Cello vs Violin: What’s The Difference (& Which To Choose)

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  • Discover the main differences between the cello and the violin
  • Which one is cheaper, and which one is more difficult to learn
  • Find out which one is right for you
  • Also check out our article on the main types of cellos

While both the violin and cello are about equal when it comes to how difficult they are to learn for a new player. The violin is generally quite a bit cheaper, making it a great option for the price-conscious.

Both the cello and violin are superb instruments in their own right.

You may want to start studying one of these instruments but haven’t decided which one yet.

Or, you may simply want to learn a bit more about what differentiates them.

In this article, we present their main differences in relation to size, price, sound, and how difficult they are to learn. We even look at the potential job prospects for aspiring professionals.

Cello vs Violin: What’s the difference

Size

The most notable difference between the two is in their size, the violin is a significantly smaller instrument than the cello.

A standard violin, size 4/4 measures approximately 14 inches or 36 cm. But you can also find smaller ones, up to 1/16 which are ideal for children.

On the other hand, a standard cello measures about 48 inches, or 122cm.

This makes the violin much easier to store at home and travel with.

In fact, if you are thinking of traveling by plane with a cello, you should seriously consider buying a ticket for it!

That being said, is it correct to think that “a cello is just a bigger violin”? Well, no! There are many more differences between the two: sound, technique, repertoire, and price, among others.

Let’s investigate a little about each one!

Price

As you might expect from just looking at the size, the violin will be significantly cheaper. Not only that, but accessories such as cases, strings, bows, etc are all a bit more affordable when compared to the cello.

Although they come in a wide array of prices, we will divide them into three groups:
beginner, intermediate and professional level instruments.

What is the difference between these prices? Mainly to two factors: wood and workmanship.

The cheapest instruments are made in factories and with low-quality woods. While the most expensive ones, those used by professionals, are often handmade by skilled luthiers using top-quality woods.

A beginner violinist who’s on a budget can expect to pay between $300 and $1000 for their first instrument.

A slightly better instrument, for the advanced student, can cost up to $3000.

While professional level violins could set you back as much as $10,000.

On the other hand, a cello for beginners can cost between $500 and $1500, an intermediate one can cost up to $4000, and the top-end cellos can easily have prices going into 5 digits.

Among the accessories, we can highlight that a hard case for a violin costs approximately $500, while for a cello the average value is $1000.

On the other hand, a set of intermediate level strings for violin costs around $100, while one for cello is around $200.

Again, these values are approximate, but the prices for both the instruments and their respective accessories can be pretty steep!

It is important to point out that an instrument, especially if it’s a good one, is not only a tool for study and work but also an excellent investment!

As long as it is well cared for and not damaged, the instrument will not depreciate in value. So should you end up quitting the instrument at some point, you will be able to sell it a similar price to what you bought it for.

Sound

The cello is capable of achieving an enormous variety of sounds, from very low to particularly high-pitched, which is why it is considered a very versatile instrument.

The violin, on the other hand, sits mainly in the higher register.

In different compositions within classical music, pop, rock, and even jazz music, It is quite possible to find the cello playing together with the double basses (something very common in Beethoven’s symphonies, for example), or directly replacing the function of playing the lower notes.

Besides this, mainly since Classicism (you can hear this in the Concertos composed by Boccherini, or by Haydn), cello concertos stand out for the extensive use of their entire register, from low to high.

The violin, on the other hand, has a fine, delicate, and high-pitched sound which makes it a great lead/melodic instrument. Usually sitting ‘on top’ of the mix as other, bigger instruments like the cello and bass handle the lower register.

How difficult are they to learn?

Despite all their tonal differences, they are both challenging instruments to learn.

If you have a piano, you’ll notice how easy and accessible it is to produce a musical note, you simply lower a finger onto a key, and a note will sound, perfectly in tune.

Similarly with a guitar, the frets themselves determine the pitch of a note meaning playing in pitch is a relatively simple process.

In contrast, when you look at the fingerboard of the violin and the cello, there are no keys or frets inlaid onto it to control your pitch for you, that’s all down to you as a player.

Your only guide is going to be both your ear and muscle memory, which gets stronger and sharper with time (lots of time!) and practice.

In addition to this, the study of the bow (and everything that happens with the right hand) also requires a lot of study time.

Part of the grace of these instruments is their versatility, which translates into an enormous capacity to generate different sounds (in music we usually speak of “timbre” or “color”, to talk about the qualities of the sound).

To achieve these sounds it also requires mastery of the ‘bow’ which you will use to actually vibrate the string, doing this while also playing perfect pitch is no small feat!

People quite commonly think that if you learn the violin, you’ll automatically be good at the cello, and vice versa. But unfortunately it’s not quite that simple.

The way of holding the instrument, the size, and the hand positions will be considerably different. The distances are longer on the cello, as are the changes of position (this is the name given to the movements made by the hand as it moves across the fingerboard).

Repertoire

At this point, we can say that both instruments are evenly matched. In classical music (if we think of Baroque, Classicism, Romanticism, 20th century), contemporary music (the last five, six decades), and popular music (pop, rock, songs, jazz, blues, country, etc.) both instruments are very present.

The same cannot be said, for example, of the other two instruments belonging to the string family. The repertoire composed for both double bass and viola, even though it is also expanding, is significantly smaller.

The classical repertoire for both violin and cello is very extensive.

Mozart’s Violin Concertos, Bach’s Suites for cello solo, and fantastic sonatas composed by Beethoven, Brahms, and Britten, among others, are only samples of the strong presence that both instruments have within classical music.

On the other hand, during these last years, their participation in popular music has also grown a lot.

It is increasingly common to find excellent violinists and cellists playing with pop, rock, jazz, bossa-nova, or country bands.

Even renowned musicians with an extensive career in classical music, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, is a regular participant in projects in which popular music, world music, or fusion intersect with more classical or more contemporary currents.

Work

On this topic, we can say that both are evenly matched. It is true that in the more classically trained orchestras, the places for violins are much more.

A symphony orchestra has between 22 and 30 violins, while the number of cellos is between 8 and 12.

Beyond this, it is also worth noting that the number of violinists is higher!

Things are balanced between “supply and demand”m there are more jobs for violinists, but also more people playing (and studying) this instrument, compared to the cello.

Besides, as we said before, there are many popular music groups nowadays that resort to strings to embellish their songs, In addition, teaching is also a legitimate and viable option once you have gained a degree of technique and theory knowledge.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what should guide your decision should be neither the size nor the price, the difficulty in learning, or the amount of repertoire: ideally, the decision should be guided by your ear (and your heart).

Listen to a lot of music (of all kinds) in which these instruments are present.

Bach’s Suites, Brahms’ Sonatas or Dvorak’s Concerto for cello, on the one hand, Beethoven’s Concertos, Ysaye’s Sonatas, and Bach’s partitas for violin, on the other hand, are some wonderful examples.

Ravel, Kodály, Honnegger, Beethoven, and Villa-Lobos duets for violin and cello can also be an excellent gateway!

Do you want songs? The Brazilian Jaques Morelenbaum is an extraordinary cellist who has participated in countless popular music projects of great quality, and the string quartet “Brodsky Quartet” has also participated in many projects in which strings and songs intersect.

You will find violins and cellos in songs by bands from all eras, from The Beatles to Miley Cyrus to the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Bjork, and Coldplay.

Go see live music, and connect with local musicians. In many parts of the world, there are orchestra schools where you can try your hand at learning an instrument.

And always, remember, show patience, the path to learning an instrument is long and winding, but it is also a tremendously rewarding endeavor.