Growing into your instrument

Photo by Quentin @FlickrWhile I was trying cellos at Hammond Ashley, there was a cellist in the next booth over ripping one of the Bach Suites in HALF. He or she was pretty awesome: a couple of times I stopped what I was doing to listen. At which point TBF would prod me to quit comparing myself and get back to playing (he’s so Tiger Mom sometimes)

It was hard not to get a little discouraged while playing Happy Farmer and bits of Brandenburg, contemplating upping my budget for a cello that’s potential will probably be under realized for years if I take it home with me now.

It was a humbling reminder that no matter what cello I pick, I have a long way to go before I’m playing the music instead of just figuring out the instrument.

I had a frightful thought – am I good enough cellist for this cello? How much of my perceived passion for the Zuber is about the instrument as it sounds being played by a more accomplished cellist? If I can’t get that kind of sound – conceivably for years – is this a good investment, or a waste of money?

After all, there’s nothing wrong with buying, say, the Eastman. It’s a great cello, with a nice sound. I’m not surprised they’re popular. It would accomplish the goal of giving me a major step up from my current cello. I’m not as passionate about playing it, but I’m also still in Suzuki 1. Do I even know what there is to be passionate about? A couple of years with the Eastman, I become a better cellist and then start looking at a Zuber caliber upgrade. Nothing wrong with baby steps.

However there’s also something to be said for having plenty of room to grow into the skills. It’s why trainers often put inexperienced dressage riders on upper level horses – the well trained horse can be just as much of a teacher as the instructor.

But a cello isn’t a horse. Also had an emotional response to the Zuber and it was not shock at the price tag. I Heard it (capital H) in a way that I didn’t respond to the other cellos I tried. If sound is the subjective here factor here, what does that mean?

Or am I just rationalizing?

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About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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12 Responses to Growing into your instrument

  1. I’m generally of the opinion that a better instrument will be a better teacher. I have a step-up instrument instead of a student model and have never regretted the extra cost. I have observed myself learning many techniques much faster than my teacher’s other students simply because my cello rewards me more when I use better technique. It still sounds awful if I use awful technique but it really let’s me know when I’m doing things right. Plus, I find that good playing is actually the easiest thing to do on my nicer, more well set up cello. (Whereas I’ve seen many students on lower end student models develop compensatory technique rather than good technique simply because the instruments aren’t as good and then when they get better cellos they have to unlearn bad habits.) It also usually takes several years for a cello to stop sounding “new” and to develop it’s sound, so you and your new cello will grow together.

    • Eddie says:

      Ah! Your experience bears out a true parallel with the analogy to learning to ride dressage that I was referring to. They don’t call those horses schoolmasters for no reason – they’re tuned to respond to the right cues and the result is often brilliant. It becomes a self reinforcing cycle, right? Thanks for giving that perspective.

  2. Yee says:

    Nothing wrong with trying to rationalize your desires…

    First, would a new bridge make your cello comparable to the Eastman? If so, I woudn’t even consider the Eastman…

    A better cello might compel you to practice more….

    What did your teacher recommend?

    • She mentioned also that she has buzzing from her fingerboard being uneven, but it’s not ebony so it can’t just be re-planed to fix the problem. This would be pretty expensive to replace, although I think taking the cello in to a luther to see if it can be fixed up to something decent would be worth the trip. If it can be modified for $1000 and sound just as good as a new Eastman it would be with the hassle, I think.

      • Yee says:

        Not talking spending that much…. Just a higher bridge versus spending money on a Samuel Eastman. The higher bridge could fix her immediate low string buzzing problem. If Eddie can get her cello playable, why even consider another student instrument?

        It could buy her more time to help her decide on which step up instrument is best for her… Or she should just go with the step up instrument now 🙂

      • Yes, but higher bridge = higher sting height = harder to play, especially for female hands. This would especially be a problem as she learns higher positions.

  3. Eddie says:

    Of course! I’m very good a rationalizing, when I want something 🙂

    We tried a new bridge, and it has helped, but part of the problem is the neck of the cello is slightly off (a degree or two, maybe) but it also makes a huge difference when it come to finding notes. My left hand was just far more comfortable after two + hours of playing other cellos than it would have ever been playing the same amount of time at home.

    Which answers your other statement – I’d definitely be compelled to play more!

    My teacher mostly wants me to start bringing cellos to lessons so we can start trying them out and making some decisions, rather than agonizing over them in my head all day. She’s a pretty smart one, that lady 🙂

  4. Yee says:

    btw… My vote is to go with the better, step up instrument now… We’re all adults here. It’s not like we’re kids whose parents aren’t sure if we are going to keep playing or not. 🙂

  5. Mark Nichols says:

    I have a Hans Steiner 100 made by Eastman that cost around $1700 ($2000 with a well-padded soft-sided case and a carbon fiber bow). It plays very nicely with a set of Jargar string. I’m in Suzuki 3 (the Beethoven Minuet) and midway through the Lee Etudes.

    I’ve been to the nearest string store several times and have played a $4000 cello which was incredible. However I’ve decided to wait until I outgrow my current instrument in some way before getting a new cello.

    If I had a rental or a cheaper instrument I would seriously consider investing 4 or 5000 in a really good instrument that would likely last me for most, if not all, of my playing career.

    For now, Chester suits me just fine.

    Good luck with you search and decision.

    • Eddie says:

      I’m with you on purchase goals, Mark. Actually, if not for some of the structural stuff (aka the buzz) which just turns out to be less cost effective to fix I’d be happy to keep Cecelia for much longer. This time, I’m going to just to the step-up and be done with it for a while. As fun as it is trying lots of cellos, I look forward to really getting to know that special one!

      Chester is lovely, btw. I’m glad you are happy!

  6. Yee says:

    Elysia, with the extreme neck angle Eddie’s cello has, a higher bridge wouldn’t mean increased string clearance. The string height was probably made lower then usual by the greater than normal neck angle. A higher bridge should just bring the string height over the fingerboard back to normal.

    Since she already went with a higher bridge and the buzzing wasn’t resolved, she probably also has fingerboard scoop issues. But like you said, not worth spending money on….

    I think we’re actually saying the same thing. She should just go ahead and buy the step up cello.

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