The Singing Cellist: Sing While Playing

Singing at the same time as we are playing is not only a wonderful way to develop our aural (hearing) skills but is also a great tension-reducer as well as being a test for how much brainpower we have to spare while we are playing . Here we are not referring to singing in unison with our cello-playing (which is relatively unchallenging) but rather to the more complex skill of singing one musical line (voice, part) while playing a different line on the cello. This takes quite a lot of getting used to and is a little like the coordination game of rubbing circles on one part of the body while tapping rhythmically on another. As with most of the other cellistic and musical skills we can “work” on this skill in two different ways, each of which complements the other:

  •  methodically (technically, drily) or
  •  in a more enjoyable, musical way


Let’s start with the musical, creative, fun path by choosing some simple folk songs which we will sing and play at the same time. Normally we will sing the melody line while playing the bass line but there is no reason why we shouldn’t also try the opposite. The words (lyrics) are irrelevant, especially for non-english speakers: we can just sing la-la-la or any other syllable. But if we want to really test (and stretch) our abilities then singing real words  (either the original lyrics or our own invented ones) does raise the difficulty level considerably.

Tis A Gift To Be Simple     Shenandoa     Short’nin Bread     Oh Susanna

We can also use this method in string crossing passages which so frequently accompany beautiful melodies of other instruments in the chamber and orchestral repertoire. Not only will our aural skills improve but also, when singing the melodic line, we make it harder for our brain to control the delicate bowlevel changes. This means that when wecome to play the passage without singing the melody, we will have lots of extra available brain-space to dedicate to our bow and fingers and therefore these passages might well seem suddenly easier.



The following link opens up two pages of different scales in thirds and sixths. We will sing one line while playing the other. We will need to alternate the voices, sometimes singing the lower voice (while playing the higher voice on the cello) and other times doing the opposite.

Scales in Thirds and Sixths: Play One Voice While Singing The Other