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Before purchasing a cello, you should understand the basics of cello sizing to ensure that the instrument you choose can be played accurately and comfortably. Cellos are generally produced in eight different sizes, although only five of these tend to be readily available. While some instrument dealers recommend choosing a size based on age, many more suggest that the proper cello size should be dictated by one’s height. When evaluating a cello’s size, it is important to hold the instrument while in a seated position, observing where certain parts of the instrument rest relative to the body. If you have lingering concerns about choosing the correct cello size, consider asking your cello teacher or an experienced cellist to join you as you shop for your instrument.
Cellos are generally produced in eight sizes: full-size (or 4/4), 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, and 1/16. The 7/8, 1/10, and 1/16 sizes may not be stocked by instrument stores, however. Apart from a difference in size, all fractionally-sized cellos are basically identical to full-size cellos in appearance, playing methods, and sound. Fractionally-sized instruments exist simply to accommodate individuals for whom a full-size cello is too large to play properly.
Some instrument dealers recommend choosing a cello size based on one’s age. Using this system, it is generally advised that individuals between roughly four and six years old should play a 1/8 size cello, six and seven, a 1/4 size, seven and 11, a 1/2 size, and 11 and 15, a 3/4 size. Those over 15 years of age should play a full-size cello.
Due to the fact that children grow at different rates and adults ultimately reach many different heights, the age-based sizing method has obvious flaws. Therefore, many cello experts suggest that proper cello size should be dictated by one’s height rather than one’s age. According to this system, those over 5 feet (1.52 m) in height should play a full-size cello, those below 4 feet (1.22 m) should play a 1/8 or a 1/4 size, and those in between should play a 1/2 or 3/4 size.
It is important to understand that even the height-based sizing method is not an exact science. In order to ensure that you choose the correct cello size, you should hold each potential instrument with its endpin extended while sitting in the position in which you play. While in this position, the lowest tuning peg on the side of the scroll closest to your head should be roughly at the same height as your ear. Additionally, the top of the cello’s body should reach the level of your breastbone.
If you have lingering concerns about choosing the correct cello size, consider asking your cello teacher or an experienced cellist to help you shop. These individuals should be able to easily gauge whether an instrument is properly sized for you. If no expert or teacher is available, ask a staff member at the instrument shop to help you choose a size, and ask whether instruments are exchangeable in case you find that you have chosen incorrectly.