I bought a cello a few weeks ago. It was kind of a whim. More like sudden inspiration than a whim, actually. The timbre of the instrument is beautiful and I figured why not get a real one so I can add texture and gravitas to some of my tracks.

I play stringed instruments already and how big of a jump could it be to go from playing upright bass to playing a cello, which is pretty much an upright bass’s semi-mini-me. Right?

Not quite.


I’ve been practicing for a few weeks and it’s coming along. Virtuosity will most likely elude me for a lifetime but I’m not looking to do a duo concert with Bobby McFerrin on the thing. I put some subtle parts in “Gasoline”. The voices in the harmonies at the quiet interlude and end are meant to feel like string pad to begin with so why not.

I can’t play fast enough yet to do anything fancy.  Dragging hair across metal strings seems like a leap, doesn’t it?  If it weren’t for the fact that people do it amazingly well I’d be skeptical.  Same as if I wouldn’t believe in elephants if I never saw one.  (What??  Bigger than a van?  With a long nose?   And it can pick up things with its nose, huh?  Right.  Oh.  Huge ears.  Of course the huge ears.  Why not.  And I suppose its got big teeth pointing out of its head, too.  Oh it does!  Go on, pull the other one.)

The Cello

Recording this evening is making me realize something. I don’t know how to write for bowed instruments.  And should I double it?  Compress?  Saturate?  Thicken it with delay and such? I’ll have to do some audio research.

And speaking of not knowing what I’m doing, here are some things you may not know about cellos.

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  1. The tuners are not mechanical.  They’re manual.  That means that there aren’t any gears.  No mechanism bolted to the head.  The pegs are held in via friction.  In other words when the thing goes out of tune, which is often for some reason, they may go aaaall the way out of tune.  No tension in the string out of tune.  It’s a pain.  Whose idea was that?  You get it close and then you use the “fine tuners” on the tail piece.  Fascinating.
  2. Oh, the tuning.  I am ignorant.  I had no idea that cellos are tuned CGDA.  In fifths.  Guitars are tuned in 4ths mainly.  Basses in 4ths.  Cellos and violas, apparently, in 5ths, if I have my facts straight.  That makes it VERY different to play.  Big learning curve.  Frustratingly so.


The Cheats

A friend told me that it was like I went out and impulsively bought a pet that I know nothing about.  Oh, it’s nocturnal?  What’s that mean?  And why shouldn’t I feed it after midnight, exactly?  Maybe I should just give it a bath or something.

So I did two things.  I apologize to all of you real cello and bowed instrument artists out there.  This is sacrilege.

  1. I got a finger guide.  You’ll see in some of the photos that the neck appears to have colorful fret lines.  That’s basically a big sticker that you put on the neck.  I love it.  And I plan to never remove it.  Is there a reason why so many stringed instruments don’t have any fret guides or marks on them?  I know some musicians are getting them.  Edgar Meyer’s upright bass has fret inlays, I think.  And he is a baaaad man.
  2. I re-tuned the strings.  I looked it up.  Most people said don’t do it.  I decided not to.  Then I took the cello out of the soft case one day and two of the strings were completely loose because the pegs decided that friction is something you have to earn.  So I tuned it DADG.  It’s a much better experience.

Yeah!  I’m a cello bastard.

Hmmm. I wonder if “Not the One” will sound better with cello hits in place of the placeholder MIDI sax riffs. I’ll take real instruments over MIDI any day.

I’m working on a few new tunes.  Keep an ear out for more cello.  Same time (some time), same station (this blog).

Good times.

p.s. – Jazz Cello


6 thoughts on “Cello

  1. i liked the additions, too. don’t know why exactly, but the first one, the brief interlude, really struck me emotionally. and then it was … over!

    anyway, i can hear a beautiful yo-yo ma solo in there. come to think of it, his playing stirs up emotions for me. maybe it’s the cello!

    1. It’s gotta be the cello.

      Happy belated birthday, by the way. Get anything nice?

      Yeh, I was thinking that either I only include the cello at the end or … I may have to carry on some subtle padding and atmosphere after the brief interlude. The bowed string voice is powerful stuff. It must be used responsibly.

  2. So I’m one of those “real cello artists” (whatever that is) and to your cheats, I say go for it! Sounds like you’re getting the results you were hoping for, and like you said it’s not as if you’re planning a concert recital with Bobby McFerrin. 🙂
    As an aside, you may be interested to know that JS Bach himself wrote one of his cello suites for an alternate tuning (GDGC). So it’s not necessarily the sacrilege some might suggest.
    Enjoy and good luck. It’s a bastard to learn, but ultimately very rewarding.

    1. Thanks, deryn.

      I’m still working on it. Practice and experimentation.

      Those manual pegs are still driving me nuts, though.

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