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This is for a friend of mine, but I'll speak in first person to make it less awkward to type out.

I'm 23, almost 24, and I recently acquired a cello (an electric cello to be precise to keep noise down). I know that my age isn't exactly the prime age to be learning an instrument at, and my musical background consists of playing the flute in highschool at a very amateur level.

Cello tuition is very expensive where I live, and I don't have the money to pay for more than a lesson a week (which might not be sustainable anyways). So I've been trying to research what I could do to practice the cello outside of lessons (which I've not started yet) in an attempt to make lessons more cost efficient. That is, I'd like lessons to have more content in it since I can't afford them regularly.

But there is just too much online! It's very easy to get lost and it's difficult to separate what's right from wrong. What's the best way for me to learn the cello without a teacher? I really would like to devote a lot of time and self learn this as much as possible.

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    I didn't start guitar until I was 19. 24 is not too late at all. The main challenge you might face being 24 is practice time, assuming you are out working a full time job and living on your own and doing your own grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning and taxes. Time spent playing is the number one ingredient for success, so if you can get up to 1 - 2 hours a day you should be able to make some nice noises and play short pieces in one to two years. – Todd Wilcox Feb 25 '16 at 22:51
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    @ToddWilcox Thank you very much for the encouragement! However, learning cello alone isn't as, for lack of a better word, easy as learning the guitar. (Talking as my actual self for a moment and not for my friend, I too picked up the guitar at around 19, possibly 18. There's a lot of resources and I filtered the good from the bad by trying them. I imagine that it's not as simple for the cello which is somewhat a more "classical" instrument.) – Irregular User Feb 25 '16 at 22:55
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    You are not starting as an absolute beginner. You can already read music and you have the experience of learning and playing an different instrument. The best plan would be to pick a teacher and have a discussion up-front about arranging a schedule of lessons and practice that will work for you. Personal tuition is by far the best way to avoid starting out with basic problems of wrong posture, a badly-adjusted instrument, etc, which will limit and discourage your progress and could even lead to physical problems like chronic neck, shoulder, or hand strains. – user19146 Feb 25 '16 at 23:09
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    In my time as an instrument learner (I've taught myself a decent amount of violin, bass, drums, harmonica, and piano) and as a teacher, I think what makes an instrument easier or harder is pretty much love. If you love it, you'll learn it, and it won't seem that hard (I'm pretty sure french horn is an exception... and maybe oboe?). Cello is a bit more forgiving on the intonation than violin and a more comfortable playing position, and I didn't find learning violin to be so hard it overpowered my love of it. – Todd Wilcox Feb 25 '16 at 23:09
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I would focus here as you get started:

  1. Learn to tune it and acquire whatever tools you need to tune it effectively. A chromatic electronic tuner is great for someone self-learning and much easier to use than a tuning fork or pitch pipes.
  2. Learn how to hold the bow and bow on open strings (just the strings with no fingering). Practice long strokes that cover the whole length of the bow and short strokes in different areas of the bow. This is really important and takes plenty of practice, as different parts of the bow require different amounts of pressure and speed for the right volume and best tone. Web search the heck out of this and get all you can on it, while also playing and experiencing the feel for yourself.
  3. Learn the first three places to put your fingers. Back in the day teachers would put thin pieces of masking tape down at these spots so they can be easily seen. That seems to have fallen out of favor but if you're self-teaching you get to decide. This is the best image I could find for it:

First position fingering

Image source

The yellow, red, and teal lines are where you want to focus on first. The numbers "1st, 2nd..." indicate fingers - your first finger is your index finger, fourth finger is your pinkie. You can use the chromatic electronic tuner to find the right places to put your fingers.

Also check out this page which seems to show scales in first position overlaid on top of where the tape would be if you are using it.

  1. Finally, I hope you've taken up the cello because you love the sound and there is some cello music that compels you. If you can find something like 100 easy pieces for cello and look for ones that seem interesting, as well as finding sheet music for pieces that you really love, then you have something to help motivate you to learn. Once you have the barest basics down you want to practice rudimentary techniques like bowing and scales and vibrato and also start working on a song or two so you can hear yourself making music. The need to work on both technique and songs pretty much never ends. If you feel a little joy when the cello "speaks", you'll be hooked and you'll learn faster than you think.
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Perhaps you could see if any nearby community colleges have something. Even junior colleges and 4-year colleges sometimes have faculty that offer private lessons. Generally such lessons are expensive as you have noted, but so is instruction in golf or ballroom dance (or piano).

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Pay for one lesson. Think about where you want to be with Cello in a few months and tell your teacher. With one lesson a great teacher can set you on the right course. Yes, even with just one lesson.

  • Wrong. Just so wrong. Without regular interaction with someone who can observe your physical positioning and motion, you'll do bad things and find it very hard to recover. – Carl Witthoft Feb 26 '16 at 12:17
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    @CarlWitthoft I think it depends on what one is trying to do. I wouldn't say it's hard to recover as much as it takes a lot of time to figure out what one has been doing wrong for the last two years. Self-teaching is much slower than being professionally taught, because you don't even know what mistakes you're making until long after you've made those mistakes into habits, in some cases. Teachers normally point them out to you right away. I agree that regular teaching is the best way to learn. I disagree that just one lesson is not valuable. – Todd Wilcox Feb 26 '16 at 20:56

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