26 Feb

Imagine a cellist and a pianist arguing over whose instrument is harder to play…

“All you have to do is push buttons. I have to find the notes by ear!”

“But you only have 4 strings to worry about. I have to master 88 keys! And sometimes I have to play 10 of them at once!”

“Sure, but at least your hands are both doing the same thing. Mine have completely different jobs!”

Ridiculous argument, I suppose. Apples and oranges. But that last complaint of the cellist is very real. I find my two hands arguing like that all the time.

“All you do is slide that bow back and forth. My fingers have to find all these notes, and I’m always rushed. Like a blind man shooting hoops!”

“But I have to slide my bow at just the right angle or I hit the wrong string. And I have to keep it in the groove at the same time. And it always wants to slide off – at least you have something to hang on to!”

“I can’t hang on. I have to move around too much. And I have to do the vibrato too!”

“Sure, but I have to remember to change my pressure every time I change strings. And remember to change directions before I run out of bow.”

“But you don’t get calloused, do you?”

“Well, no, but you blame me for all the squeaks, just because I didn’t let up enough when you decide to change notes.”

And on it goes. And they both are always demanding help from mind and eyes. Especially eyes. They each want help finding their place, but the poor eyes can’t be two places at once. I try to tell them they have to do it on their own. I need my eyes to gaze off in the distance, so I can properly enjoy the music, but they won’t listen.

So I try to help them out. Left hand whined that the strings were too high and tight. So I filed the little grooves in the nut, and sanded down the bridge. That was better, but the cheap rosewood fingerboard was scooped too much and it had to be sanded down. Left hand was happier with all that done. He could lighten up a bit, and move around more easily.

Right hand blamed all his troubles on the bow. I had to admit, the very cheap Chinese bow looked and felt like a club. It was heavy, and right hand had to hold it up the whole time. So I felt sorry for right hand and hunted for a better bow. cellobow.jpg

Now bows are a strange product. Just this little stick with some hair stretched across it. And I hear you have to replace the hair every so often, so it seems half the bow is disposable. So how much does a nice bow cost? I saw one on eBay for $60,000.  Well that must be a rare antique. But normal bows run from $20 to $1000’s.  And I’m just a beginner, so I can’t adequately audition a bow. Some people say the bow should cost as much as the cello. But I’m always skeptical of choosing something by price alone.

As I searched the internet for insight, I came across the Incredibow site. Now here was something that appealed to the engineer in me. An ultralight carbon fiber bow, with special artificial hair that lasts for years. And it’s pretensioned – no screwing around every time you want to play. And all for only $130. Reviews were mixed. The consensus seemed to be that people either love or hate it. The rebel against tradition in me guessed that I would love it. So I ordered one – on December 15th.


They warned me that it might not come til the end of January, but I knew it would be worth the wait. So I’ve been waiting, and imagining this incredible bow making my right hand so happy – and so suddenly talented.

The bow came this week. It was packed in a bulletproof piece of PVC pipe, wrapped in black silky cloth with a plastic rose in gold ribbon. I felt very special.

I guess you have to be a good cellist to love or hate it. My feelings are more mixed. The bow is wonderfully light and balanced and easy to hold, and that makes my right hand very happy. The hair seems to work well, though not as magically better as I had allowed my imagination to hope for. I bought the Andrea rosin they recommend, and it does hold the rosin well. The bow is very sturdy – hairs don’t break – and I’m sure the bow wouldn’t break even if I stepped on it. The downside is that it looks pretty sturdy, too. I have to admit that the classic Tourte bow has a special aesthetic appeal to me. Sam came by and played with it and sounded wonderful, as he always does, so I know it’s just me. We’ll have to wait and see.

  1. Cellist

    November 18, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I have been playing the cello since 3 and I will say that there is even more involved than you mentioned. I personally think that the easiest part is finding the correct notes. I played the piano when I was young (6 or 7) and it was unbelievably easy. I never took lessons, but was ably to play Für Elise with the pedal while sitting under the piano (I used my heel for the pedal and faced outward) because I got bored with playing it the regular way. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just explaining the difference for me. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing the cello for 14 years (10 with lessons) and have difficulties every day with various things. Some of the things that I would like to add to the argument in favor of the cello as the more difficult instrument are:
    You have various bow strokes (marcatto, detache, legato, spiccato, staccato, martele, etc.).
    You have various bow speeds (slower for longer notes/more notes per bow/softer sound)
    You have different areas of the string that you play for different effects (closer to the bridge, closer to the fingerboard)
    You have left hand extensions, double extensions and thumb position
    The more sharps or flats in the key signature, the less open strings you can use

    As you can see, the cello is much more difficult (of course I’m a little biased haha)