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Music Notation for the Violoncello

Music for the cello is primarily written in the bass clef, but can also be written in the tenor clef in the intermediate register, and treble clef when playing in the high register. The standard tuning for the open strings is as follows:

The cello has a range of 2 octaves + a M2 in first position. This is the range that is used in beginning (elementary) level repertoire. As the player learns to shift, the range demanded in music expands higher to 3rd and 4th position. Much of the music for orchestra written in the 18th century does require shifting for the cello, and the concertino parts often require tenor clef playing. Composers wrote extensively for the cello as a melodic instrument (as opposed to a bass instrument) in the 19th and 20th century, requiring shifting into the high thumb positions in a considerable amount of standard orchestral repertoire. Much of the solo and chamber music repertoire requires ability to play in the advanced range.*

There was a notational practice prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries where music written in treble clef for cello was written an octave higher than it sounded (see the score to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet as an example).


*Please note that my choice of the upper limit is approximate - many scores do not require playing that high, others require playing higher. Any cellist who aspires to play the standard orchestral repertoire must have the ability to play in all areas of the fingerboard.

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