The cello is one of the bass voices of the stringed instrument family which includes the violin, viola, cello and double bass. The cello’s proportions resemble those of the violin, except players hold its body between their legs and its weight is supported by an endpin that touches the floor.

It has four strings, tuned an octave below those of the viola and has a warm and rich “singing” quality of tone, which is said to most resemble the human voice.

While larger and more expensive than the violin, its lower register and tonality resonates with many musicians, making carrying around a larger and more expensive instrument worth the extra care and effort.

“The Carnival of the Animals, R. 125: XIII. The Swan (Arr. for Cello and Piano)” performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott; licensed by SME (on behalf of Masterworks); LatinAutor – UMPG, UMPG Publishing, LatinAutor – Warner Chappell, LatinAutor, UBEM, UMPI, Abramus Digital, and 8 Music Rights Societies

The cello is primarily an orchestral and chamber music instrument, but it is also heard in jazz, folk, rock and pop music as well.

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How to Play the Cello

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Which Cello Should I Choose?

The Orchestra Place requires all students to have an instrument from the teacher-approved brand list to ensure the best experience and sound for the student and the ensemble.

For beginners, we recommend Eastman Strings (Sizes 1/4 through 4/4) as the best cello for quality and affordability.

Eastman Strings Model 80 Student Cello

Founded in 1992, Eastman Music Company has established a reputation for their quality, traditional sound, and craftsmanship. Eastman is highly regarded for creating some of the finest instruments and accessories, and stands at the forefront of the creative development and marketing of musical instruments heard around the globe – making the reasonable cello prices for their products especially attractive.

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How to Choose the Right Cello Size for My Child

When selecting a cello for your child, size is extremely important. The instrument needs to feel comfortable and should not cause strain in the arm or back. If your child feels at ease with their instrument, they will be much more likely to enjoy playing and want to stick with it. Size does not corresponds to skill level; bringing home a full-size cello before they have grown into it can result in injuries including muscle strain and tendonitis. We recommend staying with a smaller-sized instrument until your teacher says your child is ready to move up. If your child is matched with an instrument that is less than full size, you may want to consider renting until they grows into a full-size model. Below is a sizing chart to provide a starting guide, but your child’s music teacher will know best.

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How to Buy a Cello

After a young cellist has at least a year of experience, buying an instrument is often the best choice, financially and in sense of ownership. Your student has demonstrated their commitment and is ready to maintain and practice on their very own instrument. Since purchasing a cello is a bigger investment than renting, it’s important to make sure you’ve carefully compared retailers’ inventory, prices, financing options, setup and equipment options prior to buying.

The aesthetics and quality of tone produced will vary greatly depending on the design of the cello.  Beginners should look for a cello that has been carved from spruce and maple, has soft strings, and is finished with a scratch resistant surface or combination with oil varnish.

Advanced cellist should seek out a cello:

  • made from aged wood,
  • is oil varnished,
  • carved not laminated,
  • whose ribs and back are flamed maple,
  • a top made of spruce,
  • bridge of aged maple,
  • and a solid ebony fingerboard

These wood combinations are the most resonant and will give the cello superior acoustic tone.

Whenever possible, go into an instrument shop and test play the cellos available to find which one best suits you.  The feel must be comfortable and the size correct.

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How Much Should a Cello Cost?

A student cello will range anywhere from $730-$1,200.  An intermediate cello will cost roughly $2,100-$3,000 or more.

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Rent-to-Own or Lease-to-Own Cello Options

Installment plans are an excellent option if you’re ready to make the commitment of buying an instrument but can benefit from deferred payments. This way, you get the freedom to pay over time, with the ultimate reward of owning the instrument. If you choose a rent-to-own or lease-to-own option, however, it’s important to check the fine print to make sure there are no hidden fees, and you should investigate the cancellation policy as well. Never sign up for a plan that traps you into payments if your child loses interest in playing an instrument. Look also for retailers who offer affordable damage protection during the installment term.

Our instrument supplier, The Instrument Place, offers teacher-approved instruments and one of the best interest-free lease-to-own programs as part of their commitment to getting an instrument in the hands of every person who wishes to play, without it being a financial burden.

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Full Setup and Equipment for Cellos

When comparing retailers, you’re sure to discover a large amount of variation in the set-up, maintenance, and equipment included in your purchase. Your vendor should always offer quality and consistency. Some things to look out for:

  • Setup is key. The setup is perhaps the most important thing to consider when looking at a student-level instrument. A poorly set-up instrument can inhibit the student from learning technique and ultimately turn him off from the instrument altogether.
  • All strings are not created equal. The caliber and adjustment of a cello’s strings makes a huge difference in sound and feel. Look for new, brand-name strings (e.g. Prelude, Dominant, Helicore) and maple bridges (e.g. Bausch, Despiau, Aubert). Check also for a quality tailpiece with four working tuners (e.g. Wittner). Unpropped or cheap bridges are unacceptable. The nut and bridge should be cut and set to a height that enables comfortable playing, as strings that are set too high may hurt your child’s fingers. Make sure also that the soundpost has been adjusted properly.
  • Know your bow. The description “Brazilwood bow with genuine horsehair” may sound impressive, but inexpensive Brazilwood bows are often warped or very weak, and in fact all bows today use genuine horsehair. Look instead for a high-quality fiberglass or carbon fiber bow (e.g. K Holtz or Glasser), or for more advanced players, a Pernambuco wood bow. Any bow your child uses should be easy to tighten and loosen.
  • Test the tailpiece. The tailpiece of a cello affects its sound greatly. Make sure the tailpiece has been installed so that it doesn’t create a buzzing sound when played.
  • Protection is paramount. Protective cases are extremely important to the health of your child’s cello; before purchasing a cello, examine the case to make sure that all zippers and latches fasten securely.
  • Brand matters. When buying stringed instruments, it’s always best to go with an instrument brand that is a known quantity. Although you may spend more in the outset, a quality brand-name instrument will save you countless maintenance, repair, and replacement costs over time. Look for brands that hand-carve each instrument individually and use materials of excellent quality in grade and preparation.
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Recommended Cello Accessories

When buying a cello, look for a store that offers all the accessories your child will need in order to best use and maintain it. In addition to the case, bow, and rosin cake that should come with every purchase, you’ll need a shoulder rest and music stand. You may also want to consider buying a maintenance or care kit, which provides additional cleaning materials and practice aides. Some vendors will include some of these items as part of a cello outfit when you purchase the instrument, whereas others will charge extra.

Along with your purchase, check that a protective case, wooden horsehair bow, rosin, soft cloth to wipe down the strings after playing, and name tag are included or can be added. 

If you question whether or not a music stand is necessary, keep in mind that it is important to develop and reinforce proper playing posture and technique.  A music stand at the right height will help to improve breathing and prevent back aches from poor posture.

The Instrument Place instrument outfits come equipped with everything needed to get started in class, plus a free music stand with every instrument purchase!

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Cello Maintenance and Care

Like most musical instruments, the cello requires maintenance occasionally. You should expect a few broken strings from time to time. It just happens with violin family instruments. It is important to know how to care for your cello.

To keep your stringed instrument in the best condition, please follow these suggestions.

  • Do not try and tune the instrument yourself until you are comfortable doing so. It takes a while to learn to do this properly, and if you’re not careful you may damage the instrument, break strings and/or hurt yourself. Take your instrument to the teacher at your next class and have them tune it for you.
  • Do not leave your instrument in your car! Intense heat or cold can cause an instrument to come apart or crack, and will definitely cause it to fall out of tune. Also, try to avoid exposing your instrument to sudden changes in humidity. When traveling with your instrument it is always better to keep it in the back seat of your car rather than the trunk.
  • Keep your instrument clean. Keep a lint-free cloth inside your case and wipe off all the rosin dust and dirt from your instrument after each time you play. Pay particular attention to the fingerboard and the top of the instrument. Be careful not to knock the bridge out of place. NEVER USE FURNITURE POLISH OR ALCOHOL TO CLEAN YOUR INSTRUMENT.
  • When placing your cello back into its case, never place your cello bridge down, to avoid damaging the bridge.
  • When using a soft case, always remove your bow first and your cello second to prevent the bow from getting damaged.
  • Oils can accumulate in the bow and hinder its ability to grab the strings, so avoid touching the horsehairs in your bow whenever possible.
  • Don’t apply too much rosin. If you see white powder on your instrument after playing, you may be applying too much.
  • Always loosen the hair on your bow after playing before you place it back in the case. Simply turn the screw until the bow hair is loose and the bow stick is no longer stressed. Be careful not to over-tighten the bow before use as this will warp the wood. The bow stick should still maintain a natural arch when tightened appropriately. (Remember: lefty = loosey, righty = tightie).

Student cello prices can be considerable so take care of your instrument. Every cello player should have a cello maintenance and care kit.

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Famous Cellists

Looking for more inspiration? Below are sound bites from famous cellists from all a range of music categories.

Famous classical cello players include Yo-Yo MaJacqueline du PreZara NelsovaJohann Sebastian PaetschMstislav RostropovichsJanos Starker, and Maurice Gendron, to name just a few.

Well known jazz cello players include Oscar Pettiford, Harry Babasin, Dave Holland, Abdul Wadud, Ron Carter, Oscar Pettiford and many others.

Rock/pop bands that have used the cello include Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, ELO, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith and Panic at the Disco.

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