10 Things I've Learned About Myself By Playing The Cello

When Emily invited me to guest blog, I didn’t know what I could possibly add – after all, she’s the teacher, I’m “just” a beginner. On reflection, in the two years since I started playing, I’ve learned quite a few things, some of which have had greater implications in my life in general. Here are a few of my favorites.

10 things I've learned about myself (and life) by playing the cello:


10. There’s no such thing as “too old” to learn to play an instrument. I’m sure that applies to a lot of other activities too.

9. Sometimes being stubborn is a good thing. Much of my first year required placing a lot of trust that the hours of practicing folk songs, missing notes and squeaky bowings would some day translate to some vague semblance of what I knew the cello could sound like. I learned to keep the picture in my mind of how I wanted to sound/look/feel, even when it wasn’t actually the reality. That said:

8. It’s good to be bad at something. As an adult, I’ve gotten pretty competent at all the skills needed to navigate my life, and even gained a bit of expertise in a few areas. Learning to play the cello forced me back into the world of being a beginner. That includes lots of uncertainty and frustration as I train my body and brain to function in new ways. However the sense of wonder and discovery is something I’m delighted by on a regular basis as an adult beginner.

7. It helps to embrace a child-like sense of wonder and “play.” Sometimes practice consists of just playing notes in random order and seeing what kinds of sounds I can make.

6. I am a musical person. And not just singing in the shower, or with the radio and the windows rolled down. Hearing is one of those senses that is often taken for granted: sure appreciate it when we’re listening to something beautiful but how much do you enjoy it when a fire truck goes screaming by or you’re listening to that song they keep playing over an over again on the radio. I’ve learned that I have an “ear” which, while still in training, can detect finer things like pitch and tone. I treasure that.

5. My left hand has got skills. As a right hand dominant person, my left hand lived in the shadow of its more dexterous sister. It serves as the workhorse: hauling the load while the right hand navigates door opening or keypad entry or whatever other mischief I get into. In playing cello, both sisters get to shine. My left hand has become more agile and strong. As a result, I find myself trusting it with bigger tasks more often in my daily life.

4. Don’t mistake tenacity for talent. When I started playing cello, I assumed that it was talent that made “greats.” While there’s probably a certain amount of natural inclination involved (and at the extreme: people with things like perfect pitch, ect.) everything I’ve learned from the people farther along the path than I am indicates that persistence and practice are what makes greatness. As the wise Pablo Casals responded the question of why he still practiced at his level of expertise: “Because, you see, I improve.”

3. I have much better things to do with my time than watch reality TV: Practice, Practice, Practice.

2. Set goals and reflect often. It’s easy to get caught up with the next new technique or skill to develop and some (bow hold!) will take years to master. It helps to set little goals along the way, like: I will make it through this scale one time without missing a note or learn to play with others. Another big mood improver is reflection back on my progress. When I’m feeling discouraged, impatient or setback, I flip back in my Suzuki or etudes book and play something I once found difficult. It ALWAYS amazes me how much easier the pieces I used to struggle with are and keeps me energized for the long haul that will be my cello journey.

1. Follow my passion no matter where it leads or, trust in the process, trust in myself. There are moments in life when my heart perks up with the delight of a child and says “I want to do/feel/experience THAT.” Often it leaves my head (aka common sense) shaking with disbelief. I have learned that that the little voice is as much a teacher as any book, class or sermon. Trusting the voice, and following the passion has led me to an adventure –and love – of a lifetime. Everyone should be so lucky.


Thank you Rashida for your wonderful insight and contribution! Rashida “Eddie” Smith is a writer and adult beginner cello student of Emily's cello- friend Kaia Chessen in the Pacific Northwest. She blogs about life and cellos at http://ccandme.wordpress.com