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> INSTRUMENTOLOGY > STRINGS > Cello > Brief Description

Brief Description


German: (Violon)Cello
French: violoncelle
Italian: violoncello

The cello (violoncello) is the tenor and bass instrument of the violin family (violin, viola, cello).

In the 19th century the cello advanced along with the violin to become the most important bowed instrument for solo works. In the 20th century cellists began to specialize more, concentrating more on solo, chamber or orchestral playing.

It is constructed using the same components as the violin, the only difference being the larger size.
The bow is about 2 cm shorter and a quarter as heavy again as the violin bow. Horsehair is stretched between the two ends of the bow, with rosin ensuring that the bow remains in contact with the string.

In terms of its history, construction and sound the cello belongs to the violin family. Nevertheless if differs from the violin and viola in two points: the playing position and fingering.

  1. Playing position: because of its size the cello is played in the upright position (like the viola da gamba). Nowadays the cellist places the instrument between his legs, where it rests on the floor on a tail-pin (spike). In the past the cellist would hold the instrument between his legs and pressed against his body, or rest it on a chair and play standing up. His left hand grasped the neck. This method of playing meant that only very simple bass figures could be played.
  2. Fingering: this changed in around 1740 when the thumb was “discovered” as a playing finger. The thumb position made it possible to reach the high positions, especially on the top string.


The proportions on a stringed instrument refer to its length, namely the ration between the distances from the top nut to the top edge of the belly (distance 1) and from the edge of the belly to the bridge (distance 2). The proportions are expressed in terms of the ratio of these two distances to one another. The sum of these two distances equals the length of the vibrating string. On the cello the distance from the top nut to the top edge of the belly is 28 cm, from the edge of the belly to the bridge 40–42 cm (string length = between 68–70 cm). The ratio (proportion) is therefore 7:10.
On the violin the neck is 13 cm long, the belly 19.5 cm (string length = 32.5 cm). The proportions are thus 2:3.

The proportion proper (the scaling) of a stringed instrument is the length of its belly, i.e. the top plate of the body, which can vary considerably. Three-quarter cellos (body length 68 cm) or half-size cellos (body length approx. 56 cm) are made especially for children.

Chordophone, necked lute, stringed instrument. Tenor and bass instrument of the violin family (violin, viola, cello)

Scroll and pegbox maple
4 side-mounted pegs (ebony)

Length: 28 cm, fretless fingerboard made of ebony

Length: approx. 75.5 cm, box form
Belly with F-shaped sound holes, back, ribs.

Length of the vibrating strings: 68–70 cm, 4 strings, tuned to intervals of a fifth. C2, G2, D3, A3. Material: gut, silver, copper, aluminum, steel, nylon.

Length: 71–73 cm. Bow stick made of Pernambuco wood; point, adjustable frog. Shorter and heavier than the violin bow.


Total length
Approx. 125 cm

Comb-shaped device made of metal or maple which damps the vibration of the bridge.