The cello is an essential instrument of many orchestras, string and chamber ensembles and even finds itself in genres such as rock, pop, metal and more. There are a surprising number of benefits associated with learning how to play the cello and practicing/playing regularly.
You could be wondering whether it's worth bowing your first cello, or you may be a professional cellist. Regardless of your relationship to the instrument, I hope to inspire you to continue your musical journey with the cello as you read this article. There is so much to gain from learning a musical instrument like the cello, and I've selected what I believe to be the top 11 best reasons.
The top 11 benefits of learning and playing cello are:
- Enhances The Understanding Of Music
- Improves Discipline & Concentration
- Improves Coordination/Dexterity
- Improves Memory
- Builds Confidence
- Yields Transferable Skills To All Other String Instruments
- Improves Posture
- Building Relationships
- Provides A Creative Outlet
- Introduces A New Language
- Therapeutic Benefits
- Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
- Bonus Benefit 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
In this article, we'll discuss each of the benefits listed above to understand better how learning and playing the cello can improve our lives.
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Learning & Playing Cello Enhances Our Understanding Of Music
Every musical instrument gives us a tool to deepen our knowledge and love of music. The cello is a versatile instrument that can give practitioners a unique perspective on the art of music.
As the “tenor” in the violin family, the cello is often responsible for doubling the basses an octave above, though it can also harmonize and even be played solo. As we learn more about the cello and its role in the music we're playing, we can build up a better picture of the instrument and the big harmonic picture of the music.
The music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, though the tenor and treble clefs are sometimes used for higher-range passages. Cellists, then, get to learn a variety of clefs as they learn their instruments.
The violin can be played using many different techniques, including the bowing techniques (legato, détaché, tenuto, potato, staccato, etc.) and plucking techniques (pizzicato). Each technique produces a certain tonality from the cello and offers a specific feeling to the music being played.
Through the development of technique and repertoire, the cello provides an interesting lens through which to view music.
Learning & Playing Cello Improves Discipline & Concentration
To master the cello takes unwavering dedication, discipline and concentration. With a steep learning curve, the seemingly simple act of bowing notes even takes significant effort for absolute beginners.
As we learn how to play the cello, we develop the habit of discipline and concentration. The more we train these attributes, the stronger they become. The discipline and concentration we internalize while learning and playing the cello spills into other aspects of life as well.
From the mechanics to the in-depth theory, learning and playing the cello are fun ways to learn music while simultaneously improving our discipline and concentration.
Learning & Playing Cello Improves Coordination/Dexterity
To play the cello properly, we must develop the necessary coordination. Cellos are relatively large instruments that require proper positioning relative to the cellist. Furthermore, they're fretless, have curved fretboards, and are played with a variety of techniques with or without a bow. In other words, cellos are difficult to play!
Becoming skilled at playing the cello requires the dexterity to finger the proper notes while plucking or bowing the matching string(s) with correct technique, rhythm, timing, volume and emotion. This is all done while maintaining the cello's position, resting the body against our chest, balanced between our knees, with the neck and scroll to the left of our head.
To coordinate both hands, and often our eyes if we're sight-reading tablature, sheet music or chord changes required tremendous dexterity. Learning to synchronize our hands in such a way will help us learn other instruments and perform other high-dexterity tasks throughout our day-to-day lives.
Cellos have their own unique playing techniques. However, the improvement of coordination will inevitably help with other instruments. This is particularly true of stringed instruments but also applies to percussion instruments (rhythm and timing-wise) and even woodwind and brass instruments (fingering-wise).
Learning & Playing Cello Improves Memory
The link between memory and musical instruments has been studied, and findings point toward the fact that learning a musical instrument, like the cello, improves memory.
With proper training, we can improve our memory (source). The auditory and tactile stimulation of learning and playing the cello, combined with the visual aspect of reading music, stimulate the amygdala and hippocampus, which play a role in emotions and memories (source).
Consider all the factors of learning and playing the cello that involves memory:
- Memorizing songs (with rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre/tone)
- The notes of the cello (tuning-dependent)
- Theoretical knowledge of music (rhythm, harmony, melody)
Learning & Playing Cello Builds Confidence
The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defined confidence as “a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something”. Confidence grows if we can prove to ourselves that we are progressing toward our goals.
If our goals include becoming a skilled cellist, then becoming proficient with the instrument will surely develop our confidence. The immediate auditory feedback we get from the cello as we play is a great indicator of whether we're improving or not. If we can hear ourselves playing the music on the page, from our memory or from the creative muse, then we know we're getting somewhere!
As we go through the process of becoming better cellists, it's only natural that confidence gained spills over to other areas of our lives. If we can learn how to play the cello, surely we can learn other musical instruments and other life skills, more broadly, so long as we exercise our discipline.
Since the art of music is often celebrated with live performances, learning and playing the cello can also get us up on stage. Performing in front of people can be a scary proposition. However, by doing so, we can overcome shyness and stage fright, building the confidence to perform in front of friends, family, strangers and even virtually/online. This confidence will pay dividends through many other aspects of our lives.
Learning & Playing Cello Yields Transferable Skills To Other String Instruments
The cello is one of many string instruments. Though it's certainly a unique instrument, learning the skills required of the cello will give us a headstart when it comes to all the other string instruments.
The way the cello is held may not translate to any other mainstream instrument besides the double bass. However, many of the skills will transfer either directly or indirectly to the other string instruments.
The fretless, curved fretboard makes fingering, bowing and plucking a challenge. Developing the proper technique will apply directly to the other violin family members, which also have curved, fretless fingerboards. If we can learn how to play these boards, the relatively flat fretted fretboards of instruments like guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, and mandolin ought to be even easier.
As we become proficient at playing the cello, the bowing techniques we learn will translate to the other bowed string instruments (viola, cello, double bass). Though the posture of these instruments may change, the mechanics of running a bow across the strings will be largely the same.
The same can be said of the plucking techniques of the cello, though perhaps they aren't as widespread as the bowing techniques. There are plenty of plucking/picking (pizzicato) techniques, and learning the one will make us better equipped to learn the others. Leaning pizzicato on the cello will indirectly translate to an improved technique in double bass, guitar, harp and mandolin style picking.
Like the other violin family members (excluding the double bass), the standard cello has 4 strings tuned in fifths. This tuning system directly transfers to violin and viola and also to the mandolin family of instruments. The shapes and inter-string interval relations will be the same in these instruments, although in different keys/ranges.
Other string instruments may have different standard tunings (the double bass and bass guitar is tuned in fourths, the guitar is tuned in fourths with a major third between the G and B strings, the banjo is tuned in open G, etc.). However, the techniques developed for fretting will hold between these instruments.
Learning & Playing Cello Improves Posture
Though the cello is typically played sitting down, learning to play properly will demand a certain form.
As we're seated, we sit upright or slightly forward. The cello endpin is adjusted so that the cello body rests between the knees and against the chest. The knees hold the cello firmly in place without straining too hard. The cello is slightly angled so that the cello's neck and scroll come up to the left of the cellist's head, with the lowest tuning peg approximately the same height as the cellist's ear.
Holding and supporting the cello in place while executing proper bowing, plucking and fingering techniques takes proper form if we are to play the instrument for any length of time, avoiding unnecessary strain and injury.
Playing the cello utilizes plenty of muscles, further compounding the instrument's positive physical effects.
The simple act of being conscious of our posture when playing the cello can translate to other parts of our lives and help us develop stronger bodies in doing so.
Learning & Playing Cello Helps Build Relationships
As a social art form, music has the power to bring people together. This can be especially true for orchestral instruments like the cello, which are often one element in a much greater ensemble.
When we first begin our study of the cello, we may opt to hire a teacher. This is likely the first relationship we'll develop. In the same vein, as we become skilled and knowledgeable, we can become teachers ourselves, thereby building relationships with our own students.
Learning and playing the cello will make it easier for you to make connections with other musicians, whether that's your cellist neighbour in the string section or everyone in the orchestra.
Beyond the rehearsal space, once we're good enough, we can begin performing live, which will open doors to meet even more new people, including musicians from other groups, music fans, promoters, and more.
Learning & Playing Cello Provides A Creative Outlet
Though creativity is a skill and a process that everyone has in some capacity, there is a certain obviousness to creativity in the arts (source). Learning to play the cello gives us a creative outlet to write our own music and also to perform the music of others in our own fashion.
Studies show that learning musical instruments like the cello creates connections between the brain's two hemispheres. Playing the cello regularly has the potential to increase the size of the corpora callosa, the bundle of axons that effectively connects the two hemispheres (source). With new neural pathways, we add additional ways of thinking (consciously and subconsciously), which surely improves our ability to create novel musical ideas.
Learning & Playing Cello Introduces A New Language
Written sheet music and learning by ear are akin to written and spoken language. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind” (source), and though this can be argued technically, there are certainly vast similarities between language and music.
Beyond the language and terminology of music and cello and the written music, we have song arrangement, harmonic movement, rhythm, lead/melodic lines, and the general feel and emotion of the piece are all part of the language in their own right.
To strengthen the link between language and music further, studies show that learning a musical instrument like the cello helps strengthen the same parts of the brain responsible for language processing (source), including the Broca's area of the brain (source). Learning cello not only introduces the language of music but also enhances our brain's ability to learn other languages.
Learning & Playing Cello Has Therapeutic Benefits
Debra Shipman (Ph.D. RN) states, “Learning to play a musical instrument provides a peaceful retreat from the pressures of daily life. Therapeutic outcomes of playing music include better communication skills, improved emotional release and decreased anxiety and agitation. Musical training promotes cognitive function, mental health, and a connection to others.” (source)
Music, in general, is also being studied thoroughly as a promising tool for therapy for the brain, lungs and heart (source). The American Music Therapy Association lists the following benefits of music therapy:
- Promote Wellness
- Manage Stress
- Alleviate Pain
- Express Feelings
- Enhance Memory
- Improve Communication
- Promote Physical Rehabilitation
Learning & Playing Cello Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
Paul Van Der Merwe once stated, “Money makes the world go round” (source). As the first of two bonus tips, let's talk about money.
Once you've become a skilled cellist, there are many different avenues to monetize your skills. Of the numerous options, I've like the following:
- Performing music live
- Teaching cello lessons
- Recording as a session cellist
- Composing for stock music libraries
There are plenty of other opportunities to monetize cello skills. Marketable skills (whether they're high-paying and/or capitalized on or not) are undoubtedly a benefit of learning and playing the cello.
Learning & Playing Cello Bonus Tip 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
Learning and playing the cello isn't only about the playing technique, music theory and songs. It's also about the instruments themselves. Learning about the cello gives us a great opportunity to learn the physics of sound and string instruments.
Furthermore, learning the general upkeep of cellos teaches us about plenty of other topics, including:
- How to change strings
- The effects of humidity on wood
- Tension (strings, tuning pegs)
- How materials and cello shapes can produce differences in tone and volume
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