New Sheet Music Released

I’m pleased to announce that I have released a digital score for my cello quintet arrangement of Schubert’s Andante from his piano trio no. 2 in E-flat major. Having made a recording of the arrangement (also available to buy), I should probably warn in advance of the trickiness, especially in parts 1, 3 and 4. Suitable for advanced cellists – grade 8 and above.

The score will be emailed to you within 24 hours of your payment (usually much sooner than that). If you buy the score and recording together, the recording will be available immediately after paying. Payment for both options is through PayPal, for which you don’t need an account – just follow the link under the login section to make a secure debit/ credit card payment.


Review: Larsen Magnacore G and C Strings

magnacoreNew strings! We string players are spoilt for choice these days with new brands popping up on a regular basis. As a rule I try not to get carried away with the need to try every string new to the market – no matter how tempting.  For the past five years or so I have settled with either Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Soloist, Larsen, or a combination of these. It so happened that the G from my most recent set of Pirazzis was not behaving very well – so much so I suspected I might have a seam crack. I took my cello (a Mittenwald instrument made C 1880, probably by Neuner and Hornsteiner) to my luthier for a check-up. The fingerboard needed shooting, but there were no cracks and the G string was still excessively volatile. We tried another Pirazzi and found it to be equally raspy; then tried an old Larsen and the buzz disappeared but the sound was rather dull compared with the brilliant, sparkling tone of the Pirazzi A, D and C strings.

For my session work I need a high performing set of strings with quick response and a big open sound right up to the highest register of each string. Normally the Pirazzi Soloist set delivers admirably on all fronts, but it seems the lower strings no longer suit my instrument. Whether it’s to do with slight changes they’ve made to the manufacturing process or a slight change in my instrument is anyone’s guess. I adore Larsen Soloist A and D, but find the G and C strings to be a little tame with a slower response than the Pirazzis. Enter the Magnacore G and C. Having read several user reviews, they certainly sounded like the strings to meet my requirements. Fingers firmly crossed as to whether they will agree with my cello.

Day 1

As expected and in line with every user review I’ve read, the strings are extremely metallic and volatile. I expect they’ll need a good 2 – 3 days of playing in to find their true voice. Listening past the ‘new string sound’, I can tell they are magnificently colourful, and should project very nicely indeed once the initial ‘zing’ has worn off.

Day 2

Still finding myself playing cautiously on the lower strings. After spending around 30 minutes playing exclusively on the G and C strings – scales and arpeggios with a variety of articulations, and exploiting the fullest possible range of each string – the metallic quality has diminished considerably and those wonderful colours I was looking forward to are really coming through. The strings still require frequent tuning, and the brashness hasn’t been tamed quite as much as I’d like.

Day 3

The tuning is still a little unstable (significantly flatter than the upper strings), but after a good half-hour warm-up I am doing my first recording session with them. I’m very happy with the results, especially the dynamic range on the new strings. I think they could still do with a few more hours’ playing in to realise their full potential. I’m also not convinced that the Pirazzi A and D strings make the best combination. Tomorrow I will be replacing the existing Pirazzis with new ones to see whether the overall balance is better.

Day 4

So it’s off with the 4 month old Pirazzi Soloist A and D, to be replaced with brand new ones. And what an incredible difference! My cello is now singing from top to bottom, and the strings compliment each other beautifully. After around 20 minutes playing in the Pirazzis I feel I have a robust, fully played in set with excellent projection, complex tonal qualities and a huge dynamic range. The Magnacore G and C are still a touch volatile, which I think has as much to do with my instrument as it does with the strings, but the G is much better balanced than the Pirazzi Soloist G was, and they lend themselves to just about any style and genre.


Overall, I love the Magnacores. As with all string manufacturers, Larsen had to decide whether to produce a string with no playing in time and a shorter playing life, or longer playing in time and a longer playing life. Thankfully they opted for the latter, and I certainly hope my strings last a good long while. Which brings me to my only gripe: the price. At a recommended retail price of £89.43 for the G string and £103.30 for the C string, they simply won’t be my regular lower string option – as much as I’d love them to be – unless the price comes by a good chunk. My rating: 4/5.

Here’s a recording I made with the Pirazzi/ Magnacore string combination on day 4:



Hand Made Cello of East European Origin for Sale


Cello no longer for sale.

Reluctant sale of a beautiful cello!

I am selling a very good quality student cello on behalf of a former student who sadly no longer has time to play. It has no internal maker’s label, but has been described as an instrument of Eastern European origin (probably Romania or Hungary) by the luthier who set it up in 2009. Roughly 30 – 40 years old. Ideal for intermediate to advanced players and in good condition. The cello has sustained some damage to its neck in the past, and has a surface crack on its left shoulder, both of which have been well repaired and are reflected in the low price. The repairs were carried out before it was purchased in 2008, but were carefully reinforced when it was fully set up and repaired in 2009. Apart from this and a few minor scuffs around the edges to be expected in an instrument of this age, it is in excellent structural condition with no body or seam cracks. The full workshop setup included the following work:

  • Fingerboard shot (i.e. reshaped to even out grooves caused by wear)
  • New bridge (Aubert adjustable foot bridge)
  • New soundpost
  • Tuning pegs reamed (to fit snugly and turn more easily in their holes)
  • Topnut reshaped (to improve the evenness of the string action and preserve the life of the strings)
  • It has been set up  with lower string action for very comfortable playing.
  • I also fitted a brand new set of D’Addario Prelude strings on 10 March 2014.

Included in the sale is a nickel-mounted brazilwood bow (octagonal shape), which has a small chip at the tip but is otherwise in good condition, and a sturdy Hiscox Lifelite hard case which is in used, but good condition.

The cello was valued at £750 by the luthier who carried out the set-up.
Sale price: £550.
More details in the video, or email me at

2012 in review

A huge thank you to all my readers. Wishing you all an exciting and musical 2013!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 70,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Tina Guo Performing Works by the Cullens

Last month one of my favourite cellists did me the enormous honour of recording a couple of compositions by my husband and me for fun. The cellist was none other than Tina Guo. For those who haven’t come across her, she is a multi-genre cellist and composer. With her effortless technique and intense musicality she is equally well established in the classical, film music and rock/ pop arenas. As a classical soloist Tina has performed with the San Diego Symphony, the State of Mexico National Symphony, the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, the Bari Symphony in Italy, the Petrobras Symphony and the Barra Mansa Symphony in Brazil, and the Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia. In non-classical, crossover and media music settings she has performed in a solo capacity alongside Hans Zimmer for the premier of his Inception score, performed and recorded as a featured guest with the Jazz/Fusion Miles Evans Band, performed at the Grammy’s with the Foo Fighters, at the MTV Movie Awards, American Idol,  at Comic Con in San Diego featured on the electric cello in the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra, and with Brazilian guitarist Victor Biglione in a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janiero. Tina is currently the featured soloist on the electric cello in Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson “The Immortal” World Tour, an international all-arena tour spanning from 2012-2014 and currently the highest grossing tour in North America.

The two pieces recorded were ‘Sakura’ and ‘Better Tomorrow’ – both for cello and piano. Since Tina is currently on tour and living in hotels, she has a very basic (but effective) recording set-up, and her ‘practice cello’ – a student instrument which can be thrown about in the gear truck. Without access to a piano or pianist, I sent her my piano tracks from the original recordings. In spite of the technical limitations, the results are pretty magnificent!

Purchase sheet music for 'Sakura'

Purchase sheet music for 'Better Tomorrow'

Minor keys and their scales Part 3

Melodic Minor Scales

I like to think of the melodic minor scale as the chameleon scale as it changes its colours. The ascending scale creates more tension by sharpening the sixth and seventh steps, and the descending scale relaxes that tension by flattening the seventh and sixth steps. The sequence of intervals for the ascending scale of A melodic minor is as follows:

Step 1 – 2 (a – b): whole tone

Step 2 – 3 (b – c): semitone

Step 3 – 4 (c – d): whole tone

Step 4 – 5 (d – e): whole tone

Step 5 – 6 (e – f#) whole tone

Step 6 – 7 (f#g#) whole tone

Step 7 – 8 (g# – a) semitone

The descending half of the melodic minor scale is identical to that of the natural minor scale:

Step 8 – 7 (a – g) whole tone

Step 7 – 6 (g – f) whole tone

Step 6 – 5 (f – e) semitone

Step 5 – 4 (e – d) whole tone

Step 4 – 3 (d – c) whole tone

Step 3 – 2 (c – b) semitone

Step 2 – 1 (b – a) whole tone

So the ascending scale shares its first five steps with the natural and harmonic minor scales, and its sixth to eighth steps with its major counterpart (note: the major key with the same keynote and NOT the relative major). As already mentioned, the descending melodic minor scale is identical to the descending natural minor scale. We now know that harmonic minor scales form the harmonic basis of minor keys, so it stands to reason (and the name suggests) that melodic minor scales form the melodic basis. The raised sixth step prevents the dissonant augmented second interval found in harmonic minor scales and the raised seventh provides a strong resolution from a leading tone to the tonic. Since descending passages don’t require the tension and definition provided by a leading tone, the descending melodic minor offers a sound truer to the overall minor structure.

The diagram below shows the structure of A melodic minor ascending on the keyboard:

Here’s a video diagram showing the lowest octave of A melodic minor ascending and descending on the cello.

A Bit of History

The development of melodic and harmonic minor scales as we know and use them in Western music happened over a long period. Their predecessors are modes, which date back to ancient civilisations - notably the Ancient Greeks. Mediaeval modes and scales share certain similarities, but follow different rules and form the basis of two different musical languages with distinctly different sounds.  It was during the Renaissance period, when polyphonic¹ music really came into its own that the modal system, which had served the simpler homophonic² and monophonic³ musical styles of the Mediaeval period perfectly well, began to prove inadequate, as did the notation system. The rise of polyphony meant that music was becoming considerably more harmonically complex. The need for stronger definition in harmonic resolution drove the development of major and minor keys, and in particular the need for different types of minor scales to cater for a strong leading tone (the raised seventh) and the avoidance of awkward dissonance in melodic vocal lines (the augmented second interval in the harmonic minor scale). Dissonance was a major consideration and was avoided wherever possible in the harmonic structure of renaissance music. For this reason we see elements of all three minor scales in minor keys.

By the early baroque era (from 1600 onwards), a harmonic language based on tonality (harmony based on a key center) rather than modality had emerged. Melodic and harmonic minor scales and major scales were in common use. The range of key signatures increased considerably, and the use of key signatures with sharps was introduced. Equal temperament tuning, a system whereby the octave is divided into twelve equal semitones gained wider acceptance by keyboard makers by the 1630s. Although it did not become the principal tuning system for another two centuries, it enabled the 24 keys found in the circle of fifths - the cornerstone of Western art music from 1600 - 1900.

¹Polyphonic: Musical texture in two or more (usually at least three) relatively independent parts [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]
²Homophonic: Music in which one voice or part is clearly melodic, the others accompanimental and chiefly chordal. The term 'homophony' has also been used to describe part-writing where all parts move in the same rhythm; a more precise term for this is homorhythm. [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]
³Monophonic: A term used to denote music consisting of only one melodic line, with no accompaniment or other voice parts (e.g. plainchant, unaccompanied solo song). [The Oxford Companion to Music Edited by Alison Latham, 2002]

The following table shows major keys, their relative minor keys and the associated key signatures.

Minor keys and their Scales Part 2

Harmonic minor scales

Now that we have studied the natural minor scale, we will look at and listen to the harmonic minor scale. The sequence of intervals in A harmonic minor is as follows:

Step 1 – 2 (a – b): whole tone

Step 2 – 3 (b – c): semitone

Step 3 – 4 (c – d): whole tone

Step 4 – 5 (d – e): whole tone

Step 5 – 6 (e – f) semitone

Step 6 – 7 (f – g#) augmented second¹

Step 7 – 8 (g# – a) semitone

The only difference between the structure of the harmonic minor scale and the natural minor scale is the seventh step, which is raised in the harmonic minor to create a leading tone². This means that there is an unusually large and dissonant interval between the sixth and seventh steps – an augmented second. For this reason the harmonic minor scale, true to its name is typically used as the harmonic foundation of minor keys. This means that it forms the foundation of the chords used to enrich melodic lines. The keyboard below shows the structure of a harmonic minor. The seventh step has been raised from the g natural found in the natural minor scale to g#. In spite of this the scale still shares its key signature with C major. The g# is shown as an accidental within the music. The same rule applies to all harmonic minor scales: the seventh step is raised and shown as an accidental within the music score, but never in the key signature.

¹Augmented second: an interval consisting of three semitones. An augmented second is the same size interval as a minor third but is spelt differently. If we were to spell the augmented second in a harmonic minor as a minor third we would spell it either as E# – G# or F – Ab.

²Leading note: the seventh step of a scale always a major seventh above or a semitone below the tonic. When the seventh step of a scale is a minor seventh from the tonic it is called a subtonic rather than a leading tone.

Here’s a video diagram showing the first ascending octave of A harmonic minor on the cello. The augmented second requires an unusual extension from the second to the fourth fingers.