Deciding on learning a new instrument can be difficult – there are all sorts of new things you will need to consider, such as booking lessons, buying practice books, and picking the brand of instrument. Some instruments even come in different sizes, much like the cello, and this can add further to the confusion. Does everybody require a different cello size, or is it generally a “one-size-fits-all” system?
If you’re overwhelmed by cello sizes, don’t feel bad because it is confusing. I remember when I first began learning the instrument, I had no idea what I was doing. However, I did my research and am now very familiar with the sizing system, and I’m going to break it down for you. If you’re feeling puzzled and need someone to clear the air, read on to find out more!
How does Cello Sizing Work?
In case you were not already aware, cellos are massive instruments. They’re far bigger than violins and violas, with full-sized cellos standing at a huge 5ft or more. Despite this, the cello is a universal instrument, you won’t need to be six feet tall to play it. However, you will need to consider choosing your size carefully.
Standard cellos are over five feet tall and have a back length of around 30 inches, and this can simply be too far to stretch for some body types. Different cello sizes accommodate for exactly this, helping you to comfortably navigate the fingerboard and hold the instrument with ease.
Unlike violins in which lower sizes will generally take an inch off of the body size, the ratios cello sizing use are slightly more complicated. Generally speaking, they decrease in back size by around 2.25 inches, but specific dimensions can vary.
Adult Cellos Sizes
If you are reading this article, it’s quite likely that you are an adult looking to purchase your first cello. If this is the case, you’re in luck, because purchasing a cello for an adult is pretty simple. For most people over the age of 16, you will generally have two main options – a 4/4 cello, or a ⅞ cello. The 4/4 is by far the most commonly chosen option, but people with more petite builds or with shorter arms may prefer the ⅞ option.
Both 4/4 and 7/8 cellos sit at five feet or more in height, but the back length varies slightly. 4/4 cellos will have a back length of at least 30 inches, whereas 7/8 cellos will have a back length within the range of 27.25 to 30 inches.
⅞ cellos are often targeted towards classically trained children who are excelling at the instrument. Perhaps a 15-year-old cellist is performing particularly well and is expected to begin making use of the full range of an orchestra-standard cello, but their height and arm span simply are not suitable.
However, there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” in the world of musical instruments, so don’t feel bad if you need a smaller cello. People are built in different ways, and if you can only reach a ⅞ cello or smaller, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Cello Sizes for Children
Considering the large size of the cello, children can’t be expected to use the full-sized instrument. I remember when I first showed an interest in playing the cello – I was a young violist of thirteen years old and my friend let me hold his cello. Let’s just say that I could barely keep things stable!
Thankfully, there were several different children-sized cellos for me to choose from. I settled on the third-largest size (the 3/4, slightly smaller than the 7/8), but some of my friends were using smaller sizes.
As I will discuss later in this guide, the best way to truly assess whether a cello is a suitable size for you is to try it out. However, you can generally use the following table as a guide to figure out a rough ballpark for the cello size that you need.
|Cello Size||Age Range||Cello Height||Cello Back Length|
|⅛ (smallest)||Four to Six Years||Under Four Feet||17.75” to 20”|
|¼||Five to Seven Years||Under Four Feet||20” to 23”|
|½||Seven to Eleven Years||4 to 4.5 Feet||23” to 26”|
|¾||Eleven to Fifteen Years||4.5 to 5 Feet||26” to 27.25”|
The ⅞ option is another common option for children, but it is generally only recommended if that child has experience playing the cello and is looking for a more professional orchestral cello. However, it’s also a common choice by adults with smaller frames or shorter arms. Ultimately, there is no strict rule behind picking a cello size – it all depends on what is comfortable for you!
Choosing the Correct Cello Size for You
The table I provided earlier should give you some general guidelines for choosing a cello size, but it is by no means exhaustive. As I mentioned earlier, I was eleven years old when my parents bought me a ¾ cello, and it worked well for me. However, according to the table, I should have had a ½ – this just goes to show that it’s more about comfort, not specific details.
So, how are you supposed to know what cello size will work for you? Let’s take a look, there are a few things that you can do to make the picking process a lot easier for yourself.
Test The Cello In a Music Store
If you are unsure regarding which cello size you should choose for yourself, I have one major piece of advice for you – try a bunch of them out in a music store! Any music store that has a string department will have a member of staff that is familiar with the cello, and they will generally stock many different sizes.
I ended up choosing my ¾ cello based on the advice of a store attendant. I was initially going to go for the ½, but he suggested that considering my role in the orchestra, that I at least try a ¾. My parents and I were skeptical, but I was really surprised when it was fairly comfortable to hold.
There is no better way to understand cello sizes than to simply hold a few and see how they feel. When you find the right size, it will sit comfortably and you will be able to navigate the fingerboard with ease.
However, you shouldn’t be expected to know this stuff already. This is why it is great to get advice in a music store – they will have dealt with similar situations many times before and will be able to advise you on how a well-fitted cello size will feel. Trust me, it will make all the difference, and you get to test out different cello brands whilst you’re at it!
Recognizing when a Size Fits
As I just explained, the vast majority of music stores will have a cello expert ready to help find you the perfect cello size, it does make a massive difference to the experience. However, it is important to prepare for the potential situation in which there is no cello guidance available.
There is a series of assessments that you can make which will ensure that the cello you are testing fits nicely. Follow these tips and consider bringing a cellist friend along to double-check your assessments.
First, you should find a comfortable cello chair in which you can test the instrument – the music store should provide this. You will need to keep your posture straight and adjust the chair so that your feet are touching the floor – this is generally good practice for playing the cello, not just for testing sizes.
You will now want to set the endpin of the cello to roughly a foot in length and rest the cello against your torso at approximately 45 degrees. If the cello fits well, the top of it should rest against your torso comfortably, and the C string tuning peg should rest close to your left ear.
In addition to this physical arrangement, you must also feel comfortable overall. If you are only now beginning your journey as a cellist, the posture will inevitably feel unnatural and strange. However, as long as you can comfortably reach the end of the fingerboard, you will eventually get used to the feeling.
When I provided the table of cello sizes earlier, you may have noticed that the heights and back lengths vary rather a lot. For example, a 1/2 cello will have a height of between 4 and 4.5 feet, whilst the back length will vary between 23 and 26 inches.
You must test cello sizes with this in mind. For example, if you are buying a cello for a child who is seven years old, they would technically fit in the age bracket of a 1/2 cello, and you would thus want to test this. However, the local music store might only stock 1/2 cellos that use the maximum height and length of 4.5 feet and 26 inches, and this could be too large for your child.
This can often lead people to purchase a cello that is one size too small, to compensate for the maximum height and length of their size bracket. However, this is not usually a smart move – it would be much better to contact the store and arrange for you to test multiple cello sizes within the ½ bracket. Hopefully, they should be able to provide you with examples that hit the low, medium, and highest ranges.
Finally, when it comes to purchasing a cello for a child, it must be said that smaller is generally better. It’s a pretty common scenario where a child falls somewhere in between two sizes, unsure of which to purchase. The parent’s decision is usually to buy the larger one, in the hope that they will eventually “grow into” it. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, I’d suggest choosing the smaller option.
The larger option may simply be too large for the child, and they may have to wait years until they “grow into” it. On the other hand, a smaller alternative will be instantly useable and will keep them going for at least a few years.
I hope that I have helped explain the ins and outs of cello sizes to you! I can relate to how daunting the whole process of choosing can be, but it’s pretty simple when you break it down.
I’ve prepared a quick list of frequently asked questions to round things off. If you have any unanswered questions, check for the answers here before you start contacting your local music store.
Answer: Yes – most adult cellists will use a 4/4 cello with the exact measurements varying, but adults with a more petite figure often choose a ⅞ cello.
Answer: If you are purchasing a cello for a child and they sit awkwardly between two cello sizes, it’s generally a better idea to choose the smaller option.
Answer: There are six major cello sizes – 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, ⅞, and 4/4 – however, it’s important to remember that each size has a relatively wide range of specific measurements.
Answer: The best thing that you can do is to print off the advice found in this guide, travel to your local cello retailer, and ask for a cello expert to help confirm that a cello size fits you.
Answer: No, this is a common misconception – cellos are smaller than double basses and can be played whilst sitting down, whilst double basses are around a foot taller, are played from a standing position, and produce much lower tones.
That sure was a lot of information to cover, but I hope that you have a much better understanding regarding cello sizes now. It does feel like a minefield when you first get started, but once you’ve tested a few cellos, you’ll start to feel a lot more familiar with the process.
Thankfully, it’s a situation that will only arise occasionally. If you are purchasing a cello for a child then you may need to purchase a full-sized cello in the future (assuming they continue to practice hard), but in general a cello purchase should cover you for the long term.
Overall, always remember to check the exact measurements of a cello, test it in a music store, and never settle with a size simply because you fit in the age bracket! Everybody is different just like how every cello is different, so you must maintain patience. I am sure that you will find the perfect cello for you, just like I did many years ago!
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