Deb has answers for your questions about cello playing:

Does it matter if you cannot already read music?

No, many students take up the cello without any previous music instruction. I always teach  music reading and theory alongside cello skills.

Does it matter what size you are ?

No, cellists come in all sizes.  Likewise, their hand size ranges from relatively small to very large. Some fine cellists have short, stubby fingers, others have very long fingers.

Do you have to keep your fingernails short in order to play the cello?

Yes– It is important to keep your left hand fingernails as short as possible. It is not possible to have good left hand finger contact with the cello fingerboard if you have anything but short nails.

Should beginning cellists put tape across the fingerboard to help them locate notes?

No, never.  We learn correct hand and finger location of notes by physical repetition and good habit in combination with skilled listening.

How do you do vibrato on the cello?

Cello vibrato differs significantly from vibrato on the viola or violin. It arises out of the pivot formed between the tip of your elbow and your finger tip. Cellists never use “hand only” or “finger only” vibrato.

Is it possible to start cello lessons in your 70’s?

Absolutely.yes.  Provided you are healthy, reasonably flexible in both body and mind there is nothing stopping you. In fact, recent studies reported by the BBC have shown that healthy seniors improve just as fast as children. Having an adult brain and the life experience of many other kinds of learning really helps a lot.

How old do you need to be to start lessons?

I have no set rule regarding minimum age. However, not many 5/6/7 yr. olds are mature enough to concentrate on this kind of learning.  Children who start slightly later tend to play just as well as their younger friends by the time they are 12 or 13. Young children must also adjust to periodic changes of instrument, i.e. from 1/4 to 1/2 to 3/4 to an eventual full size cello. The truth is that every child is different, so the decision about when to start the cello is very personal.

Is it true that music studies help with other types of academic learning?

Absolutely!  Two reported studies look at this question from a bit of a different angle:

Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66% of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44%) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.  Sources: “The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University”, Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480, “The Case for Music in the Schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, February, 1994

High school music students score higher on SATs in both verbal and math than their peers. In 2001, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework/experience in the arts.  Source: Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001

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