Is the Cello the Right Instrument for You? (Part 3)

The cello is a popular instrument for good reason: its beautiful voice is remarkably close to that of our own. If you're thinking of taking it up there are several things you should consider first.

Finding Time to Practise

People have many different reasons for wanting to learn the cello. For some it is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream; many people regret giving up music lessons when they were younger and yearn to give it another go; and some people simply feel that they need something that they can call their own outside of their busy and demanding work life. Whatever the reason, it is important that you think carefully about why you want to play, and whether your schedule can accommodate regular practice.

Realistically, those starting lessons in adulthood have left it far too late to reach a professional level of playing, and it is fair to say that I have never encountered an adult learner who thought they were going to be gracing the concert halls in the near or distant future. That is not to say that you won’t be able to reach a very competent level and find likeminded people to share your talents and skills with, but this depends entirely on how much time and effort you are prepared to put in. Lessons alone will not transform you into a musician.

With the best will in the world, there are only 24 hours in a day. With a full time job, a family and the pesky requirement of regular sleep, not many if any of those hours are left for undisturbed practising and playing. Much like the financial issues which I discussed in my first article on this subject, I have had many students start lessons without having really thought about whether they could spare the necessary time for practising. The result is always the same: progress is slow to non-existent, frustration sets in and the student stops lessons saying that he or she will certainly start again when time permits. They never do.

This does not mean that busy people should forget about taking cello or any other lessons as a hobby. Amongst my students I have a judge, a physicist, a university lecturer and a chemist – not exactly part time occupations. Sometimes their busy schedules mean that they don’t get as much time to practice as they’d like, but by and large they have managed to set aside a set time dedicated purely to their cello. Their families understand this and they are able to enjoy uninterrupted practice sessions most days. So the question you need to ask yourself is not “Do I have the time?” but “Can I make the time?”

Think about your daily schedule and what part of the day you could realistically take time out from all work and family commitments. To begin with it doesn’t need to be more than 20 minutes, but as you progress and the demands of the instrument increase you will need to be able to extend that to at least an hour. You may find it useful putting this to the test for a week or two before you begin lessons. Since you won’t have a cello to practice yet, decide on something else to do with that time such as reading a book or doing something creative that you enjoy. If you have a family, this will give them an opportunity to get used to the idea of you needing that time to be alone with your hobby, and you’ll get an idea of whether it’s feasible for yourself.

It is also important to remember that while you’ll be excited and enthusiastic about practicing when you begin lessons and will hopefully continue to feel that way, there will be times when you really don’t feel like sitting down to an hour’s practice. Now and again it’s alright to give yourself a break, especially if you’re overly stressed or fatigued, but for the most part you need to be able to overcome that reluctance and stick to your regular routine. The more you allow yourself to skip practice sessions, the less motivated you’ll become. In contrast, the more accustomed you become to regular practice, the more you’ll look forward to that time and enjoy the progress that comes with it.

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