At first glance, it may seem like it’s unnecessary to discuss the difference between cello and violin. With how different the two are physically, it’s pretty easy to tell that they are very different. However, if you’re trying to decide which Baroque string instrument to learn, being thorough wouldn’t hurt. It can help save you from the hassle of making the wrong initial choice.
If this is the circumstance you’re in, this guide is made to help you out. Below are crucial details that can help you make an informed decision.
Violin vs Cello: The Basics
Let’s start first with the basics. In order to tell these two instruments apart, it’s crucial that you are familiar with them individually.
The violin, as many would know, is a bowed string instrument of treble pitch. Also known as a fiddle, it normally sports a wooden body. This is deemed by many as the most popular and widely distributed musical instrument today.
The cello is also a string instrument with a similar shape and appearance as the violin. It’s larger in size, however, that it’s often positioned upright on the floor in order to be played. Developed for the express purpose of reinforcing the bass lines in ensembles, it’s categorized as a bass instrument. It’s generally bowed but also occasionally plucked.
Both the violin and cello belong in the violin family. The violin is the smallest and highest pitched while the cello is of the larger varieties. Both trace their origins to 16th century Italy and have been refined over the years to achieve their current form.
The Key Difference Between Cello and Violin
What really makes the cello and violin different? Below are the traits that set these two instruments apart.
Being from the same family of musical instruments, the beginnings of the cello and violin are pretty similar with a few key differences. Both are believed to be inspired by the Byzantine lyra used in the Medieval era and the European rebec which became popular in the Renaissance period.
However, while both instruments were created in the 16th century, the violin may have been made first as the cello is considered as a descendant of the bass violin which was developed to be played with the violin and the viola. This means that the development of the earliest form of the modern cello came up as a response to the musicality of the violin and the viola, so it’s very likely that they became available first.
One look at these two instruments and you can immediately tell that they will weigh differently. It can be assumed that the cello is way heavier than the violin which is usually the case. Violins normally weigh around or less than one pound while cellos are typically about five pounds or heavier.
Heavy violins are not often recommended by experts as they don’t usually have the best sounds. Cellos are normally around five to seven pounds but can weigh more when placed inside a hard case alongside necessary accessories.
String Length and Gauge
For the uninitiated, the strings for stringed instruments may seem similar which is not true. Not only do they vary depending on the kind of instrument but different strings can also be necessary for different models of specific instruments. This means that violins might need different kinds of strings to get the best sounds out of them.
For cellos, with their bass sound, thicker and longer strings are necessary. They should have less tension and lower frequency to create the sounds you’ll want to get from the instrument. These make it possible to hit low notes and create deeper tones.
Violins use strings that are thinner in diameter and, of course, shorter in length. They’re also higher in pitch so the tension required is higher as well.
This is one of the most notable areas where these two instruments really differ. The cello vs violin sounds are greatly affected by the kinds of strings they use and the tunings they’re in, so they’re definitely worth noting. Cellos’ strings are tuned in A, D, G, and C while violins are fine tuned in G, D, A, and E.
The bows used for violins and cellos are similar in terms of materials. Both use a tropical hardwood and horsehair combination but differ in size. Cellists use longer and heavier “sticks” which can weigh from 65 to 84 grams. Fiddlesticks or violin bows are shorter and can weigh around 57 to 63 grams.
The weight of the bow can affect the kinds of sounds and performance the player can make so they’re important to look into. They can also cost a lot of money, so it’s very important that you pay close attention to these items. For beginners, however, heavier bows are better recommended as they are easier to handle.
Again, due to their sizes, the violin vs cello playing positions are very different. As you may already know, violins can be played while sitting down and standing up. Some can even move around while playing.
Cellists’ range of movements, however, are more limited due to the bulk of their instrument. They are normally played sitting down as other positions can make it hard to reach its neck and body comfortably.
Like what were briefly mentioned above, the sound of the cello and violin are very different. The cello is a tenor while the violin is a soprano. This makes their compositional requirements very different as well.
Part in Ensembles
Another thing to note about the violin vs cello debate is the positions you can take when playing in an ensemble. Violinists often play the melody and harmony of compositions while cellos can do bass lines as well as melodies and harmonies.
Cello vs. Violin: Pros and Cons
With all of the things said above, you might want more comparisons between the two in order to make a decision. For this, here’s a quick list of their pros and cons:
Violin Pro: They’re portable and practical.
Being the smallest in the violin family, violins are compact and portable. This makes them easier to move around in. You can take them with you wherever you may need to go.
Aside from this, violins are also quite practical. Sure, some models can get very expensive but they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg for beginners. There are affordable options that will already be excellent picks for learners.
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Violin Con: The industry is highly competitive.
Being the most popular musical instrument today, there are lots of skilled violinists that you might have to compete with if you wish to play in an ensemble. Compared to other string sections, it’s harder to get a spot for violinists.
Cello Pro: They’re versatile and the competition is not as stiff as other string sections.
Despite its heft and massive size, a lot of people choose to play the cello because of how versatile and amazing it can sound. As mentioned above, it can play harmonies, melodies, and bass lines without a hitch, so if you want the ability to play around, these are great choices.
The fact that not a lot of folks take up the cello is also a plus for this instrument. This means that you’ll have fewer competitors if you wish to become a part of an ensemble.
Cello Con: They’re clunky and not the most practical string instrument.
Of course, it’s size and heft can be a disadvantage for the cello. It’s hard to lug around, especially if you don’t have your own car. It’s also quite impractical because cellos can be quite expensive and lessons can be a bit of a challenge to find in some areas.
The Differences Between Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass
Aside from the difference between cello and violin, you might also be interested at how these two differ from the other instruments in the violin family. All four instruments can seem largely similar so you might want to distinguish each one from another as well.
The difference between a violin and viola
The viola is the alto or middle voice in the violin family, offering a lower and deeper sound compared to the violin. It’s also slightly bigger than the violin, so many tend to confuse the two. When it comes to which one is easier to play, a violin vs viola, many would answer the latter. As there are also fewer viola players, the competition is less competitive, making it an attractive instrument to pursue if you’re aiming for a position in an ensemble.
The difference between cello and double bass
Many always confuse cellos and double basses with each other since they’re both hulking bowed instruments. However, the two are very different so telling them apart is quite easy.
The first thing to know about the double bass vs cello debate is the fact that the former is significantly bigger than the cello. This allows more versatility in terms of playing as you can do that while sitting down or standing up. It’s the lowest pitched member in the violin family.
In terms of playability, experts say that cellos are easier to learn and are more versatile. A double bass requires a certain amount of skill to play decently so it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s also a transposing instrument, so it can be a bit of a challenge to learn.
Cello vs Violin: Which is more difficult to play?
What about the differences in learning and playing cellos and violins? This is another crucial point to look into as it can make or break your decision in which instrument to pick up.
According to those who tried both, the cello can be easier to learn just because of the way you’re supposed to hold it. While you’ll get used to handling the violin with more practice, it can be a bit off-putting at first.
It should be noted, however, that cellos are known to be tricky to master. While you can pick up the basics without too much fuss, mastering it will take a lot of practice and studying.
In this regard, it’s safe to say that both come with their own difficulties and challenges.
Which is more fun to play, the violin or the cello?
Now that most points about the differences between cellos and violins are laid out and discussed, the next thing you might want to know about is which one would be more fun to play. This question may seem inconsequential compared to the other details above but it can be a decisive factor for some. In order to really pursue the learning of a musical instrument, lots of people want to make sure that the process will be enjoyable.
However, there’s no easy answer to this question. Both instruments are quite challenging in many ways. Your preferences will also have an impact on this matter.
Which should I learn, cello or violin?
Like with the question above, there’s no direct answer to this. It depends on your goals and interests for the most part as the experience you’ll get from these two instruments will be very different.
How difficult is it to learn the violin compared to learning the cello?
In terms of getting started, it might be easier to start learning the violin than the cello since the former is more widely played. However, for the actual playing, lots of people with experience in both instruments say that the cello is easier to handle so it’s generally easier to learn how to play.
The biggest hurdle that you’ll find with both instruments could be the lack of instant gratification. It takes effort and skill to hit the right notes in these bowed instruments so you can’t expect to start playing a song as soon as you learn how to play specific notes.
The Final Word
Despite being from the same family of musical instruments, there are glaring differences between cellos and violins. Interestingly, these differences will not make it easier to choose which one to start with, especially if you don’t really have a preference between the two at all. Making the choice is entirely up to you, however, as there are lots of personal factors that need to be considered in the process.
Hopefully, this guide helps you in taking a pick. The details shared above might already be enough to give you a good idea on which one suits you better.
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