Can a violinist learn to play the cello too?

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?

Replies (37)

October 13, 2007 at 07:03 AM · Greetings,

why not? There was a thread on violnist who playe dthe cello a while back. They included Milstein.



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!

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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. :-)


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 have 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.

March 2017 UPDATE: 3 years ago I willed myself to try viola seriously - I read through the 3 movements of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante and it went so well that ayer that week I played it with my regular piano trio - also took my cello so we also played a regular piano trio. Since then I've been playing viola in our chamber orchestra and our Friday "String Serenades." One can will oneself to make these changes - even at 80 years old! I no longer have to strain my brain to "read viola."

October 15, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Greetings,

>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...;)



October 19, 2007 at 09:44 PM · Thanks for all that encouragement everyone...I think I'll have a go!

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.

November 4, 2007 at 03:05 AM · Oliver,

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)

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.

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!

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.

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. ;)

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...

December 23, 2015 at 02:18 AM · I agree with you guys. From what I have heard it sounds possible. Even though you would have to start from scratch, you would probably progress very quickly.

December 23, 2015 at 01:23 PM · In one of the last really good chamber music sessions I had with my father and friends, he played violin or viola for the Cesar Franck (Quintet) and then played the double bass part on a 'cello (simply because there wasn't a double bass in the house) for the Trout.

December 23, 2015 at 01:51 PM · Patting myself on the back! This pst Sunday our chamber orchestra included Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" in its performance - this is the 2nd performance I have done here on viola (switched from violin in early summer. So now at last I have now played all 4 parts of this piece in concert.

In any normal week I will play viola or violin in orchestra and cello in piano trio.

It is really important for a violinist attempting to transition to cello to have professional lessons. Although a violinist can understand and play a cello and learn quickly to sight read the music, the left and right hand technique is sufficiently different from that of violin or viola that injury can result from improper body mechanics and posture.


December 23, 2015 at 03:58 PM · We have in our city a musician who is not a formal permanent member of any orchestra as far as I know, but you could call him a travelling deputy who is available to any orchestra who wants a violinist, violist, cellist or bassist at short notice for a concert. Yes, he does indeed play all those instruments, and pdg! He sets himself unusual targets like playing all the string parts in all the Beethoven symphonies - obviously this would be over a number of years.

Btw, I was a cellist for decades before I took up the violin, and have now given up orchestral cello playing in favour of the violin.

December 23, 2015 at 05:23 PM · I agree with Andrew on his points. I'm just saying that knolege of violin technique could be kind of useful for cello, though the differences are very large and despite these differences, you basically have to start from scratch.

December 23, 2015 at 05:57 PM · Ella, it's much the same when going from cello to violin. About the only things that are useful in that transition are that you already have some control over the left hand (i.e. the muscles in the forearm that control the fingers are developed), you can read music and know how to listen to yourself, you have some idea of the shapes the learning curve can take, and if you already play in an orchestra then you know how that beast works, which is useful when eventually you start playing violin in one. But apart from all that, my experience of learning the violin was that after 6 months I was in a whole new world of technique where my cello experience wasn't really relevant any more.

December 23, 2015 at 06:14 PM · Thanks.

March 26, 2017 at 03:21 PM · Can anyone tell me is it possible to string the Cello the opposite way making the required adjustments to the bridge, and if so, or long term would it make it more difficult to play the more complex pieces? I play Irish Traditional music on Violin/Fiddle, I had a Cello 20 yrs ago and I , knowing nothing about engineering of the instrument strung it the opposite way to what it said in the book, as it felt more natural to me to move the bow right towards the higher strings, and had no problem with the left hand on the strings, and now I have a Cello again, strung the correct(?) way but I keep finding myself moving the bow to the right towards the high strings that are not there. I'm learning Bach March in G for beginners and there is one part where I feel it would be easier for me finger wise if it was strung the opposite way, but I can't speak for the more advanced pieces, if anyone can advise me I'd be grateful; I tried to find a teacher but I live in the outback.

March 26, 2017 at 07:04 PM · I tried stringing a violin in fourths (G-C-F-Bb) thinking that would facilitate jazz improv, but it drove me crazy. I really couldn't work out the problems. I only spent a total of about 10 hours on it though, before deciding that it wasn't worth the trouble.

March 26, 2017 at 08:06 PM ·

March 26, 2017 at 08:27 PM · So stringing the opposite way leaves no disadvantage with more difficult pieces later? I learned most of Bach Cello for players of up to one year, within a few weeks, but with it strung the opposite way, so thank you for both your replies.

March 26, 2017 at 08:29 PM · I mistakenly thought your reply was to my question. I'm not allowed to post a blog for 48 hrs. My mistake.

March 26, 2017 at 09:55 PM · I think the most difficult thing a violinist/violist learning cello has to deal with is the position. Yes, the vertical position is natural, but it can be awkward at first because you're not used to it. I tried a cello for the first time in my life recently, and although I knew what I was doing with my left hand (admittedly not properly), I had trouble crossing strings. We violinists move down to play higher and up to play lower. On cello, it's the opposite, so I got confused. I also struggled to produce an adequate tone because of bowing confusion. If I spent more time on it, I would've produced a better sound, but I wasn't very conscious of what I was doing because there was noise around me.

March 26, 2017 at 10:13 PM · Imelda, I guess it is not too wise to string the Chello thay way, because then you don't have the maximum string tension on the side of the bass bar but on the side of the soundpost, and disregarding what this might contribute to bad tone quality, it highly increases the risk of damage of your instruments top plate.

If you want a chello that is strung "the wrong way", get a "left handed" instrument!

March 26, 2017 at 11:06 PM · The only reason for stringing a cello backward would be to finger with the right hand. Otherwise things will just not work out when the music gets tougher.

March 26, 2017 at 11:28 PM · I had my violins fixed to play left-handed; not only the strings, but also the nut, bridge, soundpost and pegs had to be reversed. Changing only the strings will not work.

March 28, 2017 at 09:26 AM · I play violin and cello.

I treat them as two different instruments, but there is a comfortable "something" common to playing both, that I cannot clearly define.

Each gets its own practice time.

Just do it.

March 28, 2017 at 03:07 PM · I agree with Graeme. Hugely different, but principally similar. The difference between violin and cello is ten times larger than the difference between violin and viola.

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