Whether you’re new to playing the cello or haven’t picked up the instrument for a couple decades, you can’t expect to become a master overnight- it will take plenty of practice, determination, and dedication before you’ll even come close. Whether you’d like to eventually play the cello in a professional band or orchestra or just want to impress your coworkers at your company’s annual talent show, the more time you invest in practicing the more comfortable you’ll feel with the instrument. If you’re curious about technique, practicing, or posture, here are some cello tips that every new cellist should keep in mind.
This may sound like common sense, but many new cellists don’t even think about tuning their instrument before practicing or performing. Even the slightest bump of the cello can cause it to go out of tune, so be careful when transporting your cello to and from lessons. The easiest way to determine whether your cello is in or out of tune is to purchase an electronic tuner. If you’re using a generic tuner, make sure it’s set at 440 frequency before proceeding onto the next steps. Start with the highest string and gradually work your way down to the bottom, using the fine tuners to adjust the pitch along the way. How often your cello needs to be tuned will depend on how often you play, transport, and bump the instrument and will vary from cello to cello and player to player.
Set a Practice Schedule
Many musicians find that sticking to a consistent practice routine works the best for them. While the ideal practice time varies from student to student, it’s a good idea to start with 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises (scales, arpeggios, metronome work) before moving onto practicing solo work or recital pieces. To make the time you spend practicing as effective as possible, go into each practice session with a distinct goal in mind. Whether it’s playing a piece of music from start to finish without making any mistakes or focusing on the sections that need the most work, if you practice with a purpose you’ll find that your practice time is more enjoyable. Make sure your practice space is free from distraction and don’t count the number of minutes you practice against a standard someone else came up with. As long as you feel like you’re progressing, practice as long as you’d like.
If you’re a few months into playing the instrument and are finding that the cello is losing its charm, make an effort to stay inspired. Listen to a lot of different types of music and, no matter the type of music you’re listening to, learn about the musician’s backgrounds, personal stories, and inspirations. From Beethoven to Justin Bieber, everyone has a unique and inspirational story to tell. If you’d like to play a popular song on the cello and are wondering if it’s even possible, the answer is yes! Just ask your cello teacher and he or she will help write out an arrangement for you to play. The most important thing is to balance your straightforward exercises and warm-up drills with songs or arrangements that will make you excited to sit down and play the cello.
Watch the Rosin
While it’s important that your bow is adequately rosined before you start practicing, be careful not to use too much or too little.The amount of rosin applied to the bow can drastically affect the sound produced when you play. Using too much rosin can actually prevent the bow from gliding across the strings smoothly, while those who don’t use enough rosin may notice that the sound their cello produces is weak, inconsistent, and airy. If you’re using too much rosin, you may notice a cloud of dust coming off the hair, and a sticky powder from the excess rosin collecting on the strings. Until you’re able to find the “right” amount of rosin on your own, stick to this formula: apply about 5 strokes of rosin before each practice session or performance. If you’re practicing frequently, you may need more rosin. If you aren’t sure if you need more rosin, apply it anyways, as excess rosin can easily be wiped away.
Prepare Yourself Physically
If you’re tired, thirsty, or hungry, you won’t be able to concentrate on learning the instrument. Before you practice or perform, drink some water and have a healthy snack or some fruit to rev up your blood sugar. Take a quick walk and clear your mind. Wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothing and make sure you’re practicing in a comfortable environment. Contrary to many people’s opinions, playing a musical instrument isn’t a passive experience. You’ll need plenty of strength and energy to practice with proper form and, if you practice when you’re tired, you run the risk of slipping into poor playing habits. Whether you prefer to practice in a closed-off, air-conditioned room or near an open window, as long as it’s comfortable to you that’s all that really matters.
Scales and Open String Practice
While it may sound boring, learning your basic scales is an essential part of playing the cello. Not only is it a great way to make sure you’re playing in tune and that your left hand is in the proper position, but it’s a great way to focus on the position of your bow. Make sure the bow is playing at the “contact point” on the string, or at the point that’s halfway between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge. This area of the cello is where you’ll produce the fullest tone and be able to develop the most control. When practicing your scales, take your time. Use full bows and play whole notes on each scale tone, ensuring that you stay on the contact point when you change bow direction. This exercise can also be achieved by using open strings, so that you can give your left hand a break and concentrate solely on the placement of your bow.
Want to learn more about certain cello accessories? Check out our Student Resources: An Introduction to the Cello.