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Can a violinist learn to play the cello too?

Performing: Is it possible to be a satisfactory violinist and cellist at the same time, or is this made very difficult by the fact that everything is done the other way round, let alone the sheer difference in size?

From Oliver Bedford
Posted October 13, 2007 at 05:51 AM

As an amateur violinist (and violist), I am wondering about the possibility of buying a cello and endeavouring to become an amateur cellist.

Is it possible to be a satisfactory violinist and cellist at the same time, or is this made very difficult by the fact that everything is done the other way round, let alone the sheer difference in size?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 07:03 AM
why not? There was a thread on violnist who playe dthe cello a while back. They included Milstein.
From John Allison
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 02:31 PM
You only have a short time on this rock as it is. Endeavor to fulfill all you want. I'd give it a go, and have fun!
From Sue Bechler
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 03:42 PM
If you talk to public school teachers, who tend to play 'em all with reasonable proficiency, you will hear most also say that going from violin or viola to cello is SO much easier than from cello or bass to vln.&vla. So go ahead :) Sue
From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 10:15 PM
I think that the cello is the most accessible instrument to adult beginners. I have known a number who achieved a decent amount of facility. I have known a few professional cellists who diudn't play until their late teens and they have/had principal positions in major orchestras.

My teacher was a conservatory trained pianist who studied violin in high school and took up the cello in college. He is a very fine cellist and now teaches it exclusively (some of us are grandfathered). . His students are quite outstanding. I recently heard several of them in solo and ensemble music including Tchaikovsky's Rococco Variation, The Schumann Concerto, The Ravel Pino Trio etc.

Yes I think one can do well on the cello as an adult.

From Kenneth Kensek
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 11:11 PM
Going from violin to cello is not as hard as it sounds. The arm positions are much more natural feeling, and much of the technique learned on the violin is transferable with only slight modifications. Go for it!
From Daniel Stone
Posted on October 13, 2007 at 11:20 PM
A lot of cellists get tendonitis (maybe from tense shoulders or improper arm positions?) so you probably shouldn't play very seriously unless you get proper instruction.
From Bobby N.
Posted on October 14, 2007 at 01:43 AM
Many years ago, a friend of mine was an excellent violinist. Now, she is an excellent cellist (she quit the violin). So, I believe it's very possible, she's actually very good at the cello, too, one of the best in the whole area.
From Bernardo B
Posted on October 15, 2007 at 09:56 PM
I've been playing both since I'm a kid. It's totally doable. My only problem is sight reading! I suck at both because I'm not as "natural" on either cello or violin from always switching from one to the other.
From Man Wong
Posted on October 15, 2007 at 10:39 PM
Hmmm... Maybe there's hope for me yet then though I'm just an adult beginner on violin (and viola), but also love the sound of the cello and what looks like a much more intimate playing posture. :-p I even ended up buying a pretty nice, advanced amateur cello off eBay, LOL, while I was shopping for some violins (and violas). :-o But I'll probably wait a few years before I really try to learn it -- maybe when our baby (or one of the other kids) is ready to take up the cello herself via our local Suzuki program. :-)


From Andrew Victor
Posted on October 15, 2007 at 10:32 PM
When I was 14 (after having played violin almost 10 years, although I'd quit lessons 2 years earlier) my dad brought home a cello and told me he needed me to play with his string quartet in 10 days time.

I did it! Sight reading some Haydn and Mozart cello parts. Of course I had worked on the cello a lot in those 10 days, first reading my violin music (transposing the treble celf down an octave - and then reading some cello music that I got my hands on.

Then I started cello lessons within a month and joined the community orchestra as a cellist (sitting next to my teacher), while also playing violin (during daylight hours) as concertmaster in my high school orchestra.

I continued cello lessons for 30 months - until my cello teacher disappeared (never to return). By then I'd made it through the Haydn D-major cello concerto and the Bruch Kol Nidrei - and similar works.

I have continued to play both instruments in orchestras, in smaller ensembles, and as a sometime amateur soloist since then (56 years since my last formal lesson).

It can be done. - and it certainly enriches one's retirement years. Just add some viola playing too and the world will always hyave a use for you.

For me, sight reading came from doing a real lot of it. I still have trouble sight reading viola parts (but I've only done about 70 hours of that in total).

My cello teacher used to play violin in cello position (the way Jackie Du Pre did when fooling around on the Schubert Trout Quintet video). I did that sort of thing a bit too, but I noticed when I tried it 10 or 20 years later, if I sight read in cello position I read the music as a cellist (whatever the clef) - even if I was holding a violin, but if I put the instrument under my "chin" then I automatically sight read as a violinist. That surprised me - and has held true to this day. Obviously, I don't put a cello under my chin - but it helps me understand why it so strains my brain to play viola - I have to think when I do it.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 15, 2007 at 10:52 PM
>but it helps me understand why it so strains my brain to play viola - I have to think when I do it.

I hope you are prepared for the ensuing flood of viola jokes...;)

From Oliver Bedford
Posted on October 19, 2007 at 09:44 PM
Thanks for all that encouragement everyone...I think I'll have a go!
From Susan D
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 08:06 AM
Andrew, that's amazing! I played cello and violin for about a year, cello is still my favourite instrument. With a few lessons and daily practice I was near grade 5 level within a few weeks (not progressing as fast beyond that though!).

BUT, it took me quite a while to develop the physical strength required for the cello. Playing quartets after a few weeks would have been out of the question for me, as my left hand just couldn't take that much cello per day.

I loved my cello time, and if I was to start from scratch on an instrument, that would be the one.

From Allan Speers
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 03:05 AM

As others have said, it's totally do-able. I was a fine cellist long ago, and am now learning violin. I also play guitar and electric bass. You would think all those different scale lengths would be problematic, but somehow the brain learns where to put the fingers.

I also had no problem with the note reading, though I expected I would.

However, be aware that many (most,actually) elements of violin will not directly tranfer. The bow-hold is very different. The bow ANGLE is different (top away from you vs top towards you)

Left-hand hold is of course very different, esp where you place the thumb. Have a teacher show you that, if nothing else.

The vibrato is incredibly different, though cello vibrato is much easier than violin vibrato, so it may not be a great challenge for you. Going from cello to violin was quite difficult.

One more tip: When switching to cello, there is a clear-cut answer to one ubiquitous question found around these forums: Definitely do NOT use a shoulder rest! (g)

From T Carlsen
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 06:11 AM
That's a good one!

Which reminds me of this question: Imagine you were stranded in a parched desert. In the distance you see an oasis, a great violist and a bad violist. Which one do you walk to?

The bad violist, because the other two are mirages.

Drum roll!

Actually, that's not really true, but that's the rep.

From Royce Faina
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 12:45 PM
Go for it! Performers like Geddy Lee (Rush) and Imogen Heap multitask between different related/unrelated instruments are people that I admire. My group (The Eclectic Circus and it's Traveling Frettless Side Show) have myself and others bouncing from one intrument to another. Have fun!
From Alexis Barton
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 06:13 PM
I know this is an old thread - but right now I am a junior in high school. My primary is violin. When I was in 8th grade, I knew I wanted to be a music education major. So my teacher told me to learn the other instruments. When I was a freshman, I jokingly tried playing cello in an ensemble for solo and ensemble and I got a gold rating. The next year, I joined the lower orchestra on cello while playing violin in the upper one.

Now, as a junior, I am the assistant concertmaster of our highest group, the associate concertmaster of our chamber group. I am also first chair cellist for the lower group, but I am the only person taking a cello solo to state next weekend. My violin solo is also going. I am now one of the leading cellists and violinists in my area (student wise).

If you put in the effort, it can happen. I will be attending Ball State for Music Education in Fall 2014.

From Emma Otto
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I'm the principal 2nd violinist of my youth symphony (I'm in 9th grade), and I started cello about a year ago. It was pretty easy to pick up. At this point, if I wanted to try out for a cello position in the orchestra, I'd probably make it. I'd try out, except that I like the violin more. ;)
From Mollie McCabe
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 07:43 PM
There seems to be a compulsion to try out the other members of the family! My teacher is a gifted player of the violin & viola but has recently moved on to (teaching himself) the cello...