Considering Learning the Cello? Here’s all Your Questions Answered!

Is it possible? Can you do it? How? Where??

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Is it true anyone can learn to play the cello?

Though it is a little cliche to say, it’s true; barring any physical limitations, anyone can learn how to play the cello. It all comes down to one thing: taking it ONE step at a time. Sadly, there’s no magic pill which will help you learn how to play the cello. It’s simply about putting the time in and doing the slow, steady, mindful work. If you have have the will, there is the way.


Is it harder for adults to learn the cello than children?

For the most part, yes it is harder for adults to learn the cello than children. Children typically have the ability to adapt to their surroundings quickly, and their innate curiosity and creativity allow them to learn without overthinking – unlike adults who have the tendency to overthink just about everything!  Children absorb and process information quickly. However, adults tend to be much more analytical, careful and conscientious when it comes to learning something strange and new in adulthood. And THOSE are the characteristics which will allow a committed adult to excel when it comes to learning the cello.

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Should I rent a cello or buy a cello?

Actually, you should do both! Start off with a rental instrument from a reputable string shop. If 1-2 years pass and it looks like you are going to stick with it, then it’s time to purchase a cello which fits your specific needs (as in body-type and budget). It’s always best to start with a rental, and nowadays many rental shops have a rent-to-own option. That is a win-win situation.

Is the cello heavy to carry?

Back in “the day,” beginner cellos used to be made of plywood and laden with gobs of glue. And if you’ve ever purchased cheap furniture, you KNOW how heavy & awkward that stuff is! Fortunately, many of the largest stringed instrument factories have learned the fine craft of making a student-model instrument out of higher-quality wood which makes them much lighter and much more resonant. In addition, the components of the cello are now often made of carbon fiber or plastic which is lightweight and durable vs. the traditional steel.  Hard cello cases have also gotten much lighter with all the carbon fibre options available now, and soft cases are MUCH more padded than they used to be – and they are of course, very lightweight.

clock, time, watch-5084284.jpgHow long does it take to learn the cello?

This is the question which will remain a question. There are SO many variables to consider which make it impossible to answer.  No two people are alike. No two teachers are alike, no two instruments are like and EVERYONE has a special set of circumstances which determine the trajectory of success when it comes to the timeframe of how long it will take to learn the cello. So, on that note, no one should put a time limit on learning. 

How do I find the right cello teacher?

Nowadays there are so many options available to find a cello teacher. You can take in-person lessons, or lessons through Zoom, or an online course, or in a video exchange format. But, just because there are lots of options, it doesn’t mean they are all GOOD options. As an adult learner, you have to consider YOUR unique approach to learning and what you hope to accomplish with the cello. Do you have limited time or are you retired with some extra time and looking for a great hobby? Do you have money budgeted for a private teacher or do you need to find something easy on the wallet? Do you like an instructor to push you, or do you like to do things on your time? However you answer these questions, it’s important to do your due-diligence before you select the right avenue for YOU. Consider these things when assessing a teacher:

  • Does the teacher live in the same city?
  • How long has this person been teaching?
  • Does this teacher understand the uniqueness of teaching adults?
  • How many others adults does this teacher currently work with?
  • Does the teacher hold a degree in either music education or music performance?
  • What does the teacher charge for lessons?
  • Do you pay per lesson or by the semester?
  • Will you follow the teachers curriculum or are you encouraged to select some of the music?
  • What is the cancellation policy?
  • Will the teacher give you your first lesson for free to see if you are a good fit for one another?
  • Will the teacher hold recitals? Are the recitals mandatory?

Is YouTube a good place to learn the cello?

Yes and no. This is a tricky question. There are some excellent Youtube channels and there are some channels with lots of subscribers but poor teaching. And as a new cellist, how are you to know one from the next? This is why guided instruction is very important at the beginning. Guided instruction might be an online course with regular, personal feedback or in-person lessons. You will need experienced eyes on YOU as you are beginning your studies. Here are a few of the Youtube channels which will help you obtain the best information possible as a beginner; DavidFinckelandWuhan, CelloDiscovery, Abigail McHugh-Grifa, 

Can I teach myself to play the cello?

Basically, you can teach yourself how to play the cello if you are working with periodic guidance. That usually means an occasional checkin with a teacher or a high-quality online course where you set the pace and get feedback as you need it. Bad habits are hard to break so teaching without guidance is not recommended.

money, seem, fall-2082383.jpgWhat do cello lessons cost?

Cello lessons vary in cost depending on where you live. However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50-$100 an hour (or about 45-90 euro) for an experienced, skilled teacher.

Can I learn the cello as an adult if I can’t read music?

A lot of students learn how to read music at the same time they learn to play an instrument. The two often go hand-in-hand. You will start out learning the basics like the staff, time signatures, key signatures and simple note values. You will continue learning a couple notes at a time as you learn to play them on the cello. It’s not hard to learn to read music when it is presented in small increments. 

Is there a good cello for beginners book?

Though it is difficult to learn any instrument directly from a workbook, there is a good starter book often used in public schools called, “All For Strings”. You’ll want to be sure you purchase the cello book and start with Book 1. There is another book called, “Essential Elements” which (in my opinion) leaves out far too much information for the beginning cellist. It is a book found everywhere, but it leaves the learner frustrated if it is not supplemented with better, more thorough material or a teacher.

Albert Einstein learning to play a musical instrument.jpgCan an older person, say in their 50’s or 60’s, learn to play the cello?

Of course I am going to say yes, because I believe this and have witnessed it happen many, many times! There’s enormous benefit to engaging the brain in new activities through all stages of life. Is fifty-plus too old to learn golf, knitting or scuba-diving? How about learning computers? Assuming no unknown physical conditions, there’s nothing that should keep an older adult from learning the cello. As with most anything in life, you’ll go as far as your own talent, practice and dedication will take you.  

How can I learn cello at home?

There are three options for learning the cello at home.

  • Have the teacher come to the student
  • Learn via a video conferencing platform
  • Learn from an online cello course

The cello has gained a tremendous amount of popularity in recent years which has helped spur many options for learning how to play the cello as an adult. With consistent practice, most anyone can learn to play the cello (it’s true!). And once you have reached a proficient level, there will be many performance options available. Imagine playing in an amateur community orchestra, or playing with a group of amateur friends for a Friday happy-hour, or playing in a band or a church ensemble. All of these venues will be rewarding and satisfying as you learn the art of playing the cello. 

So, what are YOU waiting for?!

Carolyn Hagler - Instructor

About the Author: Carolyn Hagler is the founder and director of – “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.
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