The hair must be rosined every time the instrument is played. A cello bow that has not been rosined sufficiently will be very difficult play with.
The frog is the heavy part at the end of the bow. This is where the student should be holding the bow.
The screw is located at the end of the frog, opposite the hair. Turning the screw to the left loosens the bow, and turning it to the right tightens the bow.
The endpin is a metal stick that extends out of the bottom of the cello. This allows the cello to be adjusted to accommodate the height of the cellist. The endpin also supports the weight of the cello and helps the player to balance the instrument while playing.
Scheduling and Measuring Practice
Practicing the correct amount is very important. Practicing too little will impede the student's progress, while practicing too much can lead to fatigue, frustration, and even injury. An effective way to approach practicing a musical instrument is to do so the way you would with an intense sport: if you want to be successful, you have to work at it every day, but you need to start out small and work your way up. That way your muscles have a chance to build up without causing too much strain.
common question is 'How much should my child be practicing each day?' Using the lesson length as a guideline is a good place to start. If the lesson is 30 minutes, you should practice approximately 30 minutes per day. Many students have difficulty focusing for that long, especially the younger ones. In that situation, timed practice may not be the answer. An alternative would be to practice each task or assignment 5 times. This would ensure that the student goes over everything the teacher requires while giving clear stopping points if a break is needed.
Maintaining Your Instrument
Before You Play
- Be sure your hands are clean.
- Properly prepare your practicing area, including your sheet music.
- Inspect your instrument and bow to make sure they are in working order.
- Tighten and rosin your bow.
- Place your endpin rest appropriately.
- Check if your instrument is in tune and tune it if necessary.
After You Play
- Remove any unneeded items from your case.
- Loosen your bow and secure it in the case.
- Wipe off any excess rosin dust from your cello.
- Secure the cello in its case and make sure you zip the case closed!
- Put away your endpin rest.
- Sudden and extreme changes in temperature are bad for your instrument. Although your case helps to protect your cello from these changes, it is still a good idea to avoid exposing your instrument to places that are excessively hot, cold, humid, or dry. Extreme temperature changes put your instrument at risk for cracking, separated seams, broken joints, and snapped strings.
- Cold – You can take your instrument out into a snowstorm as long as it is in a properly insulated case. It is best to avoid doing so, however, unless absolutely necessary.
- Damp – Your instrument should never be exposed to excess humidity. Too much moisture will cause the wood to warp and the glue to break down. Make sure you are using a hard case in these conditions, as rain can easily penetrate most soft cases.
- Heat – Too much heat can cause severe damage to the joints and seams of your cello. It can also melt the glue holding your instrument together. Never store your cello in direct sunlight, or in the car.
- Dry – Wood needs some moisture to keep its shape, otherwise it can become brittle and crack. If the area you are in is extremely dry, you should invest in an instrument humidifier to protect it.
- Earthquake/tornado – If you live in an area prone to earthquakes or tornadoes, never store your instrument near a piece of furniture that might fall (ex: bookcases). A heavy object falling on your cello, even while it is in the case, can cause severe damage to your instrument.
Do's and Dont's
- Never stand your cello up against the wall. It is very easy for it to slip, fall and break.
- Do not lay your cello on its back. This makes it very easy for something to accidentally fall in through the f-holes.
- Avoid placing your cello in walkways.
- When getting up from your cello for a short time, rest the cello on its side. This will keep anything from falling inside. Also, this is a stable position, so it will not fall.
- To get the best sound from the cello, it is recommended that all the strings be changed at least once every year. Picking a memorable date for your annual strings change (birthday, Christmas, Independence Day, etc) is advisable, as it makes it easy to remember when you last changed your strings.
- If your soundpost ever falls, you should loosen all the strings immediately and take your cello to get repaired. Never play on a cello without a soundpost, as this can cause irreparable damage to the instrument.
- It is important not to touch the bow hair, as the oils on our skin will make the bow hair dirty. When the bow hair is dirty, it will not make as much sound. No amount of rosin can fix this.
- Dirty bow hair must be cleaned and re-rosined to be usable.
- Never leave your cello alone in the car. Not only can it get stolen, the change in temperature in an unattended car can cause irreparable damage to your instrument. Too much heat can cause the varnish to bubble and glue to melt, whereas too much cold can cause the instrument to crack.
- Always keep you cello in the case when it is not in use. Never leave it anyplace somebody might trip over it.
Forming Good Habits, Not Bad Habits
It is important to make get in the habit of practicing every day. Some people find it easiest to practice at the same time every day. Others prefer to fill out weekly practice charts. No matter what method works for you, remember that students who practice daily consistently outperform those who do not, regardless of talent or age.
Students should be sitting straight while playing, with their feet flat on the floor. Slouching or slumping lead to poor sound.
When holding the cello, the wrist/palm should not be touching the instrument (aka, the infamous 'pizza wrist'). The left elbow should be kept slightly raised.
While teachers recommend different bow holds, one constant is that the bow should not be gripped in a fist. If you are unsure about the proper bow hold, ask the teacher for help so they can recommend the bow hold that will work best for you.
Always follow the care instructions for your instrument to ensure it is in proper working order. This will help you get the most out of your instrument. Following proper maintenance will also help you avoid potentially expensive repairs.
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- An Introduction to the Flute
- An Introduction to the Piccolo
- An Introduction to the Oboe
- An Introduction to the Clarinet
- An Introduction to the Bass Clarinet
- An Introduction to the Saxophone
- An Introduction to the Trumpet
- An Introduction to the Trombone
- An Introduction to the French Horn
- An Introduction to the Baritone/Euphonium
- An Introduction to the Piano
- An Introduction to the Drums
- An Introduction to the Marimba
- An Introduction to the Banjo
- An Introduction to the Violin
- An Introduction to the Viola
- An Introduction to the Cello
- An Introduction to the Double Bass
- An Introduction to the Ukulele
- An Introduction to the Acoustic Guitar
- An Introduction to the Mandolin
- An Introduction to the Electric Guitar
- An Introduction to the Bass Guitar
- An Introduction to Voice Lessons