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Joanna Borrett

Choosing Cello Strings

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Choosing cello strings is a tricky and expensive business. It’s so expensive, in fact, that it’s rare to able to afford to experiment much. All the more reason, then, to have unbiased feedback about strings from the start.

Steel Strings

I can only speak from my own experience. For many years I used Jargar A and D strings. I was then advised to change Jargar for Larsen and the improvement was huge.For me, Larsen strings are more sensitive and responsive and more immediate in sound. Larsen soft soloist suits my cello well and I can truly recommend them.

choosing cello strings

Covered Gut

I have always used Pirastro covered gut on my lower two strings. I love the feel of the strings under my fingers and I think the sound is warmer and more subtle than even the best steel. I am currently using Pirastro Eudoxa, which matches the Larsen strings well. However, my cello was made in 1855, so is not modern.

Do modern cellos need modern strings?

I have been told that modern cellos can only use modern strings. I have no idea if this is true, but it is certainly the current way of thinking and steel is easier to play on.

How temperamental is covered gut?

Covered gut strings are more responsive to temperature and slip out of tune more frequently. But the lower strings, being thicker, don’t slip that often and rarely break.choosing cello strings

What sound do you want?

Not only does the choice of string depend on the cello you are playing on, it also depends on the type of sound you want. And it is all in proportion. So an expensive string may improve the tone, but will not hugely change the  sound of the cello overall.


If you want to experiment with different strings and are a music college student or professional player you can arrange a free trial of strings at Stringers music shop in London and Edinburgh. More details are available here:

And to test out your new strings why not try playing our cello duets, which you can buy here:






What Cello Rosin is Best?

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Although I am a professional cellist I have often not been sure what cello rosin is best and have sometimes suspected the whole subject is spurious. Mostly I have used a variety of high quality rosins – including Laubach gold, Laubach non-gold and sometimes borrowed violin rosin –  and have never noticed much difference.

Rosin problems


Recently though,  the rosin I was using ( Laubach) didn’t seem to stay on my bow easily or have much traction. I had read that Andrea cello rosin was excellent and for best results should be used  just after the bow has been rehaired, so different brands are not mixed.
cello rosinI was due a rehair anyway so I tried the solo dark variety and the results have been good. So far I am using far less rosin than I was before, the articulation is immediate and clear and there is a definite improvement in traction. Although this cello rosin is expensive – it cost £35 for a full  cake – it should last a long time.
You can buy it here


Other views

The brilliant cellist David Finckel has strong views on this subject and devotes a five minute video to it in one of his 100 cello talks – which you can view below:

The results for him are convincing, but this doesn’t mean it would be right for everyone. Luckily, buying rosin is less expensive than buying new strings and so it’s easy to experiment. If you are looking for a mid-price option my bow rehairer strongly recommends Art Craft no 7 dark rosin by Kaplan which costs around £7 a cake:
cello rosin 2

And why not try your new rosin out by playing our cello duets? The link is below:

Dance of the Blessed Spirits String Duet

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Dance of the Blessed Spirits string duet is the newest addition to our online shop. The first and third sections  of this famous piece are calm and pastoral and there’s a contrasting minor middle section. The music comes from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice and the story  is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus’s journey to Hades in search of Eurydice and his bargain with the gods to allow her to return to life.

Dance of the blessed spirits

Our arrangement

In our arrangement both instruments share the tune. We have also added some optional ornamentation  in repeats for variety. This music would be good for a wedding reception or as guests arrive.You can find out more here: Dance of the Blessed Spirits

Purcell Violin and Cello Duets

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We have just added two Purcell violin and cello duets to our online shop: Fairest Isle and Rondeau. Although these pieces both come from  operas they could not be more different in mood.

About the operas

The song Fairest Isle is from King Arthur and comes immediately after drunken dancing by peasants. The sudden change of character is a delightful surprise and the words praise the goddess Venus and her birthplace – Cyprus – with warmth and affection.
Fairest Isle
Rondeau is played near the start of the opera Abdelazer. The story here is based on  a tragic revenge play and the dark character is apparent immediately in the music. Benjamin Britten’s superb Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra uses this tune as the main theme and many people – myself included – will have first come across it there

About Purcell

What a wonderful composer Purcell was! The more experienced I get the more I am aware of the extreme beauty of his music and its sense of congruence with the world.

Our duet arrangements

We have aimed to reflect the different characters of the music on our arrangements, which we will be recording in March, and you can buy the music here:


Accord Cello Case

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I have had my Accord cello case for three years  now and it is almost unbelievably light.

Finding a dealer

Accord cases are hand made in Croatia so buying one here, in Cambridgeshire, was quite a challenge. Very few companies stock Accord and when I eventually found one dealer  who did, he proved unreliable. Finally my cellist friend Mark Bailey recommended talking to Stringers in London – and they were extremely helpful. They asked for detailed measurements of my cello, and arranged for  Accord to make a bespoke case.
Accord Cello Case

Was it worth it?

The whole process was not cheap – it cost £2400 – and it took two months for the case to be made. But this ultralight, carbon fibre  case weighs only 4.9 pounds and it is now hard to imagine ever using anything else. It is a very snug fit and there’s limited room for any extras like rosin or spare strings, but that doesn’t bother me as the lightness is a joy compared to my previous fibre glass case. This will certainly last my lifetime and for me the money has definitely been well spent.The link to Stringers is below:

Scarborough Fair Sheet Music

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I very much enjoyed composing the Scarborough Fair sheet music arrangement that we have just added to our online shop.
I started with a strong idea of what I felt the song was about – a  combination of Wuthering Heights and Jamaica Inn. To create a sense of drama, wildness and travel, there are fluid quavers –  giving movement and the feeling of a journey. There is also a contrasting middle section in the major, some rich cello chords and an ending that feels quite bleak.
scarborough fair

Arranging Scarborough Fair Sheet Music

Folk songs are ideal for music arrangements. The tune is  usually simple and short ( and often beautiful) and there is no original version, so you have lots of interpretative freedom and can compose contrasting tunes or introductions to add substance and avoid too many repeats.

Unsurprisingly there are many different versions of Scarborough Fair on You Tube. Revamped’s ideas (below) combine acting and music especially inventively:

This is nothing like our arrangement, which we will be recording in March. To buy a copy right away and see for yourself what it’s like, click below!

Cello thumb position

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Cello thumb position – like most high playing on the cello – is something few cellists are super confident about.But one way to develop a relaxed approach to thumb position is to play simple tunes in D major that lie within an octave by ear : these involved no stretches and lie relatively easily under the hand.

cello thumb position

One octave starter tunes for thumb position
You could begin by playing the one octave scale of D major in thumb position and then D major arpeggio. All the notes in the following tunes lie within that scale and they all start on D :Black Sheep, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Kum-ba-ya, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Lavender’s Blue, Blue, Pop Goes the Weasel. 

Two things to remember
You need to toughen the skin on the side of your thumb, so build the amount of time you spend practising in thumb position gradually. You could also consider rubbing surgical spirit on your thumb to help harden the skin. Secondly – thumb position itself is very natural: if you take your hand away, shake it to relax it and then put it on the cello in the right place
(thumb on harmonics D and A) the position will be roughly correct.

Make up tunes and exercises
Something about the spontaneity of getting used to playing without music is generally very good for confidence anyway,so you could move on to improvising simple tunes or exercises involving thumb  position. I think it’s a good idea when practising to start with something you find easy and just enjoy and then move to something you find less comfortable. And if you think the cello is challenging on shifting and intonation you may especially enjoy watching the video below – a fine example of beautiful, relaxed thumb position playing on the double bass!

Christmas Gifts for String Music Lovers

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With December 25th  only five days away here are my suggestions for Christmas gifts for string music lovers:
gifts 2

christmas gifts for string music lovers

Finally, if you’re searching for a present for a string player sometime next year we now have a gifts and dedications’ page where we custom write music. Find out more here:

More Play by Ear on the Cello Ideas

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Here are some more ‘play by ear on the cello’ ideas for tunes in the straightforward keys of C, G or D major.

These tunes start on the third degree of the scale…
The following begin on the third degree of the scale: Mary had a Little Lamb, Merrily We Roll Along, Three Blind Mice, The First Nowell, In the Bleak Mid Winter, Let’s Twist Again,Go Tell it on the Mountain,  One Man Went to Mow, Ring a Ring of Roses, She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain, Swing Low Sweet Chariot,Deep River.

And these begin on the fifth…
Happy Birthday, Hark the Herald Angels Sing,Silent Night, Away in a Manger,O Little Town of Bethlehem,Jingle Bells, We Three Kings, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Jolly Good Fellow Amazing Grace, Auld Lang Syne, the Gay Gordons, London’s Burning, London Bridge,Oranges and Lemons, This Old Man,What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor.
more play by ear on the cello ideas
 Ten minutes of playing by ear at the beginning  of each practice session can be fun and should make the process  easier fairly quickly.If you have suggestions or queries please comment on the blog and I will answer as soon as I can.



Play by Ear on the Cello

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One way to boost your confidence and sense of relaxation with your instrument is learn to play by ear on the cello. This should seem obvious, but it’s surprising the number of cellists who are unable to do this and it is not part of traditional classical training.
play by ear on the celloThe freedom of playing by ear
I became especially aware of this a couple of years ago when I was spending New Year with friends in Ireland. At a small  gathering around an open fire people were telling ghost stories and one of the men started playing simple folk tunes on the banjo by heart very evocatively. He had only been learning the banjo  for a year and was able to do this in a relaxed way -and it struck me that so many classical musicians who had been learning for maybe decades and perhaps practising for hundreds of hours during that time would not be able to do the same.I don’t mean that the disciplined side of classical music, with its technical and musical demands, is unimportant; just that also being able to play by ear on the cello – any tune you love – can give a wonderful sense of freedom.

How to start
The easiest tunes are folk , nursery rhymes, hymns or carols. Many of these lie within one octave and have simple structures with repeats. Choose an easy cello key – C, G or D major – and start trying to work it out by ear and practise until you can remember the finger patterns.  Baa Baa Black Sheep, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Frere Jacques, Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Kum-ba-ya, Au Clair de la Lune, Tallis Canon,To Be a Pilgrim, Jerusalem, Scarborough Fair, Morning Has Broken, Lavender’s Blue, Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and the Ivy,O Come All Ye Faithful, Pop Goes the Weasel, Old Macdonald  and Lilliburlero all begin on the first note of the scale so are a good place to start.

You can find out more about our cello duet version of Lilliburlero here: