Learning a String Instrument
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Instrument Purchase and Maintenance
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Learning a String instrument is more difficult in the beginning because we need to maintain certain postures which take some time to get used to. Take the lessons as a Physiotheraphy session to re-learn how the fingers and mussles work. The tonnality of your playing depends on how you control the bow and the accuracy of the left fingers. Comparing to piano, piano has almost a perfect machanism inside the sound box to create the best possible tone each time you press a key on the keyboard. We cannot change the tone of the piano to a large extent. The tone we produce from a string instrument depend on many factor, mostly contributed by the right hand. After 3 months of playing open string, we can safely established "friendship" between the bow and the string to produce a clear sound. Always remember piano is the king of all instrument. He is the King because he is most versatile and also most difficult at the professional level.
If we can safely play in tune the first position on the cello, we can play about 2 octave from the C string. Technically, the human voice is only 1.5 octave. Therefore, 6 months of deligent practice is enough to play all the tune that can be sung by the voice. Do note that the first 2 octave on the cello is very low, probably won't sound so apetizing yet. However, the tune is still recognizable.
Good instrument definitely create a better sound which unfortunately needs $$$. However, do not think that more expensive means better. Basic cello selling in Singapore cost S$550. After changing to a set of decent strings, it adds another S$200. That should give a total beginner with limited budget enough pleasures in the playing. Top models made in China are selling at S$3k. Anything beyond this price requires a unique taste. Better cello tends to be easier to play, the response time is short and we can control the strings better. When we compare to cars, good cello have no turbo lag!!! The fingerboard should be smoother for easy shifting. The pegs won't come loose all the time. The end pin will not rust so easily, especially in our hot humid weather condition. The wood and finishing should be shiny adding visual pleasures in the playing. The cello should feel light as most of the water in the wood are drained off, usually air-dry for more than 10 years. Lower grade cello are usually made of fresh wood right from the tree, probably using fast heat-dry method to dry the wood. In the context of cello making, fresh wood is not good wood. Lastly, its the workmanship that counts. Affordable instruments are usually made in a assembly line. Fine cello can someimes be build by a single person which takes about 6 months to complete.
It is recommended to tune all 4 strings together. For example we do not tune the A string to its required pitch but tune maybe to E first. Then we tune the D string to a lower A or G. its the same for the bottom 2 strings. Then we slowly increase the A string from E to F#, the D string from A to B as well as the bottom 2 strings. This is to prevent excessive pressure on one side of the bridge. Make sure the bridge is in perfect 90 degree with the cello top after tuning. If the bridge is bent, try to losen the strings and do it again, this time pushing the bridge away from the bent angle.
Remember shifting is done by gliding the fingers on the fingerboard. DO NOT jump like a frog. Therefore, at any one time, there must be at least one finger or thumb on the string to easy gliding.
Neve lift the bow to cross to other string unless you are re-taking the bow or there are rest in between notes. Just turn the bow with your whole arm to the respective string like a see-saw.
There is no minimum age for learning a string instrument. However there are some criteria to be fulfilled.
1.The child must be able to sit down attentively for 30min. If the child has very short attention span, we can take a break every 15min. Go drink some water or look at something else for a while.
2.The instrument must not be oversize! Using oversize instruments are typical in Singapore Education because we udually do not have every size of instrument to cater for every child. Take note that there are 3/4, 1/2,1/8 and even 1/16 size instruments for violin, cello, viola and Double Bass. However, getting a good match in school ensemble can sometimes be difficult due to the lack of instrument collection. It is advisable to ask the teacher regarding the compatibility. Buy your own instrument if there are none that match in school. Using oversize instruments can cause severe pain and swelling of the joints around the wrist, fingers and palm.
3.Get a teacher who is comfortable and strict in teaching young children. Firstly, not all teacher can handle young children comfortable. Secondly, bad habits may be built over time with a "easy going" teacher, that may ruin the chance of the child being able to play better than the teacher in future. Do not judge by his/her certificate. Trial lessons are suggested before committing to long term learning.
As of my knowledge, there are at least 20 musical instruments shops in Singapore. Most of the shops are selling overpriced instruments. Therefore you must be very critical in selecting your instruments as you will use it for many years. Do not buy instruments base on color, country of origin or branding. Check with your teachers and avoid making impulsive decisions. I offer two locations where you can find the instruments you need.
After playing, just clean the top and side with a soft dry cloth. The best cloth I tried are those coloured cloth obtained in petrol station. The same kind for cleaning cars. There is no need to apply any solution if you clean it diligently. Nor do we need to use sophisticated high tech cloth which serves the same purpose. However, once in a whie, we can buy polisher to add shine onto the instrument.
Typically, strings will lose its lushness and depth in sound slowly as we play it. Steel strings of the 21st century seldom breaks just by playing. When we feel that the string is getting very high pitch, its time to change. Do not keep the strings on the instrument for more than 1.5 years. You can to play the same brand of string immediately before and after changing new string to appreciate your new string.
Please refer to How to keep the cello clean. Exactly the same except that we do not clean the hair at all !!!
Korg brand tuner is so far the best tuner I ever used. Most other brand cannot detect the C string. If you have an iphone, u can download a free aps to tune your cello.
Basic student model cost S$550.
Yo Yo Ma cost a few million USD (waiting in the Green Room before conert) --->
Some are priceless.
Always remember that we can use a $5000 cello to play a bad sound worth $50, but it is impossible to use a $500 cello to create a $5000 sound
For warm beautiful sound at the expense of slower response, you can try jargar strings.
For down to Earth metallic sound, you can try Pirastro Chromcor
For super fast response loud directional sound, you can try Pirastro Evah Pirazzi
If you want to play like a pro, you can try Larsen soloist
For added bass, you can change C and G string to Spiricore Tungsten
We usually try to use the same type of strings for A & D, then G & C.
It is a wooden dowel placed (not glued) in between the top and bottom plate of your cello. It is a most important single piece of component for your cello. It has to be in the precise position. By moving a tenth of a mm is enough to change the tone of your instrument. Shifting the sound post must be done by trained luthiers.