Is the Cello the Right Instrument for You? (Part 1)

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.

Part 1: Considering the Cost

The cello is a very popular choice of instrument for learners of all ages. It has a wonderful and rich repertoire to explore, a long line of distinguished players from Pablo Casals to Zoe Keating and an evocative sound that is often compared with the human voice. The cello has become very popular in contemporary music settings too: electric cellos of all shapes and sizes are finding their way into pop and rock bands, and cello is often favoured as a solo instrument by film and TV composers. So it really is no wonder that this beautiful instrument holds such broad appeal. If you're thinking of taking it up as a hobby, the following points may help you to decide whether playing the cello is definitely your cup of tea.

There are always costs associated with taking up an instrument and the cello tends to be above average in terms of how much it will set you back. Private lessons cost around £25 per hour and can cost substantially more depending on where you are and who you wish to learn with. If you're thinking of taking lessons, you will no doubt already have thought of this.

You will also probably have looked at the cost of buying an instrument and noticed how wildly this can vary - even in the student or school instrument range. Be warned that the cheapest instruments always end up costing at least twice what you pay for them just to get them into a playable condition. In the higher price ranges there are plenty of lemons too: "deluxe" instruments that are structurally identical to those in lower price brackets but have frilly accessories which make no difference to the sound they make but push the price up by a considerable amount. How to choose a suitable instrument is a complex topic and potentially a lengthy article in itself. My advice is to hold off buying one until you've had at least three months of lessons and know that you want to continue. Of course you'll need an instrument during that time and will need to find a shop or individual to hire one from. This normally costs around £80 per quarter, and you may be entitled to buy the instrument at a discounted rate when the hire term is over. If you happen to know someone with a cello going spare you may be lucky enough to borrow it for a few months.

In addition to your lesson and instrument costs, you'll have books to buy and ongoing maintenance costs for your instrument. These include replacing strings, getting your bow re-haired and seeing to general wear and tear. Once you've graduated from the early beginner stages you may want to join an amateur group to enjoy playing with like-minded people and enhance your musical experience. You may also be interested in attending music courses aimed at adult learners. All of these activities cost money, some substantially more than others. Amateur groups tend to run themselves as charities with each member paying a small monthly or annual subscription. They often offer discounts to students and unemployed or low income members. Courses on the other hand tend to be much more expensive due to the fact that they offer intensive tuition along with accommodation and meals for the duration that they run, which can be anything from a weekend to five days.

With all these costs most of which are fixed, it's always worth taking a closer look at your monthly outgoings to make sure you can afford the weekly lesson fees, instrument purchase and maintenance and perhaps considering cutting costs elsewhere in your expenditure if you can. As a cello teacher I have had many adult learners who have started lessons with great enthusiasm only to have to stop some months later because they simply can't afford to continue. For the teacher who relies on each student as a stream of income it's hugely frustrating, but for the eager student it can be devastating - especially if lessons were going well and they've gone and bought an instrument which is never easy to sell on. They always vow to continue practising on their own and return to lessons when their financial situation improves, but both very rarely happen. I've even had one or two return about a year later only to have the same thing happen again. 

Once you've added up the costs involved you'll be able to make a much more informed decision as to whether you'll be able to make cello lessons work within your budget. If you find that you're not financially ready, at least you'll have a clear idea of how much you'll need and an incentive to get your finances to a place that will enable you to pursue that passion.

In my next instalments of this article I'll discuss the physical and musical challenges of playing the cello as well as what to expect as an adult learner.

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Danny Hauger
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Posted on Apr 17, 2011