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Thread: Want to take up the cello

  1. #1
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    Default Want to take up the cello

    Mods, please move this if I've put it in the wrong place.

    A mandolin player for 50+ years, I'd like to take up cello when I retire (soon).

    I know in advance that bowing a large instrument between your legs is a big change from picking a small instrument at chest-level (or face-level as Big Mon would do).

    Who has advice on how to start? Buying/renting, size of instrument, kinds of lessons--and all the questions I don't even know how to ask. I'm in the Boston area.

    Many thanks in advance.
    Cornelius Morris

  2. #2
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Best advice: find a teacher.

    Johnson Strings is in the Boston area and they carry everything from beginner instruments to violins and cellos we mere mortals can only dream about. Renting is a good way to start, particularly if the shop will credit the rental fees toward a purchase. You will want a full-size cello. Johnson (or another reputable shop) will have a list of area teachers, and an idea of who would be a good fit for an adult beginner. Some teachers love working with adults, but a few don't. You might want to talk with a couple and see who seems to fit. Hold off on selecting a cello until you have at least spoken to a teacher—he/she may have some good suggestions on what to get.

    I have known quite a few people who started cello as adults of a certain age. It is very possible to become quite competent, able to play chamber music or in an orchestra of a reasonable level. Cello is a friendlier instrument than violin for adults, mainly because the left arm position is much more natural.

    Have fun!

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    Every day is a gift. Sheila Lagrand's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I suggest you start by determining how you will take up cello. If your plan is to work with a local teacher, then begin by interviewing teachers and selecting one. If you think you want to work independently, then start looking at material available on YouTube or elsewhere on the interwebs and choose your main source.
    Next, you will query your learning source (local teacher or internet material or . . . ?) to determine what kind of cello to acquire.
    These search results might be helpful.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I bought one refurbished from a school program for use on an album project. The bowing is the hardest part.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I learned cello as a adult. It was fun, but in the end I found it wasn't right for me. The reason is that few people want you to play tunes on cello (even though I played a 5 string with a top E so I could easily play fiddle etc tunes an octave down). On the other hand, there are modern rhythmic cello techniques like 'chopping' which make playing backup music more fun and varied.It seemed to me that cello required quite a strong and flexible left hand. It's also quite easy to get back problems. Louise NM is correct above when she says:

    'Cello is a friendlier instrument than violin for adults, mainly because the left arm position is much more natural..'

    BUT IMO you need to find an ergonomic stance to play cello with, and depending on what else you already play, you might find that your left hand is set in a position that doesn't suit it. Rest your left hand on a table, palm up and completely relaxed. Where is your thumb relative to your fingers? After a lifetime playing violin/fiddle, mine sits just to the left of my fingers. When I had cello lessons, my teacher (a Baroque soloist and orchestral professional, playing cello for 30 years) did that, and the tip of her left thumb rested between her 2nd and 3rd fingers. When you transfer that to the cello neck, you get a pivot from which you can stretch back and forward to reach notes, and which you can use to pivot the hand for vibrato. My teacher also played double bass, and she reckoned cello is harder on the hands. Now, there's the bow arm and hand. Cello bow grip is different from violin bow grip, and despite not being arthritic or prone to muscle pain, it gave me an ache in the base join of my right thumb. I fixed that by using a Baroque style cello grip, which is very similar to a violin bow hold, and that worked well for me.

    I would suggest renting or borrowing a cello first, just in case you find it isn't for you in the end. Once you're ready to buy, there are some excellent value Chinese made cellos on the market - or if you can afford it and have a use for it (like playing outside or non classical music), the Luis & Clark carbon cello is well worth a look. Also, there's a great book called 'New directions in cello playing' by cellist Victor Sazer which was written with the hep of an Alexander Technique teacher. Some of the ideas on left hand position are a little unusual (he suggests fingering notes from the side rather than on top of the string), but I found the sections on basic stance to be excellent.

    You may know of these cellists, but I recommend listening to Natalie Haas (plays as a duo with with fiddler Alasdair Fraser) and Rushad Eggleston (Crooked Billet band and others) if you're interested in modern folk cello techniques. I think (not sure) both of them may have done instructional material like DVDs etc.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    My daughter is in her second year of law school in Boston, and one of her move days pre-pandemic was also a move in day ar Berklee. Man, that was an awesome sight...all those younglings (who can already play well over my head) running around with instruments. Made the PITA navigating around it almost worth it. New England Conservatory is also there. Agree with trying to find a local (or at least easily accessible) shop, and go from there.

    Nat Smith, who’s played with Sarah Jarosz and Jeremy Kittleman, is another fun player to check out. And, I love Joe Keon’s work with the Avetts.

    Disclaimer: Not a cellist myself, but, it’s something I’ve toyed with learning someday as well...
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    go for it!!

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    Registered User gspiess's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Yup. We have two cellos that have been sitting in our music room since the kids moved out. I've been tempted, but I prefer to work on mandolin and guitar at this point. I love a lot of the folk tune arrangements currently being put out where the band includes cello. It can be such an expressive instrument when given the chance.
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Not only that - but when you hear a cello playing a fiddle tune well, that cellist is playing at a higher level than an equivalent fiddler. Cello is one ocatve below a viola, rather than one octave below a violin. That means that if a fiddler plays a tune that goes onto his E string, a cellist has to go quite a long way up the neck on the top string to hit those notes an octave down.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    I learned cello as a adult. It was fun, but in the end I found it wasn't right for me. The reason is that few people want you to play tunes on cello (even though I played a 5 string with a top E so I could easily play fiddle etc tunes an octave down). On the other hand, there are modern rhythmic cello techniques like 'chopping' which make playing backup music more fun and varied.It seemed to me that cello required quite a strong and flexible left hand. It's also quite easy to get back problems. Louise NM is correct above when she says:
    Our youngest (now 31) started on cello and still plays cello though mandolin is now his main instrument. He has also expressed that few people want to hear tunes on a cello so when needing a cello fix and playing tunes by himself or with others he reaches for a mandocello.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I’m a retired middle school band director and a professional trumpet player. I’ve played trumpet for 57 years and mandolin for 10 or so. About three years ago I decided to start cello. A beginner’s group in our area, New Horizons Orchestra(a franchise) started up and it is perfect for me. I’m a better musician, but a beginner on cello. Kinda fun and no pressure. Just do it!

  13. #12

    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I love the low strings - I played string bass for 20 years and played French bow so that I could play cello as well when the time came. I grew up playing the cello suites on guitar, so I always wanted a cello 'proper'...but I never did get one! My daughter expressed interest in learning cello in middle school, which meant I would have learned concurrently with her. But she suddenly decided to play my saxophones instead; she likes the bari - and I like bass clarinet - so we have that range covered.

    Probably my favorite thing is fiddling tunes on bass, but it's definitely a stretch on the hands. I gave it up a few years ago for other favorite things - more within my aging body's capacity

    I always mention that Arabic oud can scratch that itch for plectrum players - you get that low C, and fretlessness..

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    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I actually started filling out the paperwork to rent a cello. I tried one in the music shop and could make a decent sound on it, so I thought this would be fun to have around for my retirement coming soon.
    But after I thought about it, I decided not to proceed. Part of the reason why I prefer mandolin over guitar is that it takes very little space and is always handy: I can grab and go and I have music. The violin is the same. The cello, though, takes up a lot of space and as much as I love cello music (my dog is even named Cello) it wouldn't get the playing time that the mandolin or violin. I hardly ever pick up the guitar anymore...
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
    When time is broke and no proportion kept!
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Quote Originally Posted by Sterling View Post
    I’m a retired middle school band director and a professional trumpet player. I’ve played trumpet for 57 years and mandolin for 10 or so. About three years ago I decided to start cello. A beginner’s group in our area, New Horizons Orchestra(a franchise) started up and it is perfect for me. I’m a better musician, but a beginner on cello. Kinda fun and no pressure. Just do it!
    My wife teaches a New Horizons string orchestra here in Minneapolis. The cello players are the most interested in joining because there are few other opportunities for playing with others. A fiddle player usually playing the melody, can play at jam sessions, do duos in classical music and join in on any number of situations.

    New Horizons is set up for older folks, just starting out or returning. Many pick up the abandoned cello from their child's Suzuki lessons. Because we have similar situations, here is an automatic sense of support from the class mates. Not all the music is classical, our group plays arrangements of Irish tunes, Bossa Nova arrangements, movie scores, blues, klezmer. All kinds of fun things. Also there is (and should be) individual instruction outside of the group meetings. Once you learn how to play and read music with the help of individual instruction, this group is a wonderful place for older folks.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Good choice! There's always room for cello!

    Or was it...


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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Might as well go ahead and start abusing your left thumb now, getting ahead of the game. You will be needing some calluses.

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    Registered User BoxCarJoe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    I played cello as an adult for a few years in a community orchestra. So much fun.

    I gave it up when the Great Recession (remember that?) became a thing.

    The cost and time spent was better put to feeding my family.

    Arthritis and and other old man things would have put an end to that anyway.

    Good luck. It's a wonderful instrument.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    The world needs more groups like the New Horizons Orchestra (and band, too). The beginner adults have a great time learning and we have a “snack” break in the middle of rehearsal to just chat for a few minutes. We probably play at a middle school or junior high school level, and that’s fine.

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Sounds fun!

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    One minor point - a cello in a hard case won't go in the trunk of most medium and small cars. If you have a wagon, a truck or a van, you're great.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Watching professional cellists and bassists after an orchestral performance shows that you have to build a lifeestyle around the instrument.

    I often wonder if they envy the piccolo player.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    One minor point - a cello in a hard case won't go in the trunk of most medium and small cars. If you have a wagon, a truck or a van, you're great.
    My brother, who plays electric bass (among others), has been thinking about getting a cello and converting it to play as a bass. Sounds like it will still be somewhat unwieldy.

  27. #23

    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob A View Post
    Watching professional cellists and bassists after an orchestral performance shows that you have to build a lifeestyle around the instrument.

    I often wonder if they envy the piccolo player.
    I didn't have a hard case - nor a $100K bass - but in a soft bag they go easily into the front seat of any compact car - after reclining the seat back. It's definitely not something you take with you on vacation or driving around with the family.

    Still, it's an easier gig than transporting a drum kit or large harp.

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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Thanks for all the encouragement--and helpful suggestions, many of which are very practical ones that I would not have imagined. I've spent more time staring carefully at my left hand, and flipping it over, while reading this than ever before. I know about Johnson Strings in Boston since a former student of mine was a violinist who spent lots of time (and money) there.
    Cornelius Morris

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Want to take up the cello

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    One minor point - a cello in a hard case won't go in the trunk of most medium and small cars. If you have a wagon, a truck or a van, you're great.

    Or any hatchback. My Mazda 3 hatch can swallow a double bass, baritone and tenor saxophones, and a 2-10 GK combo and still have room for a passenger or maybe two if they are very friendly.

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