How to Play Blues on Cello: A Practical Guide for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Familiarize with the cello
  2. Learn the blues scale
  3. Practice the blues rhythm
  4. Learn to slide
  5. Incorporate the swampy sound
  6. How to use dynamics
  7. Practice the 12-bar blues
  8. Play with a backing track

Have you ever wondered how to play cello for blues? It's an exciting journey to undertake, learning to infuse the soulful twang of blues into the rich, warm tones of a cello. This guide will walk you through the process, step-by-step, making it easy and enjoyable. So, let's get started!

Familiarize with the Cello

Before we dive into playing the blues, it's important to get comfortable with your cello. Don't worry, you don't need to be a maestro at this stage, but knowing your way around the instrument will make the learning process smoother and more fun.

  • Hold the Cello Correctly: Place the cello between your knees, lean it against your chest, and remember, the neck of the cello should be on the left side of your head. This position will give you easy access to the fingerboard for playing.
  • Understand the Strings: A standard cello has four strings — C, G, D, and A. The C string is the thickest and lowest, while the A string is the thinnest and highest. Knowing your strings is the first step in understanding how to play cello for blues.
  • Master the Bow: The bow is your tool for bringing the cello to life. Hold it with a relaxed grip, allowing it to glide smoothly across the strings. The bow should move perpendicular to the strings, not at an angle.
  • Practice Fingering: Lastly, you'll need to get comfortable with placing your fingers on the fingerboard to create different notes. Start with simple scales before moving on to more complex blues patterns.

Once you've familiarized yourself with the basics of the cello, you'll be well-equipped to venture into the world of blues music. In the next sections, we'll delve into the specifics of how to play cello for blues, from learning the blues scale to incorporating the swampy sound characteristic of this genre. So, stay tuned!

Learn the Blues Scale

When figuring out how to play cello for blues, one of the first things you need to do is learn the blues scale. This scale is the backbone of blues music — it's what gives it that unique, soulful sound. So let's take a closer look at what makes up the blues scale.

  • The Classic Blues Scale: The blues scale is a six-note scale. In the key of C, the blues scale is: C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb, and C. Notice the presence of the 'blue' notes, Eb and Gb, which provide that distinctive bluesy sound.
  • Practicing the Blues Scale: Start slow, and remember, accuracy is more important than speed. Practice playing the scale up and down the cello, first with the music in front of you, then from memory. This will help you internalize the scale.
  • Applying the Blues Scale: Once you're comfortable with the blues scale, try improvising a little. Play around with the order of the notes, add in some rhythmic variation, and before you know it, you'll be playing the blues!

Keep in mind, learning the blues scale is only the first step. There's a whole world of blues techniques to explore. But for now, focus on mastering this scale. It's the foundation of everything else you'll learn about how to play cello for blues!

Practice the Blues Rhythm

Alright, moving forward. Now that you're familiar with the blues scale, it's time to dive into the rhythm. The rhythm, you see, is a fundamental part of how to play cello for blues. It's the heartbeat of the blues, and it's what makes the blues feel like... well, the blues!

  • Understanding Blues Rhythm: Blues music often uses a distinctive shuffle rhythm. It's a swinging rhythm that gives the music a bouncy, lively feel. You'll often see it notated in music as a triplet rhythm, with the first two notes tied together.
  • Practicing the Rhythm: Start by tapping out the rhythm with your foot or nodding your head along with it. This will give you a sense of the beat. Then try playing it on the cello. Start slow and gradually increase your speed as you get comfortable.
  • Playing with the Rhythm: Now, try applying the rhythm to the blues scale you learned earlier. Play the scale up and down while maintaining the shuffle rhythm. It might be tricky at first, but don't give up. With practice, it will start to feel more natural.

Remember, the rhythm is just as important as the notes. So take your time, be patient with yourself, and keep practicing. You're doing great, and you're well on your way to learning how to play cello for blues!

Learn to Slide

Alright, let's take another step on our journey of how to play cello for blues. Next on our list is learning to slide. Sliding, or glissando as it's officially known, is an expressive technique that's commonly used in blues music. It adds a smooth, flowing quality to your playing, and it's a whole lot of fun to do.

  • Getting Started: To slide on a cello, you need to move your finger along the string without lifting it. Start in one position, apply pressure to the string, and then move your finger up or down the fingerboard.
  • Practicing the Slide: Pick two notes on the same string, and practice sliding between them. Start slow, focusing on maintaining a steady pitch as you move. As you get better, you can try sliding between further notes and increasing your speed.
  • Using Slides in Blues Music: Now that you can slide, try incorporating it into your blues playing. You can use slides to add expression to the blues scale, or to transition smoothly between notes in a melody.

Don't be discouraged if sliding feels awkward at first. Like all techniques, it takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find it's a powerful tool in your blues cello-playing arsenal. Remember, the journey of how to play cello for blues is all about exploration and enjoying the ride. So, keep sliding and keep smiling!

Incorporate the Swampy Sound

Now that you've got the hang of sliding, let's move on with our guide on how to play cello for blues. It's time to incorporate the swampy sound. The term "swampy" may make you think of marshlands and croaking frogs, but in the context of blues, it refers to a rich, resonant, and slightly gritty tone that's synonymous with blues music.

  • Creating the Swampy Tone: To create a swampy sound, you'll need to use a combination of techniques. Start by playing with a heavy bow pressure and a slower bow speed. This creates a rich, resonant sound. Then, add a touch of grit by slightly loosening your bow grip, which allows the bow to bounce lightly on the strings.
  • Experiment with Your Sound: The best way to find your swampy sound is to experiment. Try adjusting your bow pressure, speed, and grip until you find a tone that feels right to you. Remember, blues is all about individual expression, so don't be afraid to make the sound your own.
  • Incorporating the Swampy Sound into Blues: Once you've found your swampy sound, start incorporating it into your blues playing. Use it to add depth and character to your blues scales and rhythms.

So, get out there and get swampy! With a bit of practice and experimentation, you'll be sounding like a blues cello pro in no time. We're well on our way in our journey of mastering how to play cello for blues!

How to Use Dynamics

When you're learning how to play cello for blues, understanding and using dynamics is an absolute game-changer. In music, dynamics refer to the volume at which you play. They bring variety, expressiveness, and depth to your performance, making your blues sound authentic and engaging.

  • Understanding Dynamics: Dynamics range from very quiet (piano) to very loud (forte). But in blues, we often deal with subtle variations within these ranges. Knowing when to play softer or louder can add a whole lot of character to your blues cello performance.
  • Applying Dynamics: The secret is to listen to a lot of blues music. Pay attention to how the volume rises and falls, how it brings out emotions, and how it changes the feel of the music. Then, try to replicate that in your own playing. Start a note softly, then gradually increase the volume, or start loud and gradually get softer. This technique, known as a crescendo or diminuendo, is a staple in blues music.
  • Experiment with Dynamics: Like everything else in blues, dynamics are all about feeling the music. So, experiment! Maybe one day you'll feel like playing a particular line softly, and the next day you might want to play it louder. That's the beauty of blues—it's all about expressing how you feel.

Dynamics are a vital part of how to play cello for blues. They breathe life into your performance, making every note you play feel like a story being told. So don't be shy—dive in and explore the world of dynamics!

Practice the 12-bar Blues

When it comes to learning how to play cello for blues, mastering the 12-bar blues is a must. It's a chord progression—a sequence of chords—that forms the backbone of most blues songs. Here's how you can get started:

  1. Understand the Structure: The 12-bar blues consists of three chords: the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord. The I chord is the key you're playing in. If you're playing in the key of C, for example, C is the I chord. The IV chord is F, and the V chord is G.
  2. Master the Progression: The classic 12-bar blues progression goes like this: I-I-I-I, IV-IV-I-I, V-IV-I-I. Each letter represents one bar, or measure. So you'd play the I chord for four bars, the IV chord for two bars, go back to the I chord for two bars, then play the V chord, the IV chord, and the I chord for two bars each.
  3. Play the 12-bar Blues: Try playing this progression on your cello. Start slow, and don't worry about adding any frills or fancy techniques just yet. Focus on getting the progression down pat first.
  4. Experiment: Once you've got the basics, feel free to mix things up. Try playing the progression in different keys, or add some slides and bends to make it more interesting. Remember, blues is all about expressing yourself through your music!

Practicing the 12-bar blues is a fundamental step in learning how to play cello for blues. It's the key to unlocking the soulful, expressive sound that makes blues music so captivating. So grab your cello, and let's get those blues rolling!

Play with a Backing Track

Now that you know the basics of how to play cello for blues and have some practice with the 12-bar blues, it's time to jam with a backing track. Here's why it's a neat idea:

  1. Build Rhythm: Playing along with a backing track can help you develop a strong sense of rhythm. It's a bit like having a metronome, but more fun!
  2. Gain Confidence: It can also give you a confidence boost. If you can keep up with the track, you're doing something right!
  3. Practice Improvising: Backing tracks are great for improvisation. Try playing the 12-bar blues progression over the track, then start adding your own touches. Remember, blues is all about feeling and self-expression.
  4. Get Performance Experience: Playing with a track can simulate the experience of playing with a band. It can help you get used to playing your part in a group setting, which is a key skill if you want to play blues professionally.

There are plenty of free backing tracks available online that you can use. While playing, remember to listen carefully to the track. Try to match the rhythm and feel of the music. And most importantly, have fun! Remember, learning how to play cello for blues is a journey, not a destination.

If you enjoyed our practical guide on playing blues on the cello and want to further develop your skills, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop is perfect for musicians of all levels who are looking to improve their craft and take their abilities to the next level.