Helen Neilson

Cello lessons South London

Helen with "Phoenix", early August 2021

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Our Cello Community SW4 – who are we?!

For details of our group programme and how to join, please see Our Cello Community website

Building strong foundations, built to last.  Addressing the roots, to allow evolution with freedom.  Working with each child in a natural way to produce happy and healthy individuals who grow up loving music and experiencing joy in the learning process.
  • Names are now being taken on the waiting list for provisional starts in September 2024 and beyond. Please enquire if you would like your child to start earlier. The first step to joining is to regularly observe a series of lessons in advance of starting. This is a wonderful opportunity to see how your child responds to the sound of the cello, and allows them to begin their learning journey in advance of commencing their own lessons.  This allows parents to explore what is involved in the journey of cello learning, and for us to get to know each other a bit before making a commitment to this path.  Please email me directly for an observation application form and further information. 
  • Students here have weekly individual lessons in SW4 with me usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays after school during term time and do our Suzuki group cello programme which runs 6 Saturday mornings a term. The cello and musicianship group programme is at West Hill Primary in Wandsworth Town SW18.  The commitment required is to BOTH group and individual lessons.
  •  Priority is given to children who will be complete beginners from age 4 - 6 at the start of their studies and who will be able to attend a regular Suzuki group programme as well as their individual lessons.
  • Parents are advised to apply to begin the process of observing lessons well in advance of anticipated commencement of studies. You and your child will be invited to observe some lessons by invitation - these may be offered by Zoom during the pandemic time for safety reasons.  You can start this process at any point, by arrangement.
  • Places will usually only be offered to families who have done a series of observations of lessons in advance of commencing studies, other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • There is no audition process - my belief is that "every child can!"
  • Boys and girls are welcome!  

  • We run community group concert/workshop sessions twice a year.  Visiting teachers for 2019 - 2020 were Christine Livingstone and Ashley Stafford; 2018-19 we welcomed Ashley Stafford and Tessa Oakley.  All families are expected to prioritise the dates of our two cello community concert sessions each year, which usually take place at the end of the Autumn and Summer terms.  Past visiting teachers have included Selma Gokcen, Anita Strevens, David Kenedy and Alison Moncrieff-Kelly.
  • Helen accompanies students on piano as part of lessons from beginner through to advanced repertoire so they get an all round musical experience at all stages.  We have fun exploring music of different styles!
  • Repertoire used is broad ranging, encompassing a Suzuki core approach, but combined with a much wider range appropriate to level including Vamoosh and Sassmanshaus pieces in the early stages; studies and technical work; repertoire from Trinity and ABRSM exam syllabuses; wider cello repertoire classics, cello duets and chamber music. A thorough understanding of how the cellist develops physically with freedom is considered at every stage. 
  • Once a secure physical and aural connection with the instrument is established, when appropriate for the individual child, a reading programme will be developed alongside memorised pieces.
  • We usually work towards goal points of performance classes, group events, Suzuki graduations and later on some students will take exams, usually from around Trinity grade 5 level upwards.


  • Parents are asked to sign contracts agreeing to basic terms and conditions of a place in the studio.  Places are offered on the basis of a minimum package of 30 lessons during the academic year.  Full terms and conditions will be clarified in advance of commencement of studies.
  • Lessons take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays after school, mostly during term time.
  • Lessons are given at in South Clapham, SW4 - easily accessible from Clapham, Battersea, Brixton, Dulwich, Chelsea, Pimlico, Kennington, Streatham and other local areas.
  • Students are expected to attend a regular Suzuki group programme in addition to individual lessons; older students are encouraged to participate in wider events including orchestral and chamber music courses and London Cello Society Cello Day.
  • Families are encouraged to attend at least one intensive course a year, options including Bryanston International Chamber Music Course; CelloFest; Pro Corda Cello Course; South London Youth Orchestra; BSI Easter Course.


In order to free the secrets of what Laban termed "the hidden order of the dance", he emphasised the necessity of three different aspects: "the emotional dreamer, the scheming mechanic and the biological innocent." (Hodgson and Preston-Dunlop, 1990)

In this teaching practice, I aim to develop children using their most natural impulses, starting them at at age where they can develop true freedom with their instruments in the most natural way possible; giving them confidence in using reliable physical tools to express their musical ideas, and encouraging musical creativity and emotional freedom of expression.


We are "Our Cello Community".  Many of the students and their families  have been with me now for several years, so the practice has very much a ‘family’ feel about it.  Working together and not just as individuals is very much an important part of how we learn and grow on a week to week basis.  Having now grown the first generation from around age 4 to through to their later teenage years, I have now enjoyed seeing many of them head out into the world and find their own individual paths, both with their cellos and pursuing their other interests in their wider lives.  Now the next generation are here and are flourishing, and the remaining older ones love seeing and supporting the little ones just starting out on their cello journeys! 

The majority of the students coming here have been with me right from the beginning of their cello journeys.  New students enquiries are considered on a case to case basis, but priority will usually be given to new beginner students aged between 4-6 years old.  Families are expected to engage with wider musical community activities on a regular basis and also sometimes during school holidays in addition to individual lessons.  There are lots of fun opportunities for young cellists and students are very much encouraged to get out there and enjoy playing with and learning from being with other cellists and musicians.  Our cello community comes together usually a couple of times a year and we all share together and learn from observing each other working in mini masterclass sessions and performing. This also gives parents a chance to talk to each other and to share experiences and knowledge.  These are important moments in our cello year and so families are expected to prioritise these couple of dates as far as possible.

My teaching experiences are diverse and eclectic, as indeed are my performing experiences!  I currently teach at schools including St Pauls’ School for Girls; Latymer Upper School where I am also Head of Strings, and I teach on the whole class strings programme at the Aldgate School (formerly the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School).  I have over several years developed Suzuki groups at Bayswater Suzuki Group and Little Venice Suzuki Group and also deputy teach at various places including the Royal College of Music Junior Department and Morley College CYM.  Summer Schools and courses taught on include Bryanstone International Summer School, CelloFest, the Pro Corda Cello Course and Bayswater Chamber Music Courses.  As previous director of the Junior Division of the London Cello Society, for a few years, I ran their annual Cello Day at the Royal Academy of Music, bringing together over 100 young cellists from grade 1-8+ standards, as well as running additional events and creating magazines for young cellists.  I now enjoy teaching regularly on the annual Cello Day and other events.  Through my work in these various environments I have met an interesting range of young cellists and colleagues who have helped me to develop as a teacher.

My approach to teaching is very holistic.  I pay close attention to detail of posture, whole body use and physical connection with the cello aiming to allow each student freedom of musical expression with the cello in the longer term.  We take a slow and careful path, looking after the details so that performances and examinations are well prepared for and the overall aim is freedom of expression with the instrument in the longer term.  I believe in developing the highest abilities of every individual child and aim to help each individual fulfil their own potential. I believe very strongly in the power of environment in developing musical ability and so encourage lots of listening, sharing and wider attendance at events and concerts. 

I remain forever indebted to my main cello teacher of my formative years, Anna Shuttleworth (1927-2021), for giving me the opportunity to learn the value of learning from others through our frequent “Gathering of the Clans” cello courses, which I attended for many years, learning from these alongside other wider influences on my learning.   Anna was a huge influence on my life from the age of 17 when I met her during my period of study at Leeds University and I am very thankful for the energy she put into helping me to develop, and for the opportunities she opened up to me, including encouraging me to come to London to study at music college, all contributing to my now being able to share the work I have developed with the next generation.  I am also very thankful for my learning from periods of study with Melissa Phelps at the Royal College of Music and later Naomi Butterworth at Trinity College of Music and much valued courses in France with Jerome Pernoo, and classes with Steven Doane.

Helen and Anna, Leeds, December 2016

After having already been teaching for many years and being in a variety of well respected teaching positions, I decided that I wanted to do the Suzuki teacher training course.  I had always been interested in and intrigued by the philosophy, but through meeting some colleagues doing the training, I realised that there were a lot of parallels with things I was already doing and with my own existing beliefs about teaching, so I became curious to learn more.  I have currently trained to level four, which means I have undertaken four full years of ongoing training with tough exams in performing and teaching huge volumes of student repertoire from memory; I have had analysis done by experienced teacher trainers of lots of live teaching and of DVDs of my teaching of individuals and groups; and have done coursework assignments and regular meetings with colleagues and observations of lots of other teachers in action.  Ongoing professional development continues to be part of our path as teachers in the Suzuki community. During these studies, I have been fortunate to observe many of the top cello teachers in the world in action and have learned a lot by watching teachers in action from countries including the USA, Spain, France and Japan and many, many more.  The observations I have done have fed into my own teaching style, combined with my existing wider knowledge and approach.

I am experienced at and happy to work with students on Suzuki paths or non-Suzuki paths from beginner to post grade 8 level.  My teaching of all students generally includes a mix of Suzuki and wider repertoire.  Discussion with parents and the child in advance of starting lessons will help to establish what sort of things the wider learning experience may involve for your child, appropriate to their age and level.

I perform regularly with orchestras and in chamber music concerts, both on cello and on double bass.  I have to be very strong to carry both of them around, so I can also be found sometimes in the hot yoga studio, or swimming outdoors during the summer months at least!  I cycle around London whenever I can, but not when carrying the double bass!!  An outline of my performing and study background can be found on this website. Some of my concerts are also advertised here.  There are usually quite a lot more beyond that so do just ask if you are interested in coming along to hear something.  I will usually let students and their families know if there is something which may be of particular interest to them.

We are looking forward to welcoming new students and their families to our cello community!  Thank you for taking the time to get to know us a bit!

Our Cello Community website

Email: lownotesenquiries@gmail.com; Twitter: @Helen_E_Neilson