For those that play cello in addition to violin......

Edited: December 18, 2020, 9:17 AM · Particularly if you learned violin first, how difficult was the leap? Did you struggle with feeling like everything was “backwards” in terms of playing and if so how were you successful in over coming it?

As a long time violin player I’ve always admired the cello as well and wished I could play. I’m not getting any younger and giving it serious consideration for a project in the new year. I would have access to a terrific teacher online so I would not be completing “winging” it on my own.

However even when I try to play violin in cello position, haha it is such a backwards feeling me! My hands just do not want to cooperate with what I’m trying to get them to do. Even when discussing this with the teacher she warned me it may seem very difficult at first as my brain is very much wired to play the violin but if I could overcome this it would be very much worth while.

Just looking for some first hand experiences with this to see if this is a challenge others successfully over came as well!

Replies (24)

December 18, 2020, 10:57 AM · I learned violin first, and had no problem when starting cello; maybe that was because I learned violin left-handed and cello the usual way (could not rent a left-handed cello!). Unfortunately, that is probably not an option for you, but keep at it, I have confidence that you can learn both. P.S. viola will be next...
December 18, 2020, 11:27 AM · Kim, I was 14 (almost 15) when I started cello but 4 (4-1/2 for first lesson) on violin.

I was handed a cello one night by my father and told he needed me to play with his string quartet in 10 days because their regular cellist couldn't. By noon of the day after he handed the instrument to me I was reading some of my violin music and playing it an octave down (covering 1st and 4th positions) on cello. Next day I started reading bass clef on it. I held my bow sort of violinish and used my left hand as a violinist might too. Ten days later I played in the quartet that way too.

My cello lessons with an ex-big-time symphony player started about a month later (by that time my 1st cello had been replaced by a good one from somebody's attic). The first thing my teacher did was fix my left and right hand positions so I looked like a cellist. The next thing he did that night after the lesson was see to it that I went to the very first rehearsal of the brand new community orchestra in our town, which we both continued to play in for the rest of my high school years, which comprised the entire duration of my cello lessons (28 months - but that's another story). I progressed very fast on cello. I hope you do too.

That was over 71 years ago. I still play violin and cello - and viola too now - in isolation during this plague, but with other people too for all the years from back then until...

December 18, 2020, 12:03 PM · Thank you to both of you for your encouraging stories!!!

My goodness Andrew, you must be gifted musically to reach the level you could play with others so quickly!!!

Perhaps I will give this a try and maybe rent a cello to start so there is a bit less pressure. You bringing up the plague...I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in playing these last few months so that is part of my reasoning as well to take the leap and learn cello. Music and the ability to play and continue to learn /self improve during these times is something I’m very grateful to have in my life.

I do have a viola and play once in a while. I purchased it in hopes it would scratch the cello itch, but it didn’t quite do that.

December 18, 2020, 12:12 PM · Go for it!!! Knowing the violin helped a lot. I heard it's easier to play cello after learning violin, than learning violin after cello.

It took me about 1 month to get through the first 3 Suzuki cello books, then another 2 months to get through book 4, but everyone's different.

The biggest challenge I had was sore muscles from tension the first couple weeks, but it seemed to resolve after I relaxed and got used to playing with a correct hold. I don't have a regular cello teacher, but have friends that teach it and get help from them.

Good luck and keep us posted on how you're doing!

December 18, 2020, 12:43 PM · As a lifelong violinist taking up cello as an adult (mostly self-study), it took some getting used to but I was able to get used to it. I had the benefit of some basic knowledge about common errors that violinists make when attempting cello although I don't pretend to have corrected everything! I had some upper back discomfort earlier on from not being used to engaging those muscles in that way. Now if I hold my violin in cello position, I "think in cello fingering" except of course the spacing is off, and if I'm in violin position and looking at bass clef, it feels slightly odd (despite that I play piano too and am fine with bass clef). There is definitely a "switch" that flips depending on posture cue. My biggest difficulty is knowing with my musician sense what I want it to sound like but not being able to do it immediately - don't know where the note is or how to get there efficiently, unrefined bowing technique, etc.

Also, I did the thing that I tell my students not to do - buy a cheap cello from a Craigslist stranger "to see if I would stick with it". I did but got a better one after a year, and I don't realistically expect to grow beyond the second cello's capabilities. I used to lend the first cello out to parents of violin students to pique their interest, then explain that I chose to accept the risks of buying private sale (and it was definitely a case of "buy nice or buy twice!"), but they might not be comfortable with that and it's convenient to rent from a proper shop and be assured that service needs will be taken care of. One parent ended up buying the rental cello and it's way better and/or way better set up than mine...plays like what I imagine a high end car to drive like, if I were familiar with high end cars.

December 19, 2020, 9:57 AM · Rebecca thank you for your kind words of encouragement and sharing your experience. I would love to update if I do venture down this road!

Mengwei, thank you as you!!! Your absolutely correct about posture cues and I’m hoping over time that is exactly what would happen if I can just have patience with myself to get there! Another comment that struck me was how I can see myself getting frustrated as I do know what I want to sound like, what the notes I want to hit sound like....but I do not have the skills to do that yet, haha!!! I’ve been looking at the local buy and sell ads as well secretly hoping an old cello would show up (even though I as well would never advise a beginner to start on an instrument that way as well!) but have found nothing yet. There is an incredible luither where I’m located and I’m giving it serious thought of purchasing a cello from her. Then that way I’d know I have the very best set up instrument (for my price range) to start with.

I recently ordered a set of octave strings to put on one of my fiddles I haven’t been playing much and yesterday they came in the mail. I will admit when playing them with a pick up and an amp it was very “cello’y” and a lot of fun to play around on! I will be leaving those strings on that violin. However they still didn’t quite scratch that cello itch either so I may as well just go for it after Christmas!!!!

Edited: December 19, 2020, 10:19 AM · Thank you Kim! I wanted to add too, that from my experience it wasn't easy at first (but it was easier because of playing violin aleady), and it was (and still is) a lot of work, physically and mentally. But it's fun work. It is definitely possible though, and totally worth it if you put the effort into it.

There were many times my husband told me I sounded like a dying moose and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Edited: December 19, 2020, 12:29 PM · Kim, I'd like to add that since you also play viola I think you should have little trouble getting going on cello.

I suggest getting the book "New Directions in Cello Playing" by Victor Sazer
( https://www.amazon.com/Directions-Cello-Playing-Victor-Sazer/dp/0944810039 )

and use it as a guide to the things that are different than playing violin. (I would suggest that you might start out by playing a 2 octave G major scale on your violin - but in cello position - just to get a sense of the low strings being on the right instead of the left, although that was never a problem for me.

I did not play the cello very much between 1970 and 1995 (I was concentrating on violin as CM of the local community orchestra and chamber music although I did sometimes play cello solos in churches and such). Around 1995 I got involved as cellist in a weekly piano trio - and for the next 20 years - so that was when I bought SAZER's book - I also started teaching cello to a few students for the next 12 (or so) years. So - I bought Sazer's book to be sure I was still doing things properly (I was). I eventually gave the 1st edition to a student and bought the 2nd, which I gave to one of my sons-in-law last month, along with one of my cellos & a bow. You can GOOGLE Victor Sazer's name. He was a long-time LA & Hollywood pro.

I can tell you this: as you get older you will find that cello is far more ergonomic than violin (and especially than viola) and may it be able to guide you into your 90s as it has for some of the people I still play ensembles with - as I hope it will do for me in 4 more years.

I wish you the best with this new direction.

EDIT: let me add 2 things:
1. When you play your violin in cello position, try holding the bow as a cellist would - "square" rather than pronated (i.e., "tilted") although the hand should not be stiff on the bow and be allowed to bend when playing at the tip. If you tilt the bow away from the bridge when playing violin at your chin the same thing is done on cello (or "lap violin") - but now the bow will tilt toward your face instead of away from it.

2. let the scroll lean against your body, if you can, and do not squeeze your left thumb at all - it is very helpful to not have to depend on your left thumb as a counter to your finger's pressure and to develop a cello vibrato with your arm moving parallel to the fingerboard instead of rolling your hand around the thumb - although SHEKU Kanneh-Mason (the young British sensation) does do that - as I did early on as well.

December 22, 2020, 2:32 PM · Haha Rebecca I was wondering too if my husband may perhaps compare me to some form of dying bovine when I get started as well! When my boy was first learning trumpet for school band....that was a bit hard to listen to getting started!!! Our neighbours are not very close to us so there was a few times I told him he should go outside and practice and let the neighbourhood hear is progress as well....haha!!! He did it quite a few times and enjoyed it and wondered what everyone thought.;) Oh the growing pains of learning a new instrument!

Thank you so much Andrew! I looked up your link and will be ordering a copy for myself this afternoon! Your comments about holding my violin bow in a cello hold and your tips on how to hold the violin make so much sense but was not something I was doing before. I’ll watch a few more videos today on cello bow holds and start from there. I wasn’t letting my violin lean on me either....if anything I was probably holding the poor fiddle in a vice grip around the neck.

December 22, 2020, 4:54 PM · So my route was more circuitous. I studied bass in High School as a second instrument and tried cello a couple of times. The fifths strings, the bow hold (coming from German), and fingerings were too different. I then spent years playing violin and viola in community ensembles and play-in chamber groups. When I picked up cello to fill in groups at chamber play-ins, the issues I encountered were:
-keeping the shoulders and hands relaxed
-right thumb and right arm soreness as I built endurance muscles
-tenor clef
-cello fingerings versus German bass fingerings
-bow arm weight when switching instruments in a session, especially from bass.
- playing position- more laid out versus more upright which was initially more strain on my right arm bow support.
Hang in there, it just takes time, good teachers / fellow musicians, and attentive practice.
I enjoy playing them all for different reasons and wouldn’t trade the experience of enjoying great music from all the different seats, sections and stand partners in different ensembles for anything.
Edited: January 13, 2021, 7:20 AM · Kim,

Your story about your son's trumpet brought back memories from over 70 years ago. My high school had a rather lousy orchestra, but a really good, 100-piece, prize-winning band. Our leader tried to get string players to join the band and learn to play wind instruments. First one he gave me was an oboe with which I was never able to make a sound. So next he gave me a baritone horn (most of our male violinists were given those horns - with treble clef music). I had an awful time time getting a sound out of it until I just finally "quit" and blew a "Bronx Cheer" into the mouthpiece and it bellowed like a bull. After that it was only minutes before I was actually playing it. Of course my mother made me play it outside the house. Fortunately we lived in the middle of 27 acres so there were no neighbors to bother (the nearest was a milk farm across the road, about 100 yards away. Nevertheless, the next day when I got on the school bus the kids from Lewistown, 2 miles up the road, right away said "We heard you playing that thing yesterday afternoon." I couldn't believe it.

December 23, 2020, 1:40 PM · The Anna Magdalena manuscript containing both the S&Ps and the Cello Suites, must either have been meant for keeping at home or for sale to someone who played both!
December 23, 2020, 1:41 PM · I think cellists who want to try violin have it harder if they try playing cello in violin position...

I don’t play cello. I’ve been playing piano all my life and was doubtful about taking up the violin as an adult. I was curious, and wanted to know how do violinists know which note are they playing without frets, how do they hold the bow, etc. I finally went for it, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m happy to learn and to play it, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my listening skills and my piano playing thanks to the violin. So my personal advice is... go for it! It will satisfy your curiosity, and it will bring happiness to your life!

January 12, 2021, 10:14 PM · I thought I’d update since many of you were thoughtful enough to give such inspiring replies!!!

It happened by complete accident but today I bought a well set up decent cello...ack!

My Boy has been wanting a 6 string bass for a while....he has a bit of a milestone bday coming up so I’ve been giving thought to getting him one. We ventured out as he needed new skates (if you live in Canada in the winter....having skates is almost the same as needing milk or bread, lol!) and passed by his favourite guitar store on the way home. I’m a big believer in you can’t just buy a musician an instrument....no other cars where in the parking lot so we thought...Perhaps let’s venture in!

So we did. Really such an inspiring afternoon watching that kid play and in his element trying different guitars out. The one that really made his eyes light up....I called after we left and put a deposit on it....that’ll be his bday prezzie next month....I can’t tell you how excited I am for him to have it!!!

On the way out I saw a cello....I know, I know, it’s a guitar store. But she was soooo pretty I haaaaaaaaaaad to stop and look at her. Next thing I know I was trying to beat out a C major scale....I heard right away the A string just sang....I’m really picky about A strings in stringed instruments....I cannot tolerate anything nasal. And even in my incompetent hands.....I accidentally found a cello I couldn’t pass up!!!

So I’m armed with a few books....a bit of a bruised ego after messing around tonight, lol...and really excited to give this a whirl!!!!!

January 13, 2021, 1:10 AM · How nice! Don’t tell us much more... since you’re making me jealous and I can’t fit a cello at home (and I should learn to properly play the violin before...)
January 13, 2021, 10:15 AM · Thank you for the update! That is so exciting, and I think you will absolutely love it!
Edited: January 13, 2021, 2:03 PM · Judging by the previous posts I'm evidently living my life backwards. Started on the cello at 12 (I had already been learning the piano since I was 5), but left it until I was 62 before the violin came along - it was a family heirloom that I was urged to learn to play.

Must have been doing something right under the guidance of a PDG violin teacher, because for the last 12 years I've been playing violin in good community symphony orchestras and a chamber orchestra without retirement being suggested by committees as an option (so far).

Sixty years of orchestral cello playing had evidently taught my fingers and hands what was expected of them, so transitioning to the violin under said PDG teacher was a little easier than it would have been otherwise without a solid cello background.

January 13, 2021, 11:24 AM · Sounds great! And in another 10 or 20 years if you find your creaking bones, joints and muscles getting too old to play the violin the way you want to you can just switch back to cello :-)

So I hope you keep playing cello too, from time to time at least, just to keep your groove.

January 13, 2021, 12:34 PM · Nice Kim! It sounds like you might have just met a good lifelong friend. I just finally bought an MPC sampler for making beats, after thinking about it for years. Here's to a year of new musical exploration!
January 13, 2021, 3:32 PM · Well good for you, Christian, sounds like fun!

Kim, I was also going to tell you something that I didn't expect when learning the cello: One weekend, I was dressed really casually and my hair was done in a messy pony tail, no make up. I sat down with the cello, and my husband took a picture (no recording, just the picture) and before I could stop him, he had it posted on Facebook. I started laughing when I saw the responses- everyone kept saying "ooooh, how beautiful!". Then I realized with the cello, it doesn't matter how I look, people will still be impressed with the beautiful cello hiding me. I could look like an alien from outerspace and the cello would still be beautiful!

January 13, 2021, 4:37 PM · Since it hasn't been brought up, and since I really do enjoy bringing up controversial topics...
If you're experiencing problems when switching to cello position, you could give it a try with a Violoncello daSpalla. Soundwise it's not completely the same an has it's own timbre, but coming from violin or viola you can immediately jump in as soon as you know how to adjust the strap. Major drawback is that you'll have a rough time finding a rental one. But once you're hooked, there is an increasing number of makers especially in the US who are experienced in making that type of instrument.
As a teaser, you might check Sergej Malovs YouTube channel. Or right away here, hope the link works :

https://youtu.be/wbH3JYfRjOQ


Disclaimer'
Not a cellist, only a cello owner, but that's another story.

Edited: January 14, 2021, 10:32 AM · It's interesting to see that so many here find cello easier than the violin. I have found the opposite. However, it's also interesting that the people who find cello easier started on violin - whereas I started on cello and took up violin/viola later. That might be key to the perception of which is easier - for me, the relative ease of bowing and tone production on violin were a revelation after years of cello playing.

Another thing I found easier was the more consistent hand position up the fingerboard. The hand position for violin upper positions is subtly different from that of lower ones, but the cello has three quite different techniques for different parts of the fingerboard: positions 1-4 use four fingers and are analogous to violin/viola positions. Then you get to the "neck" positions, or the 3-finger positions, and then thumb position. The thumb position is what you'll use when you're above the neck positions, but it's not exclusive to high positions. It can be used anywhere on the cello, really, and is encountered all over the cello in say, the Popper etudes and more advanced repertoire.

Good luck! I think it's very rewarding to be able to play multiple instruments, and that they can complement each other very well.

January 14, 2021, 9:52 AM · Nuuska, Since you enjoy bringing up controversial topics, I wonder if a shoulder rest would help him hold it easier. ;) That was beautiful, by the way!

M.D., for me learning to play the cello was easier, but there is still a lot for me to learn to master it. I haven't done much with the thumb positions- it's one of those things I find excuses to put off and play something I can do.

January 14, 2021, 2:27 PM · Well, after sitting with my Suzuki book 1 this morning I am now able to
play what my husband referred to as a “very determined sounding” (haha!) twinkle twinkle and variations!!! Oh my goodness this is humbling.....but I’m completely hooked at this point! My boy is calling me “Yo Yo Maw” and I think it getting a bit of a kick out of seeing an adult start at scratch on a new hobby/skill.

Miguel: Not to fan the flames but I can really see how this may end up helping my violin technique in my biggest struggle which is tension! If you should ever have the space to bring a cello home you can tell yourself your learning for the sake of the violin!

Andrew: Thank you for your suggestions and encouragement!!! They really were so helpful!!! I’m in my early 40’s so I hope to have many years ahead of me to play between the two!

Rebecca: That is a sweet story about your husband! I’m sure you were just as lovely as the cello!!!! Perhaps a beautiful combination.;) I really have enjoyed hearing your progress as well and I hope you update on it too! Hearing you admit that it was a challenge but do able really stuck in my mind and helped me to just giver and try it!

Christian: That is really exciting as well!!! I hope you enjoy your new endeavour as well! That’s one thing about music that I love, you’ll never know everything and there is always room to grow and learn. It’s a nice pandemic proof activity to have at home.

Nuuska: I’ll have to take a look at your link!

M.D. I can see why you’d think the cello was more difficult that violin! Even just from a physical perspective it takes more physical effort to get a cello to sound. You really have to put your back into it (literally). Hopefully over time I can play some of the cello repertoire I’ve always admired. But for today I’m excited with twinkle twinkle, haha!!!!


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