Tips For Learning To Play Popular Music On Your Cello
Loving the deep melodies you can get from your cello when you play classical pieces doesn't mean you can't enjoy playing some pop music on it as well. In fact, the cello is the instrument that best mimics the human voice. Pop music is all about the vocals, which makes playing it on the cello a perfect match.
If you're not convinced yet, check out these great classical instrument acts doing amazing things with the cello in the genre of pop and rock music.
Inspired now? Great. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you're ready to tackle some pop songs with your cello.
- Focus on the guitar in the pop song. While the cello's sound aligns well with what the singer is doing, pay particular attention to the guitar lines in pop songs. In the pop genre, the guitar is instrumentally most like the cello in that they're both highly versatile in the sounds and riffs you can get from them.
- Don't overlook the drums. Using pizzicato techniques will bring in the percussive sound of the drums. But you want a fuller, jazzier sound in a pop pizzicato, not so "plucky" and distinct as you have in classical music. With your hand low on the finger board, set all fingers at angles to get a deeper, slurrier sound. That includes your thumb; set it on an angle to the side of the fingerboard. Pull at string with your finger pad at an angle, so it almost hits the next string.
- Practice your pace. Pop songs are usually more up tempo than classical music. You want to practice your bowing and fingering at higher speeds so you can tackle pop music. Pay attention to the balance of your hand placements; good balance is critical to maintaining speed with accuracy and emotion. Using a metronome can help you ramp up your speed.
- Watch your bow and bring plenty of rosin. Because of the speed and percussive nature of pop music, playing its rhythms can take its toll on your cello – especially your bow. Bow strings will be broken. Keep the bow hair taut, but not one iota more. If you have too much tension in your bow, you'll never get through a song without strings breaking. You don't want to have to hold back your expressiveness.
- Put your whole body into it. Cellists have their seats in back of the orchestra. Musically, you're there to set melodies so the violins can shine. But the cellos versatility means you can really shine and perform when playing upbeat pop music. Take this opportunity to think about your physical performance and how that enhances your musicality and stage presence. If you think you just need to sit there, you need to see this performance of AC/DC's Thunderstruck by 2Cellos.
- Start by practicing the most common pop chord progressions. Pop music is a playground of music. We can't get the songs out of our heads. But really (or because of), most pop songs are built around the same group of chord progressions. The I-V-vi-IV progression is the most common chord progression. Listen to some of these pop songs that make great songs for the cello and look through their sheet music. What common chords and chord progressions do you see? Find the commonalities and start with those. That will make ramping up your pop music repertoire easy once you get comfortable.
Don't leave out your exploration of other music genres and what else you can play on your cello. Rock music is pop music's big brother and also a great genre you can dive into to extend your technique and challenge yourself. Even if classical music stays your primary focus, learning to play these other musical forms on your cello will only improve your overall skill level.