Peter Aitken's

cello music   



After many years of listening to and loving cello music I decided - in my "extremely late forties," as Garrison Keillor puts it - to take up the instrument. I was fortunate to find a terrific teacher and have been studying since Fall of 2000. It is immensely gratifying and just plain fun. Me, playing Bach? Wow! The study of music, even on an 'amateur' level, can be as intellectually satisfying as any MBA programs or doctoral degree courses.This page contains some links and information that other cellists (or musicians of any sort) may find useful or interesting.

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CelloSpeak is a cello workshop for adult cellists at all levels of proficiency. It is held for a week each July in southern Pennsylvania. I have attended many times and can recommend it highly.

Cellos2Go is probably the only store in the world devoted entirely to the cello. They have a fantastic music selection and a marvelous selection of intruments and accessories ranging from $5 rosin to $30,000 cellos. The owner, Ellen, is very helpful.

Yellow Cello Music is a new site by my friend Sheryl, who has undertaken to arrange a variety of music for four cellos. Very cool!

The Amateur Chamber Music Players is an organization that facilitates informal playing by helping musicians from beginner to professional locate other musicians.

The Internet Cello Society is, in their own words, "an international cyber-community of cellists, [that] seeks to advance the knowledge and joy of cello playing around the world." Their web site provides a wealth of information ranging from playing and instrument care tips to a list of classical radio stations that broadcast on the Web.

John Montgomery is a luthier and dealer located in Raleigh, North Carolina. He personally tests every instrument that he sells, and provides personal and knowledgeable service - something I can attest to since I bought my cello, and my wife her viola, from John.

Fred Zlotkin is, to my knowledge, the only cellist to have recorded the Bach suites with full ornamentation. Follow the link for downloadable samples and an interview. This is a marvelous recording and I strongly recommend giving it a serious listen. Some listeners have difficulty getting past the fact that this is not the suites as we are accustomed to hearing them, but a close listen with an "open ear" can reveal additional levels of depth and beauty in these deceptively simple pieces. 

Learning the cello as an adult interesting and informative article by Ethan Winer. There's lots more cello-related information on his pages.

Cello Musik Blog presents a variety of material of interest to the cellist, such as videos and music. The site is in German but is fairly easy to figure out for non-German speakers.


Home recording

Bow hanger

Home recording

It's natural for musicians and groups to want to hear what they sound like to others. Unfortunately most recording devices available for use in the home give execrable results, and professional systems can be complex and expensive. It is possible to obtain quite good results for single instruments and small ensembles with an expenditure of less than $250, contingent upon the availability of a good quality cassette player such as many people have as part of their stereo systems. This will not substitute for professional recording but serves perfectly well to give you an idea of how you sound. There's no reason you could not use a CD recorder in place of the cassette recorder but I have not tried this. Here's what you'll need:

If you are recording a single cello, position the microphone 1 to 2 feet from the cello at the level of the bridge, pointing at the instrument. Note that the SM-57 and many other mics have a directional pickup pattern. They pick up sound best from the direction in which they are pointing, less well from the sides, and much less from behind. If you are using 2 mics to record one cello position them next to one another pointing as just described. There will be no stereo effect of course but this will enable you to record on both channels of the tape.

Since writing the above I upgraded my recording system with a digital recorder. There are various makes and models and as usual you get more if you pay more. Most models have microphone inputs so you can dispense with the microphone preamp. I am using the Marantz PMD 670 which records directly to a compact flash card. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can take the flash card from the recorder to your computer and directly access what you recorded for playing, editing, burning to CD, etc. Other models record directly onto a CD.

For stereo recording of 2 or more instruments you should position the 2 mics with the business ends 7 to 10 inches apart and separated by an angle of 90-110 degrees. The drawing shows this arrangement from the top. Do not worry about getting the spacing and angle precise. As regards the distance of the mics from the instruments, there is no hard and fast rule. A good place to start is a distance so that the left mic is pointing directly at the left-most player, and the right mic is pointing directly at the right-most player. cello music 1


To support the microphone(s) you can buy dedicated stands but it is easy enough to rig a support from available items. As shown in the photo I simply used my camera tripod and attached the mic with rubber bands.


cello music 2

To set up, turn all power off and connect the microphone(s) to the Audio Buddy preamp. The preamp has a phantom power switch for providing the power required by some types of microphones. Dynamic mics such as the SM-57 do not require this power so leave it turned off. The mic will not be harmed if you turn the phantom power on by mistake. Then connect the preamp to the inputs on your cassette deck. Depending on how your system is set up you may be able to connect the preamp to the AUX inputs on your stereo system's receiver or preamp and then route the signal to the tape deck.

Caution: some stereos can be set so that whatever is being recorded on the tape deck is simultaneously played through the speakers. With a microphone in the circuit this could result in positive feedback - sound recorded by the mic is amplified, comes out the speakers and back into the mic, resulting in an ear-splitting screech that can damage your speakers not to mention your relationship with the neighbors. To ensure that this does not happen turn the receiver or amplifier volume all the way down.

Once all connections have been made turn the level controls on the Audio Buddy and on the tape deck to a low setting. Turn the power on and put the tape deck into record mode. Most decks have a mode in which you can set the recording level without actually recording on the tape. The goal is to set the levels so that the input meters on the tape deck register in the +3 to +6 range for the loudest passages (but check your tape deck manual for specifics). It is preferable to have the Audio Buddy and tape deck level controls both set somewhere in the middle of their range rather than having one set really high and the other low.

That's it you are ready to start recording! Don't expect optimum results right away it may take some fiddling with input levels and mic placement to get things set just right. Also, do not expect your results to sound like commercially produced recordings, playing skill aside. That's asking too much from a simple home-brew setup as described here.

If you want more information about microphone techniques for recording music there's an excellent guide available on the Shure web site. Click here.

A bow hanger

I often wish I had a third hand when practicing so I can turn the page or turn the metronome on/off without having to put down the bow. Barring a surgical implant the best solution is a convenient and secure place to put the bow. My solution was to cut a chopstick in half and attach one of the pieces to the side of my music stand, as a place to hang the bow. This works equally well for violinists and violists as well.. cello music 3



I am making an effort to be selective, including only jokes that really apply to the cello and that are actually funny, at least to me. If you know any, please send them along.

There was this cellist who claimed that he could play 64th notes, and to prove it he played one.

Q. What's the difference between a cello and a coffin?
A. With a coffin the stiff is on the inside.

Q. What is the difference between a cello and a bass?
A. The bass burns longer.