The violoncello, or cello for short, is a member of the string family, which includes violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass from highest to lowest. The full name, violoncello, is responsible for the standard score abbreviation of Vc. for the cello staff. There is one cello, along with a viola and two violins, in a string quartet, and a section of cellos, possibly ten or so, in large orchestras.
While the violin and viola are held under the chin, resting on the left shoulder, the cello and the double bass rest on the ground, with the neck held on the player’s left side. Specifically, the cello is held between the players knees, with the neck against the player’s left shoulder. The cello is a non-transposing instrument, with its four strings tuned in fifths at C2, G2, D3, and A3. The A-string is considered the first string.
All five fingers, including the thumb, are used for fingering the violoncello. The strings are pressed by the fingers of the left hand to control the pitch and vibrato, and to create effects such as trills, finger tremolo, glissando, multiple stops, and portamento. Both natural and artificial harmonics are also created by fingering.
In playing the cello, the right hand draws or bounces the bow back and forth across the strings, depending on the intended effect—which may include détaché, martelé, spiccato, bow tremolo, staccato and louré — or plucks the strings for pizzicato playing. In col legno playing—the term means “with the wood” — the wood of the bow is used against the strings. Col legno battuto is a tapping of the bow on the strings; col legno tratto means to draw the wood of the bow across the strings.
As the player wields the cello bow, the upstroke, which begins at the point of the bow, and the downstroke, which ends at the point, have a significantly different sound. While the upstroke is more often used on unaccented beats of a bar, it has a tendency to create a crescendo, while the downstroke, used often on the accented beats, particularly the first beat of a bar, tends to decrescendo.
The cello is used as an ensemble instrument, a solo instrument, and in jazz. There are noted cello concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich, Samuel Barber, Sergei Prokofiev, and Benjamin Britten. Some noted cellists include Mstislav Rostropovich, Pablo Casals, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline du Pré, Mischa Maisky, and jazz cellists Tristan Honsinger and Abdul Wadud.