teaching the cello & cello lessons

My thoughts on cello teaching & cello lessons

"How do you teach?" the cello; I was asked recently. What a big question. Well, here is a very rough guide to an almost infinite subject.

We work together from whatever your starting point is in a structured and organised way. A process is set in motion that evolves endlessly in which we develop technical skills, musical understanding and listening abilities.


ages: 3-300!

experience: beginner to diploma

session length: ½ hour till around the age of 10/11 then we usually increase to ¾ or an hour. Adults usually need an hour at whatever stage.

student exams: ABRSM & GCSE, AS, A, Diploma [performance sections]

location: Lewes, East Sussex

email: catherine.black@cellocourses.com

phone: 01273 470558

my qualifications: GRSM, ARCM Teachers Diploma, Member of ISM ESTA and CRB checked by Trinity College of Music

Over the years I have taught children, teenagers and adults from very varied backgrounds. Some have had learning difficulties such as dyspraxia and dyslexia. I teach all pupils how to read so they can play with others as soon as possible. Some students have been playing for years, others have long-held dreams of learning the cello and are finally starting at the age of 68.

One of my roles is to act as coach and enabler. In the end, you teach yourself how to play an instrument under guidance and instruction. My job is to get you to access what is already there, to grow new things and to help you to become your own teacher and coach.

Lessons are a model for your practice as well as being a time for experimenting. My pupils all have large notebooks for me to write in and into which they put my information sheets on technical know-how. We review progress on a regular basis and do a lot of goal-setting. Students also do their own research into their current composer and I encourage regular listening to music of all kinds, as well as the music of your current composers.

Learning to listen more closely, how and what to listen for is an ongoing process for us all. My students do a lot of singing as part of discovering phrase shapes and we do aural exercises. As your playing develops, we start improvising regularly and currently students are writing folk-songs which we print up for each other to learn.

In learning their pieces students sometimes write a script for the music and tell me what is going on, who the characters are and where they are in the story. Sometimes, things are less tangible and we are venturing more into sensory territory. The pupils may be working with an emotion, a word or colour. Sometimes, as the pupil gets more into the music, these things change. However, what we are getting at is the need for a performer to transmit a clear message. If you don't know what you are saying, you will not be convincing in performance.

I have found that strong technique is vital. At the start of lessons, after warming up, we work on the current technical issue with exercises or a study, and then move on to the music for which the skill is being developed. Your technique is the route into developing and freeing up your voice as a musician and cellist.

I want all my students to develop their own musical voice and to use it in the way that gives them the most satisfaction. One pupil is combining cello playing with his circus performance and another is a folk musician. Others are playing in orchestras, ensembles or pop groups. I personally love this mixture. We learn from all forms of musical expression and variety is key to growth.

Students do take ABRSM exams and I also prepare for the performance part of GCSE, AS and A level and diplomas. I also aim to have pupils putting their progress into action by performing at school concerts, festivals and elsewhere.

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