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How to Write Music for the Cello

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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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