I know the look that was on your face when your child came home and said those words that would change your life forever: “I want to play the cello”. Well let me ease those initial fears and answer a few of your questions.
What to expect:
Firstly to be pleasantly surprised at the glorious sound even a beginner cellist can make because of the mellow deeper timbre of the cello. I can’t promise you there won’t be a few scratches along the way, but rest assured under the right guidance the beginner squealing phase infamous with other higher pitched instruments will be smoothly avoided.
Pressing down the strings with the left hand fingers can be difficult in the first couple of months, especially for small children, because the strings are thicker than, say a guitar or violin strings. However, I have had students as young as 5 years old have no trouble with this.
Don’t expect to be carrying a heavy instrument around; cellos are hollow so despite their size are very light. Most cases have straps so you can put the cello on your back just like a backpack! Even full-sized hard cases can be extremely light.
When to start:
This is an age-old question, no pun intended, with many contrasting interpretations. You only have to bring up YouTube to find videos of 4 year olds getting around the cello pretty well. There have been virtuoso soloists who were deliberately started on cello at ten and adult learners who have left their jobs and joined some of the world’s leading orchestras. The most important thing is exposure to music at an early age, not necessarily the mechanics of playing an instrument.
A student can begin with me at three years old and we might not touch the cello much as it takes a lifetime to undo incorrect technical habits but we will look at training musical ears and basic music theory with the cello in mind. In my experience a good deal of students start at 6 or 7 years old. If your child can focus on a task well starting early could give them a real head start. However if a student does not listen or pay attention well it could be argued it is better to start the student around the age of ten, than to have already cemented in 3 years of bad technique. It is worth mentioning many great cellists have started on violin and then switched to cello. If your child is not enjoying violin maybe cello is worth a shot!
What they need:
I would like to start with what they absolutely DO NOT need; a cello from eBay or Amazon. Creating a cello and even just setting up a cello with the strings and bridge etc. is a whole art form in itself. You will not be saving yourself any time or money by buying a cheap instrument online. (This is not to say that all instruments on these websites are of poor quality).
When your child begins I would start by renting a cello, usually a ¼ or ½ size depending on your child’s height. Renting cellos can be surprisingly cheap and the music shops usually allow the money to go towards buying the instrument. It is best to go a reputable violin shop. Starting your child on a poorly made or poorly set up instrument will hamper their progress and everyone’s enjoyment of the instrument.
You will also need a bow that coincides with the size of the cello, rosin (see Sophie’s article on rosin), a beginners music book usually Suzuki book one for cello, a music stand, a chair with a flat seat (usually a small one for a child), some cello spikes are blunt so you may need a cello spike stopper, there are hundreds of different varieties on the market.
How much practice:
The key is to practice everyday, or 6 days in a row and take one day off. I would start by just teaching your child the discipline of getting their instrument out everyday and build up from there. Everyone is different; some children do hours of practice without being asked others need help. I tend to ease my students into longer and longer practice routines so they are not over burdened too quickly.
About the Author:
Originating from the Welsh countryside, cellist Ryan Lowe is a London educated performer and teacher zealous about transmitting his passion for the arts to the community.
Ryan recently relocated to Washington, D.C. from London after graduating with honors from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. While at the conservatoire, Ryan specialized in cello performance, conducting, and music theory. He also performed extensively in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Asia, and the United States. In 2012, Ryan was selected from among his international peers to perform for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in a performance that would later feature on ITV television in the UK.
While living in the UK, Ryan performed at musically and historically significant concert halls including the Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore hall, Cadogan hall, St. John Smith’s Square, the Duke’s hall, Royal Festival hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Birmingham Symphony hall and abroad in the St. David’s Hall (Wales), the Hangzhou Grand Theater (China), St. Mary’s Basilica (Poland). He was also a member of the cello sections of both the Orion Orchestra and the London Arte Chamber Orchestra. Ryan has benefited from the teaching and guidance of many of the preeminent cellists from Europe, Russia, and the United Kingdom. His musical heritage includes Leonid Gorokhov, Boris Andrianov, Paul Watkins, Matthew Barley, Steven Isserlis, Raphael Wallfisch, Christoph Richter, David Cohen, and Mario Brunello.
As the youngest recipient of the St. Julian’s award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, Ryan used his musical skills to reach underprivileged communities in Wales. During his time at Trinity, he coached several ensembles including the Royal Academy of Music Historical Performance Orchestra, the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra, and the Guangxi Symphony Orchestra in China. He also mentored students with the UK’s Music for Youth Festival for over seven years.
Although he primarily focuses on classical cello, Ryan experienced a successful career as a “rock cellist”. Ryan performed in concert venues such as the 02 Arena in London, and recorded with EMI and EMI Asia. MTV also featured Ryan’s rock cello career.
Besides cello, Ryan also teaches double bass. His previous students covered a broad spectrum of skills and ages in both the UK and China.
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