How to Write Music for the Cello


In the world of music, each instrument possesses a unique color of sound that is not available in any other instrument. If you plan to write music for a particular instrument, it is best to write music that presents the optimal sound qualities of that instrument. The cello is capable of a plethora of musical sounds. Knowing the sound qualities and capabilities of the cello will aid you in creating music that demonstrates the instrument’s capabilities.

  • Determine the key center you wish to use. According to David Watkins, “flat keys on a stringed instrument will create a duller sound (see References 1).” Dull sounds arise from a lack of sympathetic vibration among the cello strings, and flat keys have fewer sympathetic vibrations.

  • Decide if you wish to use any open string notes. Cellists play open string notes by removing their left hand from the string. Open string notes “have a somewhat inanimate sound partly because no vibrato can be produced (see References 2).” Write music that either avoids a multitude of open string notes, or specify alternate strings for those notes.

  • Select the playing technique. The most common techniques for playing cello involve pulling the bow across the string and plucking the string. Bowing the string creates a sound that is uniform for the duration. Plucking the string creates more sound initially, but the sound decays rapidly. Both techniques are common for all string instruments.

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