8 Things to Consider BEFORE Learning the Cello as an Adult.

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Are you thinking about learning the cello as an adult? If so, here are 8 things to consider before you make the leap. Find out if you have what it takes to start, and to stick with it.  

 

1) Is the cello an instrument you are TRULY passionate about?

If you are nodding your head yes, that’s a great start! When I say “passionate” what I mean is – do you really, really love the cello? Do you spend time watching videos of cellists and hope to play the instrument like that one day? Have you been thinking about learning the cello for years – or is it a whimsical thought? 

When you take on a new challenging hobby as an adult it’s important to to have a strong desire to learn the hobby if the ultimate goal is to succeed. You have to envision your future self succeeding with the hobby. 

 

2) Be realistic about what it will take to learn the instrument.

Learning the cello is not a quick endeavor. It takes time and work – and a lot of it. Part of the recipe for successful learning is consistency. It doesn’t mean you have to put in hours of practice every day.

Daily practice is not essential; quality, consistent practice is the essential component. You will need to set weekly goals, work diligently towards those goals and efficiently use all of your practice time. Plan to accomplish a new skill every week. 

Learning the cello shouldn’t be an added stress in your life. This should always be something you enjoy. That’s not to say there won’t be times when you are discouraged and tired, but the enjoyment component should always be present.

People who excel at their craft make it look easy. With that said, maintain a realistic outlook regarding the hill you will need to climb to become proficient on the cello. You won’t look/sound like a seasoned cello player for quite some time – but with a healthy amount of motivation and hard work you will acquire the ease and grace which comes from consistent and effective work.

 

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3) Do you have TIME to learn the cello?

This consideration ties into #2, but we’ll dive little deeper. 

Do you have a family or parents to take care of?  Do you work full-time? Again, carving out time is an essential element for achieving success. Do you have “me” time incorporated into your week so you can achieve your cello goals? If learning the cello is a priority to you, you will need to find a way to fit it into your busy life. “Me” time is an important ingredient for sustaining a good life, so if you aren’t already planning “me” time into your life, this is a good time to start.

It’s important to plan several hours a week (at minimum) of effective practice time in order to learn how to play the cello. You can break those hours down into several mini-practice sessions if you don’t have the availability to practice in larger chunks of time. This will be your cello-focused time.  No distractions. Without the proper amount of time to learn cello, it will be impossible to succeed.

 

4) Have you considered the financial implications?

Learning the cello doesn’t have to be a financial burden. There are several ways to go about your cello education in a financially conservative way.

To begin with, there is no need to purchase a cello or bow from the start. In fact, it’s much wiser to wait a couple years until you understand what to look and listen for in a cello. 

Most string music shops stock quality rental cellos, and that’s a great place to start. And in addition, most of these shops offer a rent-to-own option making it a win-win for you. If you are renting an instrument you can expect to pay anywhere from $45-$70 a month depending on the level of the instrument. If for some reason you decide the cello isn’t your thing after few months, you haven’t invested a fortune.

A lot of people opt to take one-on-one private lessons as they begin learning. This will be your biggest expense. 45 – 60 minutes a week is the common timeframe for cello lessons and the cost (depending upon where you live) can run anywhere from $50-$100 per lesson. 

man looking at computer, learning cello online.jpgZoom lessons have become the go-to since the onset of the pandemic, but they tend to be just as expensive as in-person lessons – yet not as effective. 

Learning with free resource on Youtube can be helpful if you find the right channel. Unfortunately, there are many cello You-Tubers who don’t always offer best-practices in cello pedagogy. In addition, sequential instruction is not presented when learning on Youtube. As a beginner you don’t know what sequential curriculum looks like so you’ll end up trying to run before you can walk.  Be very careful out there in the land of Youtube.

A great option for online learning is to pinpoint an affordable, well though-out online curriculum which you can learn at your own pace. It includes structured video lessons, play-along interactive music, an online community and professional feedback. Cello Discovery perfectly fits that criteria.

So, if we break down the costs of learning the cello for the first 3 months, here is what it will look like:

 

5) Is quality, affordable cello instruction accessible to you?

You may live in a city without a qualified in-person cello instructor. And if there are a limited number of cello teachers, you might find that you are paying too much for lessons or that the teacher studio is full and no longer accepting new students. If so, you’ll need to make the decision to learn with a good online cello course. 

However, if you do find a qualified teacher, keep in mind that you are partnering with this person to learn the cello. Just like you would hire any professional to do anything for/with you, you want to know they are experienced in their profession and that they will listen to your needs. 

Don’t be afraid to tell your teacher what your goals are for learning the cello. If they want to take you down a path you don’t want to go (as in learning only Suzuki music, etc…) be vocal. Be honest.

If you are paying for lessons, it’s important to make sure your teacher incorporates music literature YOU want to learn in addition to music they know is beneficial for you. Quality instruction includes the ability for a teacher to adapt to a student’s style of learning,

Find the very best teacher if you plan to hire a private instructor and learn one-on-one (another blog post is needed to fully address this, but…) Get an experienced teacher AND performer. You really want both.

There’s the old expression – “Those who can’t do, teach.” I’d rather say, “Those who teach well, also do.”

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The best teachers are TRAINED to be experts in cello pedagogy and in addition, they have fully honed their craft. They still perform often and they are exceptional performers. They have spent a lifetime teaching and performing professionally. Those seasoned teacher/performers understand ALL the nuance of the instrument and can aptly convey that to their students.

And again, if you aren’t able to find a well-qualified teacher near you, check out Cello Discovery. There is a wealth of great information and plenty of fun & engaging tools to help you learn successfully.

 

6) Do you have any physical limitations which will prevent you from learning the cello?

There aren’t too many physical limitations to consider when it comes to learning the cello, but there are definitely a few. It may feel awkward for you to read this next paragraph, but these issues must be asked / addressed. There are plenty of people who deal with the matters presented below.

  • Hands / Fingers:

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Let’s talk about your fingers first because fingers play one of the most important physical roles in learning the cello. 

If you are missing any fingers on the LEFT hand, it will be very difficult to play the cello. Not impossible by any means, but difficult. If this scenario applies to you, consider finding a teacher who is sympathetic to your situation and can make accommodations for you. Each finger takes on a unique role, and learning how to compensate for a missing finger requires a great, caring and experienced teacher. 

If you are missing any fingers on the RIGHT hand (depending on the finger) you should be able to play the cello with accommodations. The right hand does not require the same amount of dexterity as the left hand while playing the cello.

If you have an unusually short 4th finger on your left hand, you will find reaching for some of the notes to be quite difficult. In this situation, a small cello will be your friend (likely a 7/8 or 3/4 size cello).

  • Bones:

Do you have severe arthritis? If so, you will have great difficulty playing the cello. In addition to the pain, your fingers will not have the agility needed to play fast passages or to effectively use vibrato in your playing. You can still have success with the cello if you have mild to moderate arthritis. Just keep in mind that the process of learning the cello could take longer than you anticipate.

Extreme scoliosis – If you have untreated scoliosis (you never had surgery and you never wore a brace) and you have a maturing spine which no longer allows you to sit or stand upright, you will need accommodations. Cellists typically sit tall and at the edge of the chair. Though there are certainly plenty of variations on this theme, a tall posture will allow you to maneuver around the instrument with more ease and help you breath deeply (another aspect of playing well!). Again, you can learn but you will need accommodations.

Are you left handed? It doesn’t matter! All cellists are set up the same way regardless of their hand dominance. 

 

7) Goals.

Consider your goals and what you hope to accomplish with the cello. Stay focused on that “why” during each practice session. Have you truly thought through attainable goals? It seems like everyone is talking about this now. But they talk about it because it truly is the recipe for success. Barring the outliers in the world, most people need a plan. We need goals. 

You currently plan SO many things in your life. If you are going in a trip, you plan the dates you intend to go. You plan how to get to the airport and who will pick you up. You plan your wardrobe, your budget and a rough (or detailed) outline of what the trip will look like. 

Learning the cello is no different. You need to plan your end goal first. What exactly do you intend to DO once you learn the cello? This can be anything. It’s YOUR goal. But think about your goal and what it will take to get you there. Do you have the time, motivation and willpower to follow-through? Hopefully you are shouting a resounding “yes” right now! If so, you are definitely ready to learn the cello. If not, take a minute to think through your goals before you spend the time and money investing in something that you may not really want to do after all.  

 

8) Can you Focus? arrow, target, bullseye-2886223.jpg

I ask you this, because so often we are not able to truly be present in the moment and cannot focus on a specific task. Some of us are forever looking to the future or pondering the past when life is happening NOW.

The most successful musicians have found ways to be mindful and extremely focused in their practice and in their performances. And because of this, they are able to turn on all of their senses and analyze what is happening WHILE  they are playing. They hear better, see better and have a heightened tactile sensation.

If you haven’t yet learned how to incorporate this mindful practice into an element of your daily life, you may be in for a big treat. Successful musicians have exceptional focus. They learned to focus by doing it – by practicing it. It’s usually not an innate skill. So if you don’t possess this technique yet, you should at least be open to learning this approach through studying music. It’s a key element to successfully learning the cello.

To conclude, spend some healthy time truly considering these 8 things before learning the cello as an adult. It’s wise to know if you have what it takes to become a cellist later in life.

Carolyn Hagler

About the Author: Carolyn Hagler is the founder and director of www.CelloDiscovery.com – “The Home for Beginning Adult Cello Students”. She is a tenured member of the Austin Symphony Orchestra and earned a Master of Music degree in cello performance from the University of Texas at Austin. She also holds a K-12 teaching certificate in the state of Texas. Carolyn has focused her pedagogy on teaching adults the joy of learning the cello through a natural, relaxed body, achievable goals and fun, engaging interactive music scores. Carolyn spent decades honing her skills as an expert teacher of beginning students. Throughout her many years as a public school orchestra director, she was able to teach hundreds of students the skills necessary to win top honors in contests and festivals throughout the state of Texas As a cellist, Carolyn has performed on numerous recordings and soundtracks, toured internationally and explored many different styles of music. Though raised in Northern California, she currently lives in Austin, TX with her husband and their dog, Annie.