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.