Worksheets for Your Beginner Students

The following worksheets are designed to help your younger beginners associate notes belonging to the key of C major on the stave with notes on the fingerboard in first position. They combine music theory (learning to write neatly and accurately on the stave) with basic cello theory (learning the notes and fingering of first position). Each document is arranged in the order of an ascending C Major scale (2 octaves) – one page per note. By mixing up the pages you can make the worksheet more challenging. Kept in their current order they will be much easier to do, but a good way to introduce the C major scale.

These worksheets are free to download and print out, but please observe the copyright: no selling, no incorporating into other works or documents. Feedback welcome – especially from those who try them out!

© D C Cello Studio

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Simple and Effective Warm-up Exercises

My regular readers may recall my previous post on warming up. Whether you’ve read it or not, I’ll not be repeating myself, except to remind you of the importance of warming up before you launch into your practice session. It makes no difference what level of playing you’ve achieved – warming up is about being kind to your body and ensuring healthy playing habits. The following exercises were devised for some of my students whose practising habits needed improvement. The students in question are at very different stages in their technical development, but the exercises have made a noticeable difference to all of them. For anyone who is either unconvinced of the importance of warming up, or uncertain of how to, these exercises are for you.  What you will come to realise is that not only do they make a difference to the comfort and success of each practice session; they make a difference to your overall progress. No matter where you are in your technical and musical journey, you will always benefit from revisiting basic technical cornerstones: bow control, string crossing, left hand stability, and agility. If you’re new to doing more than a cursory scale or two to warm up, try these and keep a diary to monitor the difference they make. Not over a few days or a week, but over several months or a year.

At least two of the following warm-ups (one for left hand, one for bow) should be done at the start of every practice session. Rotate them to ensure that all are covered.

1.  Open String Bowing

Set the metronome to 100. On each string play the following:

i.    4 bows with 8 ticks per bow

ii.    4 bows with 12 ticks per bow

iii.    4 bows with 9 ticks per bow

iv.    4 bows with 6 ticks per bow

Points to remember:

  • Bow hold: always check before you start. Relaxed, soft hand; no pressing with the thumb; use the WHOLE arm from shoulder blade to fingertip.
  • On the string: 90˚ angle between the string and the bow AT ALL TIMES; always halfway between the bridge and the fingerboard.
  • Don’t change the speed or weight while bowing – keep the sound as EVEN as possible.
  • Do you like the sound? If not, why not? Always aim to make the very best sound you can.

2.  Left Hand Pizzicato

Set the metronome to 120. On each string, pluck with the left hand fingers one finger at a time, one metronome tick per pluck in the following orders:

 i.       1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th

ii.       4th 3rd, 2nd, 1st

 iii.       1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th

 iv.       4th, 2nd, 3rd, 1st

Points to remember:

  • Keep the left hand in exactly the same position you would if you were playing in first position – fingers curved and spaced away from each other; thumb RELAXED and only touching the neck.
  • Keep the thumb touching the neck when the finger pulls away from the string – the left hand must remain stable and in the same place throughout the exercise.
  • Keep the sound of each pizzicato even and clean; avoid bumping next-door strings.
  • Keep the tempo very stable. If 120  is too fast, try at a slower speed and gradually work your way up to 120.

3.  String Crossing (separate bows)

© DC Cello Studio
© DC Cello Studio

Points to remember:

  • All points from “Open String Bowing”
  • Use the whole bow for minims.
  • Use half the bow for crotchets. Practise the crotchet exercise in the LOWE HALF of the bow and the UPPER HALF of the bow.
  • Use around a quarter of the bow for the quavers and play towards the MIDDLE of the bow.
  • Adjust the bow when crossing strings so that you always maintain a 90˚ angle.
  • Turn your whole upper body around from the hips to get to the A string. DON’T lift the right shoulder.

4.  Finger Press-ups

i.  Sit at a table or desk with a good cello posture

ii.  Place your left hand flat on the table directly in front of you with your fingers a small distance apart from each other (just like they would be in first position on the cello), keeping your arm heavy and completely relaxed

iii. Very slowly begin curving your fingers so the fleshy tips are on the table

iv. Keeping your shoulder relaxed and down and your fingers curved with the tips on the table, slowly lift your hand and arm so that you can feel the weight of your arm being transferred into the fleshy tips of your first, second, third and fourth fingers. Your thumb should be relaxed and gently touching the table.

v. Transfer the weight of your arm from one finger to the next beginning with the first finger and finishing with the fourth finger.

vi. Relax and flatten the hand again

vii. Repeat the exercise several times; imagining the cello string being trapped underneath the fingers each time the arm is raised.

Points to remember:

  • Maintain a true cello posture throughout the exercise: sit tall, keep your head on top of your body, and keep shoulders completely relaxed.
  • Left hand fingers must remain curved and FIRM but NOT STIFF – imagine holding a raw egg in your hand.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor underneath your knees. Do not pull your heels off the floor, or your feet underneath the chair.

5.  String Crossing (with slurs)

© DC Cello Studio
© DC Cello Studio
© DC Cello Studio

Points to remember:

  • All points from “Open String Bowing” and “String Crossing (separate bows)”
  • Slurs must be LEGATO and CLEAN (i.e. very smooth string crossing with no scratches or “holes” in the sound)

6.  Left Hand Agility

© DC Cello Studio

 Points to remember:

  • Curved fingers falling down from the top knuckle
  • Thumb: relaxed, touching the neck, NO PRESSING
  • Straight line from hand to elbow – no bend in the wrist
  • Stable unmoving hand – only the fingers should move
  • Keep fingers OVER THE STRING at all times – no curling under the hand
  • Repeat these exercises on the D, G and C strings

© D C Cello Studio

Restart Cello: a New Cello Method by Deryn Cullen

I’m very excited to announce that a new cello album and method which I was approached to write and arrange last year is now in print and will be released on 31 March 2012.

The book is called Restart Cello, and is part of an instrumental series created by Wise Publications (part of the Music Sales Group) aimed at adults returning to their chosen instrument after a break of several years. As a teacher who has always welcomed and enjoyed teaching adult learners, I am passionate about developing teaching methods that are better suited to older novice and intermediate players, since most methods at this level are traditionally aimed at children.

As it is, there is somewhat of a shortage of cello methods better suited to older players. Those who took lessons during their childhood are always faced with an additional challenge: they know what they were previously capable of and often feel frustrated with no longer being able to play to the same standard. The Restart method takes into account that those using it are not complete beginners. They will almost certainly progress more rapidly than most beginners, and need to feel that they are making music from as early on as possible. Essentially, the book is a compilation of twelve specially selected and arranged pieces ordered from easiest to most challenging. Each piece is preceded by notes and exercises that carefully take into account the aspects of technique that need to be revisited when returning to the cello after a long break. To further enhance the music-making experience, there is an accompanying CD with beautiful renditions of each piece and accompaniments for the student to play along with. The chosen pieces cover a variety of styles and genres, which I hope players will find fun and enriching!

Restart Cello - Deryn Cullen

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© D C Cello Studio 2012

Cello Bags and Cases

If you purchased a student cello outfit you will already have a bag or even a hard case for your cello. Just like bows, the quality of bags and cases varies a great deal from one outfit to the next, and you may need to upgrade what you have. This is especially important if your cello is doing a lot of travelling with you to and from school or your workplace. A very basic cover with limited or no padding will do little to protect your instrument when it’s in the car, on the bus or train, or being carried around.

The more travelling you do, the greater your need to fully protect your cello with a hard case or very well padded soft case. There is a lot to choose from ranging in price from around £50 to thousands of pounds for professional level flight cases and covers. You’ll be pleased to know that £80 will buy you a very robust and well-made padded bag, which offers a good level of protection for everyday transportation of your instrument.

When choosing a suitable bag or case for your instrument it is also worth considering the weight. If you’re likely to do a lot of walking with your cello, you don’t want a case that will weigh you down and cause back or shoulder ache. 6kg may not sound like much, but add to that the 2.5 – 3 kg of your cello along with your music bag and you’ve got quite a load to carry – especially if your frame is relatively small. Here’s the catch though: entry level cello cases tend to be a lot heavier since they are made out of cheaper materials – usually fibre glass or moulded plastic. Lightweight cello cases are made out of high tech materials such as carbon fibre or carbon composite. These materials are much lighter and extremely tough and durable, but they come at a high price. Unless you have a valuable instrument and are likely to fly anywhere with it, you are unlikely to be looking at this calibre of cello case. You might think that buying a heavy case with wheels is a perfectly good solution, but your cello will not thank you for the bumps and jolts it will get on the majority of road and pavement surfaces, and you certainly won’t be using the wheels up and down stairs.

This is where semi-rigid cases (made out of high density foam or styrofoam) and thickly padded gig bags really come into their own. Styrofoam cases tend to be rather bulky and are often poorly made, but they are lightweight and offer suitable protection for everyday use. When considering padded bags, 11mm of padding should be the absolute minimum.

Here is a list of reliable bags and cases for a tighter budget:

Make: Primavera
Description: 11mm padded cello bag
Price: £50 – £60
Make: Tom and Will
Description: 20mm padded cello bag
Price: £60 – £70
fusionMake: Fusion
Description: 15mm high density foam padded cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
hidersineMake: Hidersine Deluxe
Description:  Deluxe 22mm padded heavy duty cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
Make: Turtle by Gewa
Description: 25mm padded cello bag with wheels
Price: £100 – £125
excaliburMake: Excalibur
Description: High density foam semi-rigid cello case
Price: £110 – £130

If you’re planning to fly anywhere with your cello you’ll need to invest in a good quality case. The bad news here is that even the very best cases sometimes fail to fully protect instruments on airlines. There is always an element of risk when you fly with your cello, and you should always check your options with the airline or travel agent before you fly anywhere. The same applies to any other form of long distance travel that does not allow you to take your instrument on board with you.

The following is a list of more robust cello cases worth considering if you’re planning to do any long distance travel with your cello or you’ve invested in a good quality cello:

Make: Archer by Gear4Music
Description: Durable fibreglass case weighing 7.6kg
Price: £140 – £150
Make: Hiscox (Lifelite Standard)
Description: Double moulded construction weighing 5.2kg
Price: £175 – £210
Make: Sinfonica
Description: Fibreglass case with interior instrument suspension weighing 4.9kg
Price: £240 – £280
Make: Bam Classic
Description: Extra-durable ABS layer with full foam-injected interior suspension weighing 5.4kg
Price: £340 – £370

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© D C Cello Studio 2012

 

Bows for beginner cellists

The vast majority of cello beginners will buy an outfit (a cello, bow and case or bag). Bows that come with outfits vary in quality, but assuming you’ve bought something that isn’t of the bargain basement variety the bow will probably be reliable if not brilliant. If this is the case you won’t need to look for a bow for at least your first six months of lessons. Second-hand outfits don’t always come with a bow, or may come with something that is not worth trying to salvage. Bows that are badly treated simply don’t last well, especially when they are made of less durable and flexible wood.

If you need to purchase a bow, it is worth spending a little more on something that will last you beyond your first cello assuming it is a full size instrument and a fairly basic student model. The price of bows varies just as much as that of instruments. Professional bows by famous makers carry price tags into tens of thousands of pounds, but it goes without saying that these are not the variety you’ll be considering. £100 – £250 will buy you a well-made, reliable bow.

Within this price range, carbon fibre bows are worth considering. The first non-wood bows appeared on the market in the eighties in the form of fibreglass, epoxy composite and carbon fibre. They looked, sounded and felt inferior to wooden bows. It was not until around the mid-nineties that the technology behind carbon fibre bows improved enough for certain makers of these bows to start turning heads. Although there are still players and high-end retailers who dismiss carbon fibre bows out of hand, there is a growing consensus now that carbon fibre bows by reputable makers offer more for your money, particularly in the above-mentioned price range. Carbon fibre is also practically indestructible, warp resistant and as light and flexible as good quality pernambuco wood, which is now an endangered species.

If you’re brand new to playing, you won’t be in a position to assess bows yourself, and you should get your teacher to help you find something suitable. The following is a list of good quality bows ranging from £100 – £250.


Maker: Dorfler

Type: Brazilwood cello bow, round stick

Price: £100 – £110

Maker: Westbury

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow (black), round stick

Price: £115 – £125

Maker: Long-Gen Chen (award-winning maker)

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow, round stick

Price: £110 – £140

Maker: Concertante Plus

Type: Brazilwood bow, octagonal stick

Price: £130 – £145


Maker: Col Legno Standard

Type: Carbon fibre bow, round stick

Price: £130 – £160

 

 Maker: ‘Bravo’ by John Paul USA

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow, round stick

Price: £230 – £250

Maker: Orchestra

Type: Pernambuco octagonal or round stick, silver mounted

Price: £230 – £250

Whether you upgrade your bow or stick with what you have, it needs to be properly cared for, especially if it is wooden. These are the most important aspects of bow care which will prolong the life of your bow and prevent costly repairs or replacements.

  • Never over-tighten your bow. If the stick loses its camber (curve) and looks straight you will need to loosen the hairs so that there is still enough tension in the hair, but the stick retains its camber.
  • Always slacken your bow off when you have finished playing. Leaving the bow at playing tension will warp the stick (particularly wooden bows) and will reduce the elasticity of the hair (especially if it is natural horse hair, which all but the very cheapest bows have).
  • Never leave your bow lying around. If you’re taking a break from practising, rest it on the rib of your cello or hang it on your cello stand assuming it has a bow attachment. Never leave it lying on your chair or on the ground – it’s very easy to forget about and accidentally stand or sit on!
  • If you have a soft cello bag, always take your bow out first and pack it away last. Unpacking your cello while the bow is still in the bag puts the bow at risk of snapping. The same applies when putting the cello back in its bag if the bow is already in its pouch.
  • Never deliberately touch the bow hair. For many players it is inevitable that their fingers will touch the hair while playing. After a while the hair closest to the frog becomes slippery and discoloured, and doesn’t hold any rosin. This can’t be avoided, but touching the bow hair while unpacking or picking up the bow can and should. No matter how clean your hands are, there is oil on your skin that will create oily spots on the bow hair and literally causes holes in the sound as the bow is drawn across the string.
  • When you finish playing and slacken the bow off, tap the tip of the bow (VERY gently) against your hand over a bin to get rid of excess or caked rosin. This will prevent a build-up of dried rosin in the hair and on the stick.
  • You will notice that the hairs break occasionally – while you’re playing or when they get caught on something like your music stand. This is normal, and only cause for concern if the bow is losing a lot of hair on a regular basis, which can happen when the hair is of inferior quality and/ or has not been properly fitted. In this case, see below. If the odd hair snaps, always use a small pair of scissors to cut the hair off at the frog and tip. Never pull it out as this can also lead to excess bow hair loss.
  • Eventually your bow will need to be re-haired and cleaned. Both of these tasks are jobs for a professional luthier or bow maker. Your teacher will be able to direct you to a reputable person or business where this can be carried out.

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© D C Cello Studio 2011

Strings for beginner to intermediate cellists

Strings need no introduction. They are the heartbeat of your instrument and lend their name to its family. But there is a fair amount to know about the different types, the varying costs and what to avoid. Much like rosin there is a rather overwhelming variety of string brands and types along with animated debates over which is the best. And like rosin, finding the right strings for your cello is far from an exact science because there are so many variables outside of the strings themselves.

Beginner cellists do not need to and really shouldn’t spend a fortune on top-of-the-range strings such as Larsen, Belcanto, Evah Pirazzi, Permanent or Passione. In the interests of developing beautiful sound it is best to have a set of strings which offer clean tone and response. The aforementioned strings are designed for players who have already developed a signature sound.

The ideal strings for beginner to intermediate players are generally steel core. There are several varieties of synthetic core strings aimed at this market too. They tend to be less stable in terms of tuning and often don’t last as long as steel strings. Having said this there are a few synthetic brands well worth considering. The following brands are reliable and offer a clean, neutral sound with good response.

 

Mid-Range (£90 – £120 per set)

1.       Jargar

These strings are made on a flexible steel core. They produce a powerful and well-balanced tone, have a long life and don’t take more than a couple of days to play in. Jargar strings come in three different tensions: Dolce (thinnest diameter, low tension); Medium (middle diameter, medium tension); and Forte (thickest diameter, highest tension).

Typically I recommend Medium strings, which are the most widely available and by far the most versatile. For very new instruments with a harsher tone which has yet to settle down, Dolce strings tend to be a great way to take that unpleasant edge off the sound. Forte strings are a bit overbearing and not ideal for less experienced players. They are also not well suited to much older instruments given the high tension, but this also depends on the set-up. Your luthier will be able to make recommendations based on what he/ she knows about your instrument.

Average price for a set in the UK: £94

2.       Savarez Corelli

Corelli New Concept strings, which used to be quite hard to come by in the UK, are now becoming a popular choice for students, keen amateurs and professional players. They are steel rope core strings wound with aluminium, nickel or tungsten and are known for their clear sound and response, good balance and long life. They are only available in medium gauge. Savarez also produces a gut core string for cello, but I suggest that beginners steer well clear of these. Gut cores can have a beautiful sound, but are very unstable, need to be tuned by the tuning pegs rather than fine tuners, and have a comparatively short life. They are best suited to players who specialise in baroque and classical music, and whose instruments are set up accordingly.

Players who are less confident about fitting new strings are best off leaving this to their teacher or luthier as the Corelli C string has a reputation for snapping when the metal-wrapped portion comes over the tuning peg. Savarez have recently lengthened the flexible silk-wrapped part of the C string to avoid this from happening, but there are still a few reported mishaps.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

3.       D’Addario Helicore

D’Addario describe their Helicore range of strings as follows: “High quality modern strings in stranded steel with titanium & tungsten windings for a warm, clear sound”. Helicore strings certainly do offer a bright sound – potentially a little brash on some instruments. But they are a fine choice for bringing dull-sounding student instruments to life, and for progressing students and amateurs looking for a warmer, more soloistic sound. These strings take very little time to settle in and are well balanced.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

4.       Pirastro Aricore

Aricore strings feature a multifilament synthetic core (perlon) with either silver or aluminium winding. They are long lasting, stable in pitch, and feature a darker, warmer sound than other synthetic core strings. For cellists looking for a brighter tone Aricore strings are also available in chrome-wound A and D strings. The chrome option is also well-suited to musicians who suffer from excessive hand perspiration. These strings are amongst the best and most highly rated synthetic core strings in this price range.

Average price for a set in the UK: £105

 

Economy Range (£40 – £80 per set)

1.       Super Sensitive Red Label

Red Label strings are a popular choice for students and are widely recommended by teachers. These strings feature a full round solid steel core with flat nickel winding. They offer a clean tone, good tuning stability and are durable. Red Label Strings are available in all fractional sizes right down to 1/8 and come in three different gauges: Soft, Medium and Orchestra. Like Jargar strings, these gauges are determined by the diameter of the string: Soft is the smallest diameter while Orchestra is the thickest.

Average price for a set in the UK: £64 (not widely available, but can be ordered from many US retailers for around £30 plus postage)

2.       D’Addario Prelude

Another popular choice for students, Preludes are more readily available in the UK. These are solid steel core strings; they are durable and generally unaffected by temperature and humidity changes. They offer a warm tone and the response, although not as precise as that of Jargar or Corelli, is not bad at all. Prelude strings are available in all fractional sizes and come in Low, Medium and Heavy (high) tension. Like Jargar and Red Label, the Medium gauge is the most versatile and therefore the most popular type.

Average price for a set in the UK: £46

3.       Pirastro Chromcor

Chromcor are solid steel strings designed for students. They are very popular among teachers as they are durable and easy to play. They offer easy response and a neutral tone, making them a well-balanced string choice for beginner and intermediate students who need strings that are not a battle to play with squeaks and scratches, but equally not overly forgiving of poor technique. These strings also benefit from a very quick playing in period. For more discerning players looking for a darker and more complex tone, Chromcor plus are a good option although strictly speaking they belong in the mid-range category for price and playability at roughly £94 per set.

Average price for a set of Chromcor in the UK: £66

This list is far from complete – there are other economy brands which are reasonable strings in terms of sound and durability. As a rule, the cheapest strings on the market are best avoided. Some are of such poor quality that they are barely playable. For a beginner who is already struggling with tone production, a set of strings which sound awful even in the most skilful hands are like a musical death sentence – especially when that beginner is an adult who already has a very clear idea of what he or she wants to sound like.

 

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© D C Cello Studio 2011

Anti-Slip Devices for Your Cello

Keeping your instrument steady and secure is absolutely essential for relaxed, uninhibited playing. There are a few different options available, and it is important to choose one that is compatible with your seat and the floor type you most frequently find yourself on.

Rubber Tip

The rubber tip fits on the end of most cello spikes, but tends to slip on most surfaces. However, it does offer protection from sharp spikes when the cello is in transit in a soft case or out of its case between practice sessions.

Average price: £1.50 – £2.50

Black Hole

Effective on wooden and laminate floors, especially when moistened with water. Not ideal for all carpeted surfaces. Convenient size – fits into most accessory pockets on cello bags and cases.

Average price: £8 – £11

Rock Stop

Designed to fit around a chair leg so not compatible with x-frame benches. Although it prevents your cello from slipping forward, this type of anchor only attaches to the left chair leg and can lack overall stability on slippery floors as the cello spike can still slip from side to side.

Average price: £12 – £14

Floor Anchor

Traditional anchor designed for four-legged chairs. Not as compact and portable as the Black Hole or Rock Stop, but provides guaranteed stability.

Average price: £14 – £16

Endpin Adapter

Ultra-sharp hard metal adapter to fit onto the end of your spike. Very effective as a non-slip device, but will leave small marks on wooden or laminate flooring.

Average price: £30 – £35 (not available from UK retailers)

Ball Adpater

Like the endpin adapter above, this device fits onto the end of most spikes. A cheaper alternative to the endpin adapter, and effective on all surfaces. Won’t damage wooden or laminate surfaces.

Average price: £15 – £20

 
 
 
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© D C Cello Studio 2011

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