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.
The 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: