We are delighted to welcome Katri Patel as a contributor to the Larsen Strings Blog. Katri is a Finnish born cellist and cello teacher based in London.
“It’s not you, it’s the cello.”
‘I once had a pupil turning up for his early Saturday morning lesson with a huge chunk of wood missing from the lower bout of his cello. He tried to act normal even though I could see from his eyes that he was panicking. He didn’t know what had happened but a quick word with his father revealed that he had put the cello into the boot of the car on top of lots of sports equipment including cricket bats, and the cello must have been caught by the lid.
Luckily all lessons don’t start this dramatically but I am sure all cello teachers are familiar with small cellos in poor condition with wobbly spikes, slipping pegs, bent bridges and strings so old they could be described as antique! The sad thing is that a poor instrument or strings can hamper the progress of the child. Sometimes the sound is so poor and the whole experience so frustrating that the child might give up playing altogether. There can be many reasons for the bad condition of an instrument. Some parents might find it difficult to do anything about the condition of the instrument as many families live busy lives and planning a trip to a violin shop might be last thing on their ‘to do’ list.
Sometimes, I try to help them by promising to change the strings for them if they order new strings online or over the phone saving them a trip across the city. But if the instrument requires repair, it needs to be done by a trained luthier.
Other times, if the cello is recently bought or hired I always advise parents to take the instrument back to the shop as soon as possible after a problem has been discovered. Most reputable violin shops are happy to fix problems without an extra charge if contact has been made in a reasonable time. If a visit is not possible than I advise parents to call the shop and agree a mutually convenient time for repairs.
Another often encountered obstacle is of a financial nature. Money can as well be an issue and it is often a sensitive subject for parents. Quite understandably they are not keen to discuss their financial arrangements with their cello teacher but I would encourage any parents to contact their child’s teacher and discuss the issue openly, preferably when the child is not present.
The teacher might then be able to give advice about grants and scholarships available or about reasonably priced violin restorers. When a child struggles to get a decent sound out of a tiny cello or becomes frustrated when failing to play without accidentally scraping the other strings, I often say:
“It’s not you, it’s the cello.”
Sometimes I wish that I could have a magic wand and I could show to the doubtful parents what a future without the daily frustration and wasted practice time due to the slipping tuning pegs, for example, would be like. Or how much better their child’s playing would sound with a new set of strings. A good sounding and responsive cello will inspire children to play more.
If the young student is given an instrument that doesn’t limit them but gives them an opportunity to explore the cello and to achieve a sound that they actually enjoy it is going to further their progress without limits. Sometimes only small changes are needed. A new set of strings can make a dramatic difference and give the cello a much more brilliant and richer sound.
I have had the most exciting opportunity to be involved with Larsen Strings in developing and trialling fractional size cello strings. I have been amazed at what a difference high quality strings can make. I am thankful for all the wonderful people at Larsen Strings for allowing me to see the amazing work they do to improve children’s playing experience and striving for ever higher quality.
They share my belief that children deserve the best start for their musical careers.’