We previously wrote an article about how to find the most suitable children’s violin, so we thought it would be a good idea to give beginners some tips on how to differentiate between a violin and a cello.
These instruments are part of the same family and they have many common features; however, there are some things that set them apart. Let’s find out more about these things in this guide.
One of the first things that make a violin and a cello different is their respective size. The violin is a lot smaller than the cello. Usually, a violin measures around 23.5 inches and it has a sounding length, which is the distance between the nut and the bridge, of 12.75 inches.
That is a lot smaller than the cello which measures 48 inches in length, without the pin used to support the instrument. The violin is the smallest in its stringed family, while the cello is the second largest. The viola is the one that you would place between them in terms of size.
Its small size gives the violin its portability, making it an instrument that can be carried nearly anywhere. Each instrument’s size is also important for the purpose of the sounds it produces. The violin resonates in such a way that it helps amplify the high-pitched sounds that it creates, while the cello’s size is more suitable for the lower-pitched music.
How are they played?
Although closely related, these instruments are played differently, due to their size. The violin is small and can be held, and thus when a musician plays it, he or she holds the instrument close to their head, on the body’s left side. The player’s left hand, shoulder, and head are used to balance the instrument while the right hand is used to hold the bow and pluck the strings.
Different accessories can be fitted to the violin to make holding and playing it more comfortable. A chin rest is used to support the head and avoid sweat or other factors that could damage the violin. The violin player can also make use of a shoulder rest to adjust the height of the violin. The left hand should only slightly support the instrument, while the fingers are used to press against the strings to create the desired notes.
The player uses the right hand to draw the bow across the strings producing the notes. Learning to play the violin can take years, as this instrument is a very demanding one, and having a good pose while playing is especially important.
On the other hand, playing the cello seems easier, as the player needs to be seated. This instrument is way too large to be held, so it needs to rest on the floor. However, it’s not tall enough to be played while standing up, much like the double bass. So, in order to be held vertically, the cello uses an endpin that goes from the bottom of the instrument to the ground.
This raises the cello enough and it supports its weight so the player can comfortably hold it. It’s important that this instrument is kept as vertically as possible, although there are some endpins that can help you change that vertical angle and allow you to hold the instrument in a more comfortable position for you.
Cellos and violins have one thing in common when they are played, and that is the fact that they each need a bow. Like the violin, the cello is played with a bow held in the right hand that goes across the 4 strings.
What about the range?
As previously mentioned, the two instruments differ in terms of the pitch they produce as well. When listening to a violin you can hear that it is an instrument capable of producing some of the highest sounds. And it’s the stringed instrument of this family that is the highest-pitched. The strings of the violin are tuned to G3, D4, A4, and E5, in perfect fifths.
Although the violin has a high pitch, it doesn’t have such a wide usable range as the cello. The violin’s range covers almost 4 octaves, and the cello covers 4. However, the cello is played across all of them more consistently. Let’s not forget that the cello is the instrument that resembles the human voice the most.
Like the violin, the cello is tuned in fifths, but the open strings are A3, followed by D3, G2, and C2. One thing that should be noted is that, because it only deals with high-pitched notes, the violin player only needs to read music written in the treble clef.
A cellist is not so lucky, as the cello must deal with musical notes that stretch on a wider range. And to play all those notes, the cello player must learn how to read music written in 3 different clefs – the treble, the bass, and the tenor one. From this point of view, the cello is a more difficult instrument to play.
Their role in the orchestra
The violin often receives special attention in orchestra performances, whether that attention comes from the composer or the public. Hearing a well-performed violin solo is something special. Furthermore, there are usually two violin parts in an ensemble or a quartet.
There is the main part that is the most challenging to perform, which is played by the lead violinists. They play technically difficult sections that catch the listener’s attention. Besides that main part, there is another one performed by another group of violinists and they are responsible for offering the melody, the harmonic or the accompaniment.
Cellos don’t have such a frontline position in an ensemble and orchestras usually have fewer slots for them. It’s something often seen that the ensemble has two or three violinists for every one cellist. Offering versatility, the cello is a valuable instrument that can cover wide areas of the piece of music.
In many ensembles, the cello plays mostly bass parts, and although this doesn’t make it a popular instrument, some composers have taken the time to write some concertos and sonatas especially for this instrument.
The violin may sound amazing when performing solos, but that is also due to the accompaniment. Cellos help in adding to that beautiful sound, thus they have their well-placed role, and an orchestra that makes these two instruments work well together will sound great.
Despite the fact that they are used mostly in classical music performances, violins can also be an integral part of some other genres. In folk music, the violin is used for its high-pitched sound, but it also does well in jazz and rock compositions. The cello isn’t used too much outside orchestras, as it’s not such a popular instrument, but it also finds its use in rock and heavy metal compositions.
Because the cello is not so popular, orchestras are more likely to be looking for a cello player than a violin one. That gives you an advantage in finding a suitable role for you if you’re a cellist. The cello is also considered less demanding so learning to play it can help you progress faster in the world of music.
Essential questions and answers about a cello
To understand the differences between the two instruments, first, you need to know more about what kind of musical instrument the cello is. Here are the crucial questions and answers that will make it all clear.
- What’s a cello?
Cello is a musical instrument known for its versatility and ability to cover vast areas of sound, which is why it is often found in orchestras and less as a solo performer. However, its versatility allows it to play chamber music, as well. One of the things that set it apart from violas and violins is that it must rest on the floor so that the cellist – the person playing it – can comfortably pluck or pass the bow over the strings.
- How big is a cello?
Like other musical instruments, a cello is available in multiple sizes. A 1/8 cello is for children aged 4 to 6, a 1/4 cello for children aged 5 to 7, a 1/2 cello for children aged 7 to 11, a 3/4 cello for children aged 11 to 15, and a 4/4 cello – a full-size instrument – is for anyone over the age of 15. The adult size version has 30 inches or more in back length.
- What family does the cello belong to?
A cello is a stringed instrument and belongs to the violin family. It is the second-largest after the double bass, and has its own place in an orchestra, while solo performances are not unheard of, something that makes it particularly popular.
Cello bow vs. violin bow
You know well that there is a difference between cello and violin if you only take a look at them, as the cello is much bigger. But what about the bows you use for them? Are there any differences? Yes, there are, and you shouldn’t opt for a violin bow when you have to play the cello or vice-versa.
The bows made for cellos are shorter and taller. The horse hairs used for them tend to be thicker and hoarser, too, when compared to those that come with violins. A cello bow needs to be sturdier because there will be more pressure applied by the player due to the position and technique involved. That’s why they are made from different materials than those used for violin bows.
The heel on a violin bow is always square, while this part of the cello bow is rounded. As you may well expect, cello bows are heavier than violin bows.
Is cello harder than violin?
One difference between violin and cello is the level of difficulty. You will find many people who say that the cello is the easier of the two instruments because you play it from a more comfortable and natural position since you sit down. However, while this answer may appear as if it delivered the final explanation, things are not as easy as they might seem.
While the body position for playing the cello is more comfortable, violinists say that the one they use for playing their preferred instrument becomes natural over time. There is also the matter of how you place the thumb when playing the cello; it appears that many believe it to be a difficulty to overcome while learning how to play this instrument.
Seeing how cellists also need to learn three clefs, instead of one, that could point out that the cello could be considered more complicated than the violin.
Violin vs. viola vs. cello
They all belong to the big string family, but they are different. If you plan on learning one of them, it’s a good idea to see what they are all about before making a decision. So far, you got plenty of answers for cello or violin questions, so now we’ll expand a little by including the viola in this comparison, as well.
The cello is the biggest, and it plays differently, while the viola and the violin are very similar. The latter two must be kept under the chin while the cello sits on the ground. Viola is slightly bigger than the violin, and its sound is warmer.
The violin vs. cello differences are evident, and so are the ones between viola and cello. While they all belong to the string family, they can all have roles in an orchestra.
Bass violin vs. cello
Now that you know more about cello and violin, it is time to look at a short comparison between bass violin and cello. A bass violin must be tuned in fourths, while a cello, just like violins and violas, is tuned in fifths. In a way, a cello is more like a bass violin since they are both considerably larger than a violin or a viola. However, a bass violin requires the musician to sit in order to play it correctly, but depending on the case, it could be played while sitting, as well.
The roles various musical instruments have in an orchestra are also important when running such comparisons. Cellos offer support lines, but because of the versatility of the sound they produce, they can also play harmonies and melodies. A bass violin can only be used for supporting bass lines.
Baroque cello vs. modern cello
Before the modern cello made an appearance on the scene, the baroque cello was the instrument going by this name. You can tell a baroque version by its different neck shape and angle. While an endpin is available on all modern cellos, the Baroque models were held by players between their calves.
The strings are also a significant difference. On Baroque instruments, they were made from animal guts, while modern models have strings with a metal core (or synthetic). The fine tuners present on the tailpiece of a modern cello also make them stand apart from their Baroque siblings.
A Baroque cello didn’t need such tuners for the simple fact that the gut strings used didn’t need as much adjusting due to their flexibility. Modern instruments have superior string tension, and that results in a higher-pitched sound that is also louder.