I have a question for you guys.

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I’m having a lot of trouble dealing with the discrepancies between how my cello sounds to the one playing and to the one listening. There are a whole lot of funky tones that show up only when you are right behind the cello. “The Sound” as I have dubbed it (it’s not there if I turn the cello to the side!) The strings sound downright twangy when plucked, as if she belongs in a country song (again, this goes away when not behind her.) I can live with these somewhat. They’re annoying, but they aren’t the real problem.

I’m incredibly glad that my teacher assigned me this miserable task of practicing everything extremely close to the bridge, because during this process today I discovered something. Leaning over in front of the cello while playing, I realized that the tone I hear from behind is completely different. I’m not just talking about the weird things that show up, but rather the sound quality is the opposite of what I thought it was. For example, when my husband said that bowing close to the bridge sounded lighter, more energetic, clearer to him, he wasn’t kidding. From behind it sounds heavy, aggressive, ugly. But it’s actually not! I turned her to the side as best I could and still play, leaned my head over, and listened. Not only was “the sound” gone, but it actually sounded really pretty near the bridge! Too bad it sounds like shit when playing properly. :/ This also goes in reverse. When bowing farther away from the bridge, it sounds light, airy, mellow from my perspective. From in front it sounds gritty, doesn’t project, much darker. Not the feeling I thought it was at all!

So my question is this: is this normal or should my cello have more of a direct correlation between what I’m hearing from behind and what people hear in front? If my cello is normal, then I guess I’ll just have to get used to playing things the opposite of how I actually want them to sound, but if it’s not I’d like to know so I can see if there’s something I can do about this.

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11 responses »

  1. Huh. Weird, eh.
    But glad there’s some progress with The Sound, even if it’s not quite of the kind you would’ve imagined.

    I don’t have enough experience to speak to your query myself, but I can retell somebody else’s story for you… I have a professional violinist friend, and when he bought his current violin he hated the sound of it when it was right under his chin. He was only convinced that this was The One out of the many he tried when he got someone else to play it and he listened to it from somewhere back there in the concert hall….

    (As to how his attitude towards his close-up experience of the sound changed, I’m not so sure, but I think he’s pretty in to the instrument!)

  2. It’s different, and even more different a few metres away. When my teacher was trying out my new cellos she sent me to the other side of the room to listen, and she did the same when I played, in order to really hear what they sound like.

    Same thing goes for dynamics. What sounds piano or forte to you doesn’t always carry across the room so well and the contrast can be lost.

    Two tips: Play in the bathroom – the tiles give a nice reverb that reflects the sound back at you. Or try recording yourself so you can hear what it really sounds like from the front.

    • I second the suggestion to make a recording of yourself. I do it periodically to check my overall “sound” and tones – plus my mom really likes hearing me play – it was a really eye opening experience to hear myself at a distance, especially when it came to dynamics.

      I’m not super happy with my cello’s sound, but that’s 80% me and 20% student cello, so I can’t speak to the correlation between how the instrument does sound playing and should sound listening. I feel like there’s almost always some weird buzz or rattle going on I’m just not convinced it has more to do with the cello than my skills. Although, TBF came in the other night and commented on my buzzy C string, so at least I knew that one weird sound wasn’t all in my head.

  3. I think you should try WASP cards. I’ll make a point to write a blog post next week on those.

    Basic points? W (weight) A (alignment) S (speed) P (placement) all make different kinds of tone when combined at differing levels. Practicing ALL kinds of tone, even the “bad” kinds, will help you create more control of the tone you WANT to create.

    • Yes, I’m aware of all that — the problem is that the sound I hear behind the cello isn’t the sound that comes out in front of it. So, I’m thinking that a particular combination of those things is resulting in one type of sound when it’s really resulting in the opposite. I suppose I’ll just have to get used to it.

      I don’t have good enough recording equipment, just a crappy hand-held thing that is low quality to the point where it doesn’t even sound like a cello. Helps with certain aspects of my playing, but all of them.

  4. This is normal.

    With enough correlating, you will begin to know how you want the cello to sound under your ear in order to get the effect you want for an audience. With even more experience, you will wonder about the time when you were aware of the difference,

    cello + brain = fascinating

    • I’m sure it’s normal, but you could experiment with other cellos… I also wonder if you start playing with either your endpin extended further or use a bent endpin, you might hear less of a difference. If you get your cello in a more reclined angle, say closer to 45 degrees, its projection could be about halfway between your ears and the audience. Just postulating but worth a try 🙂

      • Ha! There’s basically one exact end pin length and angle that works with my body. Even then I have to modify my bow angle out near the tip because I simply can’t reach! I’m all torso with short arms and legs (to the point where my teacher actually laughed at my arms’ shortness when she held her arm up to mine — a whole hand longer!) If the cello is more reclined like you suggested, I can’t actually reach down far enough to bow (I’ve tried it, believe me!)

    • Well, I’ll give it a go… I’m still finding this one of the most difficult things I’ve done. Certain sounds just make me feel tense and change my playing accordingly, so it’s very hard for me to accept that my (non-existent) audience is hearing things so differently. It’s a very strange psychological game. I do suppose it’s a bit like intonation — it used to be impossible to tell if I was off, then impossible to tell what direction, then I was slow to correct, then it got fast, and now I am unaware that I’m correcting when I’m off because it’s just so natural. At least I hope that’s how it will go!

    • Gotta Go, Are you going to resume posting on your blog? It’s much easier to push people like you to post than it is for me to blog.

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