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Strings Bowed instruments, how difficult are they?

jrintaha

Senior Member
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The reason I'm asking is my wife confessed that she'd very much like to learn the cello or double bass (bowed, not plucked), but is convinced that she'll never learn to use the bow properly.

She's played the classical guitar for several years in her youth, but ultimately quit because of her joint hypermobility - her fingers would just overbend at the joints when she had to depress several strings at once, causing the strings to sound poorly.

As I know a few of you play the strings, how difficult do you reckon the two aforementioned instruments are to play? How hard do you have to push the strings down to the fretboard (or whatever it is called in a fretless instrument)? Will the bendy joints be a problem with the cello and double bass too, assuming you don't usually have to play more than one string at once?


Cheers,
Jori
 

sushidushi

Mine's an espresso
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651
The thing that doesn't have frets is the fingerboard.

I tried to learn the violin in around 1974 and pretty much the only thing I can remember is the teacher nagging 'hold your bow properly'. My sister remembers the same. Not very helpful, but playing an instrument using a bow certainly needs a light and accurate touch. Whether that is likely to be a hindrance for your wife, I don't know, but I do hope she's able to pursue her dream. You are lucky she doesn't want a violin. They sound dreadful when they're not in the hands of an expert...
 

Filton

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243
Cellos are a lot more forgiving on intonation than violin and require only enough pressure to 'stop' the string..

The Bow is the hard bit to get used to at first but soon becomes an extension to your arm and control becomes easier and easier.

Would be definitely worth booking a taster session with a teacher.. many will let you book a short session where you can have a try iut with one of their instruments before you commit to buying anything..

And remember Basses need BIG transport and less melody ;-)

Sent from my GT-N7000 using Tapatalk 2
 

kevgermany

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I've got double bass, electric bass, cello and classical guitar players/learners in the family.

Not true about only stopping one string at once, but it's not like a normal guitar.
Bigger instruments, more string movement and quite hard work.
Son, who's learning double bass/electric bass reckons the double bass is slightly easier on the strings.
Really good point about transport made above, cello isn't small either...
And you need to be really careful about temperature changes/humidity changes on the cello/double bass/classical guitar - can cause cracking.
Bowing's been an issue on cello, not double bass - because the original teacher allowed bad habits and this is proving hard to correct. Same issue With the left hand here. Instead of being made to use a good hand shape and develop the muscles to suppotr it, she was allowed by teacher 1 to use a bad hand position which is really holding her back.

Biggest thing I hear is intonation on the fretless instruments. Can be really painful, especially on the cello which has a lot more edge and so cuts more, especially when out of tune.

I'm no expert, but based on what I've seen/heard from the kids teachers, I think the hypermobility shouldn't be an issue as long as she starts with good posture/fingers and takes the time to develop the muscles. My daughter, the cello player, has a degree of it. We've got a lot of music teacher friends/contacts, I'll ask my wife to make some enquiries as they get back from Xmas.
 

kevgermany

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Preliminary reply from my wife:

1 - get this: http://www.amazon.com/Playing-Less-...1356512338&sr=8-1&keywords=playing+less+hurts

2 - She'll ask around.

3 - Probably the most important thing is a good teacher who will sort posture/grip problems out before they become a problem.

4 - Depending on the degree of hypermobility, there are supports that help. Details in the book.

5 - Cello is probably a lot more fun, as the bass guitar/double bass aren't solo instruments and there's little solo work. Don't work as well for melody either. Nb. Double bass has the same tuning as bass guitars, so skills are transferable. However We both think the electric bass guitar is easie than double bass, unlike the son.

Do you have a music school system like we do in Germany? - if so making enquiries there will probably give you a lot of help.

More in a couple of weeks.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
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283
Thank you all for the advice, especially Kev. That book looks like something I should take a look at as well.

It just occurred to me that our neighbor has played the cello for 16 years, and perhaps he'll have some advice as well. Have to ask him when we get home. Would be great if he agreed to give a few starter lessons, as walking upstairs is far less of a hassle than getting to the other side of the city.

I told my wife the same about the double bass perhaps being a bit boring, but then again I play the electric bass in a band and haven't found it boring at all - but without the band it might be. For some reason, she likes the sound of a bowed double bass more than a cello, so I guess it's her call ultimately.

How loud is the double bass? We live in an apartment, so noise is always something to factor in. The cellist hasn't had any trouble, and my saxes are OK, as long as I don't play them at full blast. We're just concerned that the sound of the double bass will pass through the walls, as low sounds tend to do.


Cheers,
Jori
 

Filton

Member
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243
you can buy silent double basses . . . . and Cellos ...... ;-) courtesy of Mr Yamaha (amongst others)
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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I took up the cello again last year at the age of 51, not having played since I was about 17.

A well-adjusted cello, with the action set to the correct height and using decent modern strings (such as Jargar - about £130, or Larsen ~ £160, a set) should be fairly easy to play - you do not need brute force to stop the string. The old 'cheese wire' strings were a different.

Someone who has played guitar will be used to left/right hands doing different things and will probably find adjusting to the fingering of a cello relatively straightforward - but you use the pads on the end of the fingers.

Bowing I have never found that hard to pick up. It is important though to get lessons from a competent CELLO teacher and not a generic string teacher, who is probably a violin teacher - the bow grips are SLIGHTLY different between the two and that difference is significant.

Size wise, ladies often prefer to use what is known as an English cello - which is 7/8 size (sometimes called a "ladies' cello". This makes the finger-span more comfortable for extending 4th finger (e.g. to reach C# on the G string). I play a full-size Montagnana model cello and I find the stretch hard.

Again there are subtleties with the left hand position which it's important to have a teacher get the technique right.

My cello is in a Hiscox hard case, it's the same overall size as my bass viol, which I used to be able to sit across the back seat of a Ford Focus (just). In my current car (VW Passat CC) I just drop part of the back seat and it just pokes through by about 8 inches.

For a double-bass, you need to allow for the depth of the instrument (bouts plus height of bridge) as well as the length. Even if the length of your car allows it in, the depth might not fit the aperture of the boot (if you don't have a hatch or an estate).

Music-wise, you have immense availability of repertoire for cello in all genres. There will be plenty of opportunities to play in local groups / orchestras. Bass players will also find getting into groups fairly easy, but repertoire is much more of an issue.

It's important to buy from a proper music shop that specialises in strings (avoid internet purchases for string instruments). The set-up of a string instrument is crucial (this includes pegs, bridge, tail-piece, tail-gut, sound-post, and strings). Cellos are much more expensive than violins and a basic well set-up Chinese cello will cost about £800 (whereas a violin equivalent is about £200). By about £1,500 you will get a fully hand-made Chinese instrument that will play well. Any kind of decent old German / French / Italian / English instrument is going to be £5,000 upwards.

Remember that the bow is extremely important and you should spend 25% of your budget on the bow (my cello cost £1,600 and the bow (modern German pernambuco) was £450.

Most decent music stores in UK will hire an instrument until you make up your mind - I assume similar options are available for you?

Happy to assist with any queries where I can.
 

kevgermany

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Agree in principle with what TV says, but a couple of thoughts/observations.

Bows - you get rapidly to a point of diminshing returns here. And you start paying more for ornamentation, rather than improvements in playing quality. And, like so many things to do with musical instruments, there are many variables which bring it down to personal choice, very much like sax mouthpieces. I wouldn't necessarily agree with 25% of the instrument cost, unless you're buying at the bottom end of the market. There are some pretty good carbon fibre ones around, and they'll be servicable, good for learning with - then later, when she knows what she wants (maybe around the time when it needs re-hairing), pick a better wood bow.

Instruments - also consider a Romanian instrument. Not as cheap as the Chinese ones, but there are some good luthiers there and if you pick wisely, you'll get an instrument of the same quality/sound quality as the German ones, but considerably cheaper as their labour costs are lower.

I'd also suggest hiring an instrument for the first couple of years. The way it works here, You hire for a fixed monthly rate, return when you want - or buy when you want and you'll get some fo the rental off the purchase price. Nice thing about this si that if the instrument doesn't suit, you can swap at will (within reason). Ours will also give a loan instrument while any repairs are being done. Net result is you don't have the huge outlay at first. Your wife can learn and be comfortable that she can overcome the hypermobility, and when she knows what she wants in an instrument, you can then buy something to keep, without losing a lot trading in the first instrument. Need to balance rental costs against trade in losses, but it's an easier equation, cos you know up front what your costs are. But beware, as she gains experience, she'll want a better and better instrument (& bow). Depending on the musicc company, you may still need to buy a bow. We've had some fine rental cellos - and some OK, but poor sounding ones. The double bass we're renting for our youngest is plywood, but sounds and looks pretty good for what it is. Better than the cheapo orange box specials some guys rent out to beginners.

So it pays to shop around. Not sure what you options are, though.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
Messages
283
Thanks for the advice once again.

I've done a bit of research, looked and called around and I've found out that there's virtually no selection of student cellos and double basses locally. The shops that stock anything don't really have many cellos under 2000€, double basses naturally go even higher than that. The ones they do have for around 1000€, at least specification-wise, look exactly as bad as the Thomann 200€-300€ cheapos - laminated/plywood bodies, stained fingerboards etc. The set-up would probably be okay though.

There's a highly regarded violin maker's shop, and a highly regarded string repairman (violins, violas, cellos, double basses, no guitars) pretty close by, so buying second-hand and paying for a set-up might be a good choice. There's also a local bow maker, so if the bow needs some work, he's probably the best bet.

Second-hand, there's a couple of options available: a Czechoslovakian student cello for around 500€, but 300km away - might be okay since if it hasn't broken apart in 20 years, chances are it won't in the future either. There's also a Yamaha student cello for around the same price, but even further away. There's also a couple of ultra-cheap second-hand plywood cellos, but I doubt they're worth it since there's no warranty or anything. There is probably a reason people are getting rid of them. Everything else seems to be 2500€ and upwards.

A couple of new ones stood apart:

http://www.thomann.de/fi/stentor_sr1108_cello_student_ii_44.htm - Chinese, proper wooden body, ebony fingerboard etc. Bow is probably crap.

http://www.thomann.de/fi/rothjunius_europe_student_celloset_4_4.htm - European (Romanian?), otherwise looks about the same.

http://www.gear4music.com/Woodwind-Brass-Strings/Intermediate-4-4-Cello-with-Case-by-Gear4music/GAI - once again Chinese with proper woods used, oil varnish

http://www.gear4music.com/Woodwind-...ello-with-Case-by-Gear4music-Antique-Fade/L08 - slight upgrade, they claim it's handmade, the product description seems to be copy-pasted since the description says "ebonized fingerboard", specs say "ebony fingerboard". The bow is made of pernambuco.

There's also a couple of options by Vasili Gliga, a Romanian luthier, but they would first have to be shipped to the UK, then here. Probably not worth the trouble and potential damage in transit, unless I could somehow arrange direct delivery here.

A violinist posted on a local musicians' forum that he was quite happy with the Chinese Thomann cello, as he wasn't all too serious about playing the cello. It did suffer from glue joints cracking open in the winter, but Thomann arranged for a courier pickup of the instrument and they sorted it out.

I found one review of the G4M cello, the very cheapest plywood one, and the reviewer had problems with the instrument from the start, but G4M arranged for a repair and replacement parts quickly, and when that did not work, they refunded the instrument. The bottom line was crap instrument, top-grade customer service.

The problem is not that the money would go to waste if she decided not to continue playing, as I'm 100% certain I would play it even if she didn't. So this is partially a GAS attack on my part as well. ;} The problem is that we don't really have three grand to throw around.

Also, I'm not really afraid of a glue joint popping in a second-hand instrument, because I've taken apart (and put back together) a few guitars, accordions, concertinas etc. in my lifetime, so woodworking isn't completely alien to me. I'm pretty sure I could figure out small fixes. (My wife's view on this was roughly "There's 20 instruments in the house you've taken apart and put back together, where would I need a string instrument repairman when I've got you in the house?")


Cheers,
Jori
 

kevgermany

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One word on the chinese cheapies - the're not made to be repaired, so if the top needs to come off, you may have problems. I've got some info on this, suggest you pm me if you're interested. It all came from the musical instrument tecnician yahoo group - well worth joining. Lots of useful posts and photos.

Unseen, I'd go for the Czech instrument, but I'd try and get a better description/photos first. And budget for some work setting it up.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
Messages
283
One word on the chinese cheapies - the're not made to be repaired, so if the top needs to come off, you may have problems. I've got some info on this, suggest you pm me if you're interested. It all came from the musical instrument tecnician yahoo group - well worth joining. Lots of useful posts and photos.
PM sent.
 

sushidushi

Mine's an espresso
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651
As the expression goes (in England, anyway) you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

The tricky part, I suppose, will be determining which cellos are silk purses and which are sows' ears disguised as silk purses.

Good luck!
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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From comments I've read elsewhere, Stentors are pretty reasonable entry level instruments and have a reasonable rep if they've been set-up properly by a luthier (pegs / bridge / fingerboard / soundpost / strings). The Gliga also have a good rep (I think elida (www.elidatrading.co.uk) in the UK sell them).

Re Kev's comments about bows, the 25% was indicative of the kind of level of expenditure you can expect on a bow if you decide you're going to be taking it seriously. There are decent carbon fibre bows (I was torn between my German Dorfler and a Coda carbon fibre bow - they were about the same price). There are reasonable inexpensive ones (round the £100 mark), but very cheap bows should be avoided. Bear in mind that a bow will need to be re-haired every two or three years and that costs about £50 in the UK. Fibreglass bows are best avoided judging by the comments I've read about them.

Most makers carry a small stock of standard entry level instruments for trading on - probably worth an ask.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
Messages
283
Thanks for the info everyone. A friend who used to play the cello visited today, and it just happens so that his old German cello (which, 15 years ago, cost roughly 3500€, not taking inflation into account) is gathering dust at his parents' place and he agreed to lend it to us as long as we arrange its transportation! The downside is that it will probably need a setup and new strings as it's not been played for several years, and he said that the bow needs rehairing too... So I suppose it will be at least 250€ to the luthier's purse, but that's hardly a big price to pay for borrowing a quality instrument I guess. Renting something of the same caliber would probably be a 50€-100€ a month.
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Sounds like a result to me!

I don't think the set-up work will be expensive. Strings will be - this is a site that will help give you an idea of options / cost. The luthier will help advise as a lot depends on the sound balance of the instrument. I think your numbers are about right.

I originally hired my cello and it was £240 for 3 months.
 

sushidushi

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Gosh, they cost more than guitar strings, and there are only four of them. Out of interest, how long would a set of cello strings be expected to last? I know that's unanswerable, but as a rough guide...?
 
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kevgermany

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You have a very good friend! Sounds like a great way into it!

I'll reply to your pm later, I need to get some things together.

Cello strings last years. You need to check, but I'd guess that the strings won't need to be replaced. You may find this interesting:

http://www.ifshinviolins.com/Articl...ng-Strings-for-Violins-Violas-and-Cellos.aspx

Word of warning, if you decide to change the strings yourself, do one at a time without loosening the others - there must always be tension on the strings, pressing the bridge down. If you take them all off/slacken them all like you would on a guitar, the soundpost may move and this is a specialist job to sort out.

Rental cost here is about 1% of the retail price - per month. Plus insurance.
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Gosh, they cost more than guitar strings, and there are only four of them. Out of interest, how long would a set of cello strings be expected to last? I know that's unanswerable, but as a rough guide...?
The main answer is it depends on how much you play. For an average player, the string is more likely to 'go false' than wear out (a 'false' string is one that is either not in tune with itself, or with the other strings - usually caused by non uniform stretching) and that is probably several years. If you play a lot (two or three hours a day or more) then you're probably looking at one or two sets a year.

Endurance of gut strings is much less.
 

jrintaha

Senior Member
Messages
283
Update: happens so that the cello won't be here before next month due to conflicting travel plans and work etc., but my wife ordered an electric double bass from Thomann and a Glasser fiberglass bow from the States, along with some method books.

Not exactly the same thing as the real deal, but is probably much more practical than an acoustic bass at least for now. Most of the available playing time will be in the evening or at night, so she probably could not play the acoustic instrument that much anyway. We will be stalking the local auctions for second-hand double basses though.

Next we need to find someone to give her some lessons as soon as the bow arrives. She's already getting herself acquainted to reading the bass clef with some klezmer scores, playing them on my electric bass and her classical guitar.
 
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