How to Read Cello Sheet Music

By Johanna Ehrmann
Read Cello Sheet Music

The cello, or violoncello, is a member of the string family. With a range falling between that of the viola and the double bass, the cello is prized for its mellow, soulful tone. The cello's repertoire comprises solo, chamber and orchestral music. Reading a cello score is like reading any other score, with the addition of a few notations specific to the string family.

Learn to read bass clef, since most cello music is written in it. The string with the highest pitch is notated on the top line of the staff (A), the next string (D) is on the middle line of the staff, and the next-to-lowest string (G) is written on the bottom line of the staff. The lowest string of the cello (C) is written using two small lines (known as ledger lines) below the bottom line of the staff.

Find the staff labeled "cello" or "violoncello," if the score is for multiple instruments.

Examine the key and time signatures. The key signature tells what key the piece is in and whether there are any sharps or flats. The time signature tells how many beats there are in each measure and what kind of note gets one beat.

Study the notes and rests. Look ahead to see whether there are any particularly tricky bits, i.e., runs of short notes or long periods when you don't play. If there are, count carefully so that you come back in on the right beat.

Look at the markings and dynamics. Some cello scores have bowing markings including those shown here: down-bow and up-bow. Another common marking is "pizz." (pizzicato), which means that the strings are plucked with a finger.

About the Author

Johanna Ehrmann has been a freelance writer, editor and copy editor since 1991. She is the author of four nonfiction books for young readers on César Chávez, origami, dance and the Smithsonian, published by Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and two fantasy stories, published by Houghton Mifflin. Ehrmann holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Brandeis University.