I want to play the cello. How should I begin?

For some reason, I have the desire to play the cello. I don’t want to take lessons or enroll in music classes, I just want to teach myself (and don’t tell me I can’t - you can teach yourself to do anything.)

When you’re a kid, if you want to play an instrument, you’re supposed to sign up for music lessons, have your parents rent or finance the purchasing of an instrument, join the band, practice for one hour a day after doing your homework, etc. But I’m no longer a kid, and it would not be difficult for me to just go online, buy a cello, and have it delivered to me by burly men.

Even if I decide to stop playing it after a month, it would look really nice sitting in the corner of the living room (next to the piano.)

The only thing is this: I see a lot of cellos on Ebay for less than 200 dollars, and I want to know if one of these entry-level instruments goes beyond the threshold of “good value” and into the domain of “crap.” I’m not going to be taking the cello on any fifty-mile hikes so it’s not like I’m afraid of it falling apart (should I be?) but I’m more concerned with whether or not a 200 dollar cello would sound good.

Here are two of the instruments in question:

Instrument One

Instrument Two

They look fine, and they’re not made of plywood or balsa. On the second link, I have to be extremely suspicious of the claim that the cello and accessories being sold for less than two hundred dollars have a “Suggested Retail Price [of] $1250.00” Besides that, do these instruments look okay to any experienced string musicians who might happen to be reading this thread?

I’d strongly advise to not buy on eBay, or any other mail-order method. Find a dealer or shop in your area, possibly asking local music teachers, amateur music groups etc. for suggestions. They may also be able to point you in the direction of locally-available secondhand instruments.

There are several problems with buying a cello on eBay. The biggest problem is that violin-family instruments, and especially cellos, should never be transported when set-up. The strings should be slack, the bridge removed, and preferable also the soundpost (inside the body). Restringing and setting the bridge isn’t something for a novice, and resetting a soundpost is a specialist task.

So - either you’re getting something in a state where you’re still going to need expert help. Or, if it’s being shipped fully set up, it demonstrates that the seller either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, how to provide good-quality entry-level instruments. If this is the case, they’re highly unlikely to do other things that are necessary with these instruments, such as checking that the pegs are working cleanly, reprofiling the bridge to a correct height, etc. (most of the time these need some attention on new instruments).

Will a $200 cello sound good? It’ll never sound as good as a $20,000 one. However, there’s improvements that can be made, when you get the instrument or over time, that will help. Good (i.e. more expensive!) strings, and a properly-fitted high quality bridge, are the two things that will make a huge improvement. The third would be a soundpost. The fourth would be a few lessons (yeah yeah, I know you want to teach yourself, but trust me, you’ll find a few pointers handy :wink: …)

The simple answer is no. I am a former cellist. I had to stop playing after a wrist injury left me with reduced agility in my left hand. I sold my cello for about $2500. It was a middle-of-the-road Czechoslovakian model. My first one, which was a bit better than an entry-level instrument, I purchased for about $1600. You tend to get what you pay for - bear that in mind when purchasing an instrument on the internet for a couple hundred bucks.

At the real cost of entry, it makes sense to pay for a few lessons to get you started.

The FAQs on Link 2 state that the instrument comes with the bridge detatched. I could take it to a music store and have them set that up for me. That particular site said nothing about the soundboard - do you think they might be able to remove the soundpost too if I asked them?

I’d be willing to buy better strings and a better bridge if that’d be a big improvement. I don’t need a stradivarius (just an instrument to learn on.) I don’t want to spend 20,000 or even 2,000 dollars

Is the cello any less unforgiving to adult beginners than the violin? A lot of violin teachers discourage interested adults on grounds that it’s too late to instill the right technique and attitude, and that self-teaching leads only to “bad habits” (seldom elaborated upon).

Is this this just understandable elitism in the face of 300+ years of established pedagogy, or are there real obstacles to mature, musical people learning the string family?

I thought about the violin but decided that I did not like the position I would have to hold it and the fact that I would not be able to easily have it right in front of me while I was playing it to see what I was doing.

On the other hand the cello just sits right there on the floor, in front of you. By the way, I actually have played a cello before - I’m familiar with the feel of the instrument and the way you play it, although I have no training in it and don’t know the technique - so it’s not as if I were planning on teaching myself, say, the flute.

I don’t accept that there are necessarily additional physical obstacles to adults learning to play an instrument. In some ways, it’s easier, because they are able to understand and take in more information in a given time. However, for teachers only familiar with working with children, teaching methods for adults aren’t something that will come naturally - as childrens’ bodies are in the process of developing, simple repetition can be enough to train the right physical actions. With adults, it’s more a matter of knowing exactly how their hand/arm/whatever needs to behave, and then applying that to the actions.

However, learning an instrument is a time-consuming activity. It’s easy to overlook that a child who starts playing the violin aged 8 has ten years’ experience when they turn eighteen - it seems more of a long-term plan when you translate this to a 40-year-old beginner! And yes, fitting a practice routine into their daily life is difficult for most adults.

Misconceptions! The position shouldn’t be at all awkward or uncomfortable (although tends to be so with self-taught players :wink: ). And you can see plenty of what you’re doing, certainly as much as you should see on the cello, if you’re not going to have your head hanging down in front of you…

Did anyone else come into this thread with visions of Stephanie Plum dancing in their head?

My step-sister/roommate teaches cello, and most of her students are adults. She’s bought several cellos off of eBay, which she leases to her students. If she doesn’t care for the sound (or anything else) of a cello she’s bought, she returns it or re-sells it through Craigslist. The major impediment that comes to mind in regards to teaching yourself cello is learning the fingering, since there are no frets or other marking indicating “press here for C” etc. If you already have a piano, though, you must have some musical training, so you might get away with listening for the right note.

Oh, and no “burly men” are required for moving a cello. Cello cases, on the other hand . . . :slight_smile:

I don’t care if they’re required or not. I want them anyway.

I bought mine from SouthWest Strings, online. It cost about $400. It’s a very nice one.

ps: If you thought the violin was awkward to hold, the cello is no different. My instructor told me that technique is key, but I found it very difficult. I thought technique wasn’t really important, so like the guitar and flute before it, I could play ‘a little’. I think I stunted my growth in not learning to play the right way. Oh well! It does look nice in the corner, if a little dusty.

As a data point, I attended my first band rehearsal two weeks after playing a note on the trumpet for the first time, and before my first lesson. I muddled through the rehearsal and played a lot more than you’d think, but the first lesson made me aware of how much I didn’t know, beginning with how to hold the instrument.

Similarly, I have been singing for well over 30 years, but even a few professional lessons did wonders for my voice.

Moral: Get some lessons. They are very well worth the money.

Well, the good thing is that you will never have to worry about finding time to practice.

There’s always room for cello.

Step 1: Buy cello
Step 2: ???
Strp 3: Profit!

There’s a lot more involved in playing a string instrument than just holding the instrument upright and moving the bow across the string. Incorrect hand positioning, while it may feel “more comfortable” than the correct position, makes it harder to play and can cause more pain in the long run.

And Argent Towers, you’re breaking my heart. If you’re interested in playing the cello, invest in a couple of lessons. The cello is a beautiful instrument, don’t leave it sitting around in a corner collecting dust. Your posts sound like you’re just going to fiddle around with it for awhile, get frustrated because you want to be a virtuoso right now when in reality everyone whose learning to play a string instrument for the first time plays pieces like “twinkle twinkle little star” and makes weird skwaky noises and there’s no getting around that, and then abandon it. If that’s the case, why don’t you use the $200 to invest in a nice painting or something and let someone who’s actually going to use the cello buy it?

i agree with typically sunday, if u are even thinking about sticking ur cello in a corner if u dont like it then i would say (and im a cellist) “forget it, ur not cut out to be a cellist”
go buy a painting if the only purpose of the cello is eye candy


No argument here. I’ve been playing sax and clarinet for 25 years myaelf.

This may be what the string teachers who wouldn’t take adults were driving at. As a grownup (of sorts), I would rather not deal with “correct” and “incorrect.” I’d rather the teacher appeal to my reasoning: “If you choke up on the neck it’ll make your fingers too stiff,” etc. I gather this is all warm fuzzy nonsense to them and disrespects the instrument’s noble tradition. :dubious:


Did anyone else come into this thread with visions of Jack Nicholson and the Witches of Eastwick dancing in their head?