Are you locked away at home with plenty of time on your hands, on holidays with little to do, or isolated for other reasons? Learning the cello at home can be a great way to pass the time; it’s also healthy for your brain and your soul. Here are some tips to help make the process enjoyable and effective.
First things first - you’re going to need a cello!
Here at Simply for Strings we offer new, second hand and rental options. Read our guide to buying vs renting, or check out our cello price guide, so you get a better idea of what to expect in every price.
In order to have an enjoyable learning experience, you’ll need to purchase or rent a cello that has been professionally set up by a trained violin maker, with a correctly carved bridge and good string height to ensure ease of playing. Learn more about the Simply for Strings Professional Set Up here.
If you have purchased a beginner cello, we do recommend upgrading the strings if your budget allows. Most beginner models have very basic strings: fitting a slightly higher grade string set will open up the potential of your instrument to give a more pleasing tone and better response, making the learning process much more enjoyable and rewarding. A poorly set-up cello with lower-grade strings can squeak and sound rather unpleasant.
Rosin is made from resin - yes, that’s right! Sap extracted from fir trees, melted down, purified and some extra special ingredients specially formulated for you to rub on the hair of your bow. Learn how to use rosin here. It makes the bow hair sticky enough to create a lovely sound when you pull it across the strings. Without rosin the bow will make no sound. There are many different styles of rosin and many secret recipes. Read our ultimate guide to rosin.
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For beginner cellists, we recommend the Hidersine, Pirastro, Super Sensitive and Bernardel brands but there are plenty of other great options available.
Your bow needs to be in good working order, which means plenty of hair, in a nice straight “ribbon”; a good curve to the stick when unwound; and when you tighten it to a reasonable tension, the distance between the middle of the stick’s curve from the tightened hair should be approximately the diameter of the tip of your index finger. If the bow has lost its spring or the hair is loose and uneven, it would be advisable to invest in a new bow.
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Tuner and Metronome
It’s obviously a lot easier to practice your new cello when it’s in tune! Tuning is a skill that takes years for players to develop, but we have a few helpful tips in our post all about it! An electronic tuner is a good investment, as it can help you keep your instrument in tune between lessons. Likewise, a metronome is very helpful when practising, to teach you about playing in time and keeping a good beat.
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For correct posture (preventing sore back, damage to spine and neck, and to make sure you can play properly in tune) you need to be sitting upright on a level chair, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees slightly below your hips; looking straight ahead, not craning your neck down to look on a table. Depending on the lighting in your room, you may need to consider a music stand light. We use the Aroma Music Stand Light, which also acts as a clip to hold the pages open.
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Endpin Stopper/Rock Stop
If you are playing on a carpeted floor the spike of your endpin should grip the carpet nicely; if your floor is timber or tiled, you may find the cello hard to keep in position. You will find a “rock stop” or more correctly, endpin stop, invaluable.
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If you are in an apartment, or have a baby needing lots of uninterrupted sleep, you may wish to use a practice mute. These reduce the sound substantially and make it kinder for those around us. There are three types to choose: rubber, metal and rubber-coated metal. Read our guide to mutes.
If you have a child learning at school there will be a tutor book already selected. These are a great place to start, and some have excellent instructions included on the pages. Some are more particularly designed for a teacher to use his or her own teaching style and simply have a good selection of educationally sound progressive music, with the teacher expected to give the information in other ways. If you are hoping to learn on your own or with minimal guidance, we suggest choosing books with plenty of explanations and diagrams on the page. These include but are not limited to: Essential Elements, String Basics, and Sound Innovations. Shop Cello Beginner Method Books.
If you are seeking to do most of your learning at home, many of the method books also have CDs included or access to online accompaniments, and some even include free access to the Smart Music interactive practice software.
Visit another post on our blog for a quick list of some of our top recommendations of easy to learn songs for beginners. This list has been put together by professional player and educator, Michael Scott-Branagan. They are listed in the order Michael would teach for progressive reasons. All pieces have been selected for their educational value, and can be found in some of our best-selling beginner method books. The final piece will be your first foray into actual cello repertoire. Read the list here.
Many teachers are now offering online lessons. You just need an internet connection, a tablet or computer with speakers and built-in microphone, and you can set up easily. Your teacher will help guide you through positioning your computer so they can see your posture.
We hope this guide has been helpful for those looking to start learning the cello at home! If you have any questions, or just want to have a chat about all things cello, give us a call or send us an email. We’d love to help you get started on your very own musical journey! Video appointments are available now for our valued interstate clients.