Updated: Feb 15
Whether you are 18 or 98, you are never too old to learn how to play the cello. It might seem impossible with life getting in the way, but these tips will help you determine your goals, implement a practice plan that works for you, and focus on the little successes to make learning cello fun, fulfilling, and worthwhile.
You can do this.
I've been playing cello since I was 9 years old and professionally since I was 12. I have been teaching cello for almost 15 years, and I've taught just about every kind of music student. The serious ones, the casual ones, young children, and adults. One thing I have learned over the years is that not every piece of musical advice is appropriate for every kind of student. What works for a 10-year-old cello student doesn't always work for a 43-year-old doctor who is learning cello for fun. When you are learning how to play cello as an adult, it is easy to get frustrated with childish tips from well-meaning teachers, and you may leave your lessons feeling annoyed or less than. You may also be frustrated that you cannot skip the beginning "stuff" that comes with learning an instrument and go right to playing your favorite pop tunes, or you may feel like giving up because you cannot dedicate hours of practice to your new instrument per day like a college music student can.
Hope is not lost.
Everyone deserves to experience the intense beauty and emotional expression that comes with playing the cello. Learning as an adult isn't harder, it's just different. You cannot approach learning how to play any instrument as an adult as your child would so keep this guide in mind as you start your cello journey.
Learning how to play the cello as an adult is just like learning anything else as an adult. Think about something else you've picked up in adulthood- maybe cooking, crocheting or knitting, or rollerblading. Learning something new will have its ups and downs, its successes and failures. Going into this with a positive mindset, a plan for success, and a way to handle the good and bad will make all of the difference.
Determine Your Goals for Learning Cello: The "Whys" and the "What's"
The first to do is figure out the why's and what's of your cello journey. Is it because you've always wanted to, but your parents couldn't afford lessons as a kid? Or maybe you want to learn how to play the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 prelude. Maybe you just think it sounds pretty. Why do you want to learn how to play the cello? What do you want to learn? What kind of cellist do you want to be?
Knowing the reasoning behind your desire to learn any new instrument will help you create reasonable and actionable goals and steps to move forward. Whatever your why is, write it down. Put it on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror where you will see it every day, or place it as your background on your phone. Keep your why in mind, and it will be there to inspire you when things are great and comfort you when things are tough.
The what's are a little more detailed. This includes the kind of music you want to learn how to play (whether that is classical, pop, folk, or TikTok sounds- there is no wrong answer!) and the kind of cellist you want to be. You do not need to become a professional cellist to be a good cellist. You do not need to even be a good cellist to be a cellist! If you are playing the cello, you are a cellist. But deciding the level you will be happy achieving is important to avoid frustrations or feelings of disappointment. Whether your goal is to perform in your local community orchestra, or if you just want to be proficient enough to play "Happy Birthday" for your spouse, keep your goal in your mind. Write it down! Tell your friends what you are doing! Post about it on social media! Pick a goal, and don't give up until you reach it.
Find a Practice Plan that Works for You
This is where most adults give up.
I get it. Trust me. I've seen both sides of learning the cello- I started as a kid, practiced sometimes up to 7 hours a day all through middle school, high school, then through two music degrees. After graduating, life really started. Bills. Responsibilities. Expenses. I couldn't practice all day anymore- I had to work. I love teaching, but it started taking up my entire day. Then, I got my first full-time arts non-profit job, and reality truly set in. It just wasn't possible to practice as much as I did when I was a kid. I understand what you are feeling.
New adult learners, please do not be discouraged by younger cellists and their ease of playing and how quickly they seem to learn. We are all in different places in life, and we must acknowledge it and accept it. To avoid frustrations and to have a clear plan to achieve the goals you outlined above, you need to come up with a practice plan that works for you and your schedule. (And yes, you will need to practice!)
If you are taking the Celloly beginner self-paced online course or you signed up for my live online lesson package, reach out to me to chat about how we can create a practice plan that fits your life. Here are some things to consider when creating a practice plan as an adult learner.
1. Your job.
I'm not just talking about what your job role is or your schedule. Yes, those things are important, but most importantly, consider how you feel after you get off of work. Are you exhausted? Cranky? Energized after a quick run? Now, imagine practicing after (or before) work. How will that fit into your day? Any change is difficult, so promise yourself now that you will pick the frequency and length of time for practicing that is reasonable for you and stick to it. The length of time of each practice session and the frequency of your practice sessions will fully depend on the outside influences in your life that will get in the way.
2. Your goals.
The goals you decided on earlier in this article come into play here. Talk with me (or your teacher) about the things you will need to learn first to reach your ultimate goal. This may include scales, etudes, certain techniques, or even other pieces of music. It may seem annoying at first to have to learn other things first, but trust your teacher and do the work that needs to be done first to learn what you ultimately want to learn. If you skip ahead, you risk becoming confused and frustrated and will be tempted to give up. Don't skip the beginning steps!
3. Outside forces that want you to fail.
This sounds dramatic, and it really isn't, but it is important to consider. These outside forces may include a cat or dog that bothers you when you practice (so you just skip it to avoid the hassle), or your child's soccer schedule always changes and takes precedence over your practice plan. Look honestly at your life and identify these outside forces that might get in the way of your practicing goals, and come up with a plan to avoid them (or a plan to make up that practicing on the weekends, or any other situation that works best for you.)
Focus on the Little Successes.
Now that you've come up with actionable goals for your cello journey and you have a solid practice plan to help you achieve those goals while fitting into your busy life, it's time to do the inner work. On this journey, you will have good times and bad times. No one in the history of the cello has ever been perfect at everything the first time they tried it.
My advice is to find 3 things you did well on the cello every. Single. Day. Say them out loud to yourself, or write them in a practice journal. Stay positive and don't get hung up on the mistakes. Remember, mistakes are how you grow. Go into your cello-learning journey with confidence that you have prepared as well as you can, and focus on the little successes that happen every day, and you will have a lifetime of joy, happiness, and self-expression with your new skill as a cellist.
If you've always wanted to learn how to play the cello and you don't know where to begin, check out Celloly for online self-paced cello courses you can complete on your own time, or sign up for Celloly live online lessons with me to have dedicated, one-on-one attention. Every subscription includes access to a private group here on this website where you can post your little successes and share your joy with other cellists who are on the same journey as you. Celloly is an online community for cellists of all ages and abilities to learn, grow, and connect with other cellists from all over the world.
What questions or concerns do you have? What are your goals and your practice plan? I want to hear it! Comment below! I also invite you to email me at email@example.com.