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About the Cello

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The violoncello, or as it is more commonly to refered to as the cello or 'cello (pronounced Cheh-loh), is a stringed instrument and a member of the violin family. The name 'cello is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means "little violone". The violone is an obsolete instrument, a large viol, similar to a modern double bass.

The cello is most closely associated with European classical music. It is part of the standard orchestra and features in the string quartet and many other chamber groups. A large number of concertos and sonatas have been written for it. It is less common in popular music, but the instrument is sometimes featured in pop and rock recordings.

Among the most famous Baroque works for the cello are J. S. Bach's Unaccompanied Suites for Cello (or as they are more commonly known, The Bach Cello Suites). An example of a Classical-era piece would be Haydn's Cello Concerto #1 and #2. Standard Romantic era repertoire includes Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Cello Concerto in E Minor by Sir Edward Elgar, and two sonatas by Johannes Brahms. Modern compositions within the early 20th century include unaccompanied cello sonatas by Paul Hindemith (opus 25) and Zoltán Kodály (opus 8). Recordings within the Avant Garde (cutting edge) genre have revitalized the instrument's perceived versatility. One example is Night of the Four Moons by George Crumb.


The cello is much larger than a violin or a viola and smaller than a bass. Like the other members of the string orchestra, the cello has four strings, normally tuned to the pitches (from low to high) C-G-D-A (more specifically, C2-G2-D3-A3 in scientific pitch notation), like the viola but one octave lower (see #Tuning and range). It is played in an upright position between the legs of the seated musician, resting on a metal spike called the endpin. The player draws the bow horizontally across the strings. The cello is a complex instrument consisting of many different parts. Although the majority of it is composed of wood, some parts are made of steel, composite material, rubber, and metal. Today, the strings are most often metal but can be made of nylon or other material, and like the hair of the bow (see below) must periodically be replaced.


The main frame of the cello is made from wood. Cellos are normally constructed with a spruce top. The back, sides, and neck are usually made of maple. Other wood are sometimes used for the back and/or sides, usually poplar or pine. The top and back are traditionally hand carved. Less expensive cellos frequently have a top and back made of a laminate. The sides are made by steaming the wood and bending it around forms, or carved from solid maple. The cello body has a wide top, narrow middle, and wide bottom, the bridge and f-holes in the middle. Also, it should be noted that some modern cellos are constructed from carbon fibre.

Upper neck and pegbox

Above the main frame is the carved neck, which leads to a pegbox and then a scroll. The scroll is a traditional part of the cello and features in all instruments of the stringed family (except the harp). The three are normally carved out of a single piece of wood. The pegbox consists of four tuning pegs, each which tunes its respective string by either tightening or loosening the string. Ebony is usually used for the tuning pegs, fingerboard, nut (piece above the fingerboard which the strings rest on), and tailpiece, but other dark woods, such as boxwood or rosewood, can be used.

Tailpiece and endpin

The tailpiece and endpin are designed to support the cello when the cello is being played. The endpin, usually metal, is retractable and is placed at a comfortable distance. The side of the endpin touching the floor is usually a spiked tip that can be capped with rubber; both serve to grip the floor and prevent the cello from moving or slipping.

Bridge and f-holes

The bridge elevates the strings above the fingerboard. The bridge is not glued on; tension from the strings maintains it in place. The f-holes (named for their shape) are located on either side of the bridge, and serve to allow the instrument to properly sound (produce sound). Additionally, f-holes are as access points to the interior of the body in case of repair, maintenance or for the fitting of a sound post or other device. One example of such a device is called a snake, which maintains proper humidity within the instrument.

Internal features

Internally, the cello has two important features: a bass bar, which is glued to the underside of the bottom of the instrument, and a round wooden sound post (also called a sound peg), which is sandwiched between the top and bottom. The bass bar serves to support the backbone of the cello, and contributes to the cello's rigidity. The sound post, meanwhile, is responsible for conducting and absorbing sound. Like the bridge, the sound post is not glued, but is kept in place by the tensions of the bridge and strings.


Cellos are glued together using hide glue, which is strong yet also reversible, allowing for repair and restoration of the instrument should it need to be taken apart.


Traditionally, bows are made from Pernambuco (high quality) or Brasil (lower quality) wood. Both woods come from the same species of tree (Caesalpina sappna L, or sappon wood, native in Asia), but Pernambuco is the heartwood of the tree and is much darker (Brasil wood is stained/painted dark to compensate). Pernambuco is a heavy, resinous wood with great elasticity and high sound velocity which makes it an ideal wood for instrument bows. The hair is horsehair, though synthetic hair has become available nowadays. In addition, the bow can now also be made of fiberglass or carbon fibre (or wood with a carbon fibre core), serving as alternatives to the traditional wooden bow. The hair is coated with rosin (normally every time the instrument is played) to improve the grip on the strings. Bows need to be re-haired periodically as the hair loses its grip over time. The hair is kept under tension while playing by a screw which pulls the frog (the part of the bow one holds) back. Leaving the bow tightened for long periods of time can damage it, by warping the stick.

History of the cello

The earliest known cello was made in Italy. At first called Viola da gamba, it literally meant "leg viola" as no endpin was used at that time and the cello was held resting on the player's calves; contrast "Viola da braccio", "arm viola". Through its development the Viola da gamba was a fretted instrument that could have 5 or 6 strings. Other non fretted varieties did exist but were generally considered to be of the basso variety and not a predecessor of the cello.

Cellos developed in the 16th century were generally bigger than today's instruments (80cm in length). However, in the 1690s, luthiers began to make smaller cellos (now generically referred to as 'Baroque cellos') which caused the larger variety to be referred to as 'church cellos' because of their widespread use in churches and cathedrals. This smaller cello had two main advantages: firstly, it reduced the tension in the players' left hand, and secondly, it facilitated the playing of faster solo passages. However, the smaller size inevitably meant that the lower registers were weaker and could not be heard very well in large acoustics, one of the key attractions of the church cello. Nevertheless, by the the mid-1700s the church cello had almost completely fallen out of favour and very few survive today.

Baroque Era

Baroque era cellos differed from the modern instrument in several ways. The neck has a different form and angle which matches the baroque bass-bar and stringing. Modern cellos have a retractable metal (or sometimes carbon fibre) spike at the bottom to support the instrument (and transmit some of the sound through the floor), while Baroque cellos are held only by the calves of the player. Modern bows curve in and are held at the frog; Baroque bows curve out and are held closer to the bow's point of balance. Modern strings normally have a metal core, although some use a synthetic core; Baroque strings are made of gut (the G and C strings sometimes wound with metal). Modern cellos often have fine-tuners connecting the strings to the tailpiece, which make it much easier to tune the instrument.

No educational works specifically devoted to the cello existed before the 18th century, and those that do exist contain little value to the performer beyond simple accounts of instrumental technique. One of the earliest cello manuals is Michel Corrette's Méthode, thèorique et pratique. Pour Apprendre en peu de tems le Violoncelle dans sa Perfection (Paris, 1741).


The cello produces a deep, rich, and vibrant sound. It has the lowest pitch in the traditional string quartet and is regarded by some as the instrument producing the most human-like sound.

Playing Technique

Body Position

The cello is played sitting, with the knees apart and the instrument between them. The scroll, or top, of the instrument is placed by the player's left ear, making the C string closest to the ear and the A string furthest from the ear. The shoulders should be square and the arms loose and free to move freely.

Left Hand Technique

The left hand determines the pitch of the note when the cello is played. The hand is positioned so the thumb is against the back of the neck and the other four fingers are available to depress the strings on the fingerboard. Except in special techniques, the fingers are always held curved with each knuckle bent. In fast playing, the fingers contact the strings at the tip, almost at the nail. In slower, or more expressive playing, the flat of the fingerpad is used, allowing a richer tone and fuller vibrato. If the string is depressed further down the string, closer to the bridge, the resulting pitch will be higher because the string has been shortened. If it is depressed further up the string, closer to the scroll of the instrument, the pitch will be lower.

Additional Left Hand Techniques

Vibrato consists of oscillating the finger of the left hand up and down while playing a note. As a result, the pitch of the note will waver slightly, much as a singer's voice on a sustained note. A well developed vibrato technique is a key expressive device and an essential element of an accomplished cello player. In some styles of music, such as that of the Romantic period, vibrato is used on almost every note. However, in other styles, such as Baroque pieces, vibrato is not used, or used only rarely. A good vibrato comes from the arm, not the fingers or wrist, and requires a loose shoulder. Typically, the lower the pitch of the note played, the wider the vibrato used. Vibrato may even be used on double stops.
Thumb Position
In thumb position, the thumb is not held against the back of the neck but taken to the fingerboard, and the side of the thumb used to depress the strings. A common use of thumb position is to play high, fast passages. Thumb position is considered an advanced technique. For an example of thumb position playing, listen to the Haydn C and D major concertos.
Double Stops
Double stops involve the playing of two notes at the same time. Two strings are fingered simultaneously, and the bow is drawn at an angle so as to sound them both at once. Triple and quadruple stops may also be played.
Glissandi are notes played by sliding the finger up or down the fingerboard without releasing the string. This causes the pitch to rise and fall smoothly, without discrete steps.
Harmonics are produced by touching, but not depressing, the string with the finger at certain places, and then bowing or plucking the string. For example, the halfway point of the string will produce a harmonic that is one octave above the unfingered string. There also exist fingered, or artificial harmonics, in which the player depressed the string with one finger and presses light to produce a harmonic further up the string with a second finger.


Right Hand Technique

In cello playing, the bow is much like the breath of a wind instrument player. Arguably, it is the major determinant in the expressiveness of the playing. The right hand holds the bow and controls the duration and character of the notes. The bow is drawn over along the strings in the area between the fingerboard and bridge, in a direction parallel to the bridge. The bow is gripped with all five fingers of the right hand. The shape of the hand should resemble that of its relaxed state, with all fingers curved, including the thumb, and the wrist pronated, i.e. exerting some degree of counter-clockwise pressure. The index finger, and to a lesser degree the middle finger transmit most of the arm weight into the bow. The other two fingers hold the bow loosely.

On a down-bow, the bow is drawn towards the right, moving the hand away from the bridge. On an up-bow, the bow is drawn the other way, bringing the hand closer to the bridge. The bow is always held perpendicular to the string being played. Each string requires a slightly different angle of the bow. The wrist is kept extremely flexible, and cushions the movement of the bow to avoid abrupt changes, especially during the switch from up-bow to down-bow and vice versa. For very fast bow movements, the wrist is used to accomplish the horizontal movement of bow. For longer strokes, the arm is used as well as the wrist. Large muscle groups, like the shoulder, are used little if at all.

The more weight placed on the bow, the louder the sound produced. For piano playing, the bow is drawn very lightly, using mainly the weight of the bow itself. In forte playing, more weight is transmitted through the arm, through the wrist and into the strings to produce a strong tone. A good player will be capable of a very even tone, and will counter the natural tendency to play with the most force with the part of the bow closest to the hand, and the least near the tip. The closer to the bridge (further down) the string is bowed, the louder and brighter the tone. If it is bowed closer to the fingerboard (further up), the sound produced will be softer and of a more mellow tone.

Additonal Right Hand Techniques

In pizzicato playing, the string is plucked with the right hand fingers, or more rarely those of the left hand, and the bow is simply held away from the strings by the rest of the hand or even set down. A single string can be played pizzicato, or double, triple, or quadruple stops can be played.
Col Legno
Col Legno means to play with the wood of the bow rather than the hair.
In Spiccato playing, the strings are not "drawn" by the bow but struck by it, while still retaining some horizontal motion, to form a more percussive, crisp sound. It may be performed by using the wrist to "dip" the bow into the strings. Spiccato is usually associated with lively playing.


Tuning and range

The cello has four strings referred to by their standard tuning, which is in perfect fifth intervals: the C-string, G-string, D-string, and A-string. The A-string is tuned to the pitch A3 (which is three half-steps lower than middle C), the D-string a fifth lower at D3, the G-string a fifth below that at G2, and the C-string tuned to C2 (two octaves lower than middle C). Cellos are usually tuned to a reference pitch of A4 at 440 Hz, though tuning to 442 Hz or 444 Hz is becoming increasingly popular. Some pieces, notably the 5th of Bach's 6 Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, require an altered tuning of the strings, a technique known as scordatura.

While the lower range is constrained by the tuning of the lowest string (typically C2, two octaves below middle C), the upper range of the cello can vary according to the skill of the player. A general guideline when writing for professional cellists sets the upper limit at C6 (two octaves above middle C). Because of the enormous range of the instrument, written music for the cello frequently alternates between the bass clef, tenor clef, and treble clef.


Standard cellos are referred to as "full-sized", or "four-fourths". However, cellos come in smaller sizes, from "seven-eighths" and "three-quarter" down to "sixteenth" sized cellos. The smaller-sized cellos are identical to standard cellos, but are simply 'scaled-down' for the benefit of children and shorter adults. Many female cellists prefer to play a "seven-eighths" cello as the hand stretches in the lower positions are less taxing.


There are many accessories to the cello.

* Wolf tone eliminators are sometimes placed on cello strings between the tailpiece and the bridge in order to eliminate noises known as wolf tones or "wolfs".
* Mutes are used to soften or dampen the sound of the cello.
* Rosin is applied to the bow hairs to increase the effectiveness of the friction and allow proper sound production.
* Humidifiers are used to control the humidity around the cello.
* Tuners are used to tune the instrument.
* Metronomes provide a steady tempo by sounding out a certain number of beats per minute. Many models can also produce a tuning pitch of A4 (440 Hz).
* Cases are used to protect the cello and bow when traveling, and for safe storage.
* Krovoza Pegs (formerly PosturePegs) are replacement pegs for the C and G strings, which eliminate the discomfort of the traditional pegs digging into the player's neck or head.
* Rockstops keep the cello from sliding if the endpin does not have a rubber piece on the end (used on wood floors).


Current use


Cellos are part of the standard symphony orchestra. Usually, the orchestra includes eight to twelve cellists. The cello section, in standard orchestral seating, is located on stage left (the audience's right) in the front, opposite to the first violin section. However, some orchestras prefer secondary orchestral seating, where the cello section is placed in the middle front, between the first violins and second violins. The principal, or "first chair" cellist is the best cellist in the orchestra. In standard orchestra seating, he/she sits nearest to the conductor and the audience. In secondary orchestra seating, he/she sits nearest the conductor and stage left in comparison to the cellist next to him/her (the cellist sitting "second chair").

The cellos are a critical part of orchestral music; all symphonic works involve the cello section, and many pieces require cello soli or solos. Much of the time, cellos provide part of the harmony for the orchestra. On many occasions, the cello section will pick up the melody of the piece for a brief period of time, before returning to the harmony. There are also cello concertos, which are orchestral pieces in which a featured, solo cellist is accompanied by an entire orchestra.


There are multiple cello concertos and solo sonata cello pieces. In this genre, the cello is usually accompanied by either a pianist or an orchestra, though there are several unaccompanied pieces for cello, most notably J.S. Bach's Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, and Benjamin Britten's Unaccompanied Suites for Cello.


The cello is a defined member of the traditional string quartet. In addition, cellos are also usually part of string quintets or trios. There have been several pieces written for a cello ensemble of twenty to thirty cellists.

Pop Music

Though the cello is less common in popular music, it is sometimes featured in pop and rock recordings. Despite this, the cello is rarely part of a group's standard lineup. An exception are Apocalyptica, a group of cellists best known for their versions of heavy metal songs. Another example is Rasputina, a group of three female cellists committed to an intricate cello style intermingled with Gothic music. These groups are examples of a style that has become known as cello rock.

Makers / Luthiers

Main article: Luthier

A violin maker or luthier is someone who builds or repairs stringed instruments, ranging from guitars to violins. Some well known luthiers include:

* Nicolo Amati
* Nicolò Gagliano
* Matteo Gofriller
* Giovanni Battista Guadagnini
* Giuseppe Guarneri
* Domenico Montagnana
* Stefano Scarampella
* Antonio Stradivari
* David Tecchler
* Carlo Giuseppe Testore
* Jean Baptiste Vuillaume



Main article: List of cellists

A person who plays the cello is called a cellist. For a list of famous or notable cellists, see the list of cellists.

* Double stop
* Electric cello
* List of compositions for cello and orchestra
* List of solo cello pieces
* Category:Composers for cello


* Disclaimers

>> Learn about Pizzicato

>> Learn about Vibrato

Pressing the finger very lightly on the string can create harmonics. This means that instead of the normal solid tone a wispy-sounding note of a higher pitch is heard. This is caused by the light finger blocking the string's fundamental; the position of the finger determines the first note of that string's harmonic series which is allowed to sound.

Bowing Techniques
The violin produces louder notes when the player either moves the bow faster or pushes down harder on the string. The two methods are not equivalent, because they produce different timbres; pressing down on the string tends to produce a harsher, more intense sound.
The location where the bow intersects the string also influences timbre. Playing close to the bridge (sul ponticello) gives a more intense sound than usual, emphasizing the higher harmonics; and playing with the bow over the end of the fingerboard (sul tasto) makes for a delicate, ethereal sound, emphasizing the fundamental frequency.
Occasionally the strings are struck with the back of the bow (col legno). This gives a much more percussive sound, and is most effective when employed by a full orchestral violin section, since it produces little volume.
A second, more modern percussive technique is called the "chop," in which the hair near the bottom of the bow is struck against the strings.

>> Watch videos of bowing techniques

Violins are tuned by twisting the pegs in the scroll, around which the strings are wrapped. The A string is tuned first, typically to 440 Hz (see Pitch (music)). The other strings are then tuned to it in intervals of perfect fifths using double-stopping. Some violins also have adjustors (also called fine tuners). These permit the tension of the string to be adjusted by rotating a small knob. Such tuning is generally easier than using the pegs, and adjustors are usually recommended for younger players. Adjustors work best, and are most useful, with higher tension metal strings. It is very common to use one on the E-string even if the others are not equipped with them.

Small tuning adjustments can also be made by stretching a string with the hand.

The tuning G-D-A-E is used for the great majority of all violin music. However, other tunings are occasionally employed (for example, tuning the G string up to A), both in classical music (where the technique is known as scordatura) and in some folk styles.


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Parts of the Violin


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