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J. S. Bach The Cello Suites for Mandolin

By Mandolin Cafe
March 12, 2014 - 7:45 am

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J. S. Bach The Cello Suites for Mandolin in standard notation and tablature.

J. S. Bach The Cello Suites for Mandolin in standard notation and tablature.

J. S. Bach The Cello Suites for Mandolin is a new self-publication by author Daniel Sellman following up his recent J. S. Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Mandolin.

The book contains the complete Suites for Unaccompanied Cello transposed and transcribed for mandolin in staff notation and tablature.

Author Sellman said, "the new book is very similar to the old one but will contain the complete pieces from the Cello Suites in notation and tablature. The same thought has been given to the finger positions with regard to voicings and intuitiveness for the player.

"I know that many mandolin players are not able to read standard notation, but I don't believe that should exclude them from accessing this amazing music."

The new book is available exclusively on and the author takes questions and comments in regard to his work on the Mandolin Cafe's Forum.

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Reader Comments

March 12, 2014 10:07 AM
Hi there, just to say that I am a member of the Cafe and would welcome any feedback, questions or general discussion about this book. I hope it proves to be a useful resource.

Daniel Sellman
March 12, 2014 07:46 PM
Hello Daniel,
I love listening to Bach Cello Suites, I also read the book "The Cello Suites" by Eric Siblin.
I would love to be able to play a few of them. I use tableture.
Is there any way to see a sample of a page or two?
Thank you
March 12, 2014 08:43 PM
I'm curious as to your approach to the 6th suite. It's the best suited for mandolin (vs mandola or 'cello), IMO, but it requires some tricky choices regarding voicing since it was written for a 5 string instrument. I'd love to hear how you handled that.
Karl Keating
March 12, 2014 09:52 PM
I just ordered it and already have your previous book. Thanks for doing this.
March 13, 2014 01:52 PM
Thank you all for these comments.

Ken - I agree that the 6th works particularly well on the mandolin. Transcribing this for a mandolin presents fewer problems than you would think but there are of course points where a decision has to be made between playability and faithfulness. My goal in doing these has always been to make the transcription as intuitive as possible to a mandolin player while staying faithful to Bach. If you have any specifics, just shout.

Mediaocrity - I have attempted to attach the Bourrée from the 3rd Suite as an example; a good fun one! (excuse the unequal margins as this is how they sit in the book to compensate for the spine) - I hope this is helpful.

Karl - thank you for your support and kind words.


March 14, 2014 03:48 PM
I am enjoying your Partitas and Sonatas book. I'm looking forward to getting this, too!
Using this notation is really helping me improve my "pinky" strength (one of my goals in my lessons).
Thank you!
March 15, 2014 08:47 AM
Thank you for this Cecily! - so glad to hear you're enjoying the S&P book and are finding it useful - certainly does work the pinky...

Not sure whether or not your saw, but in February I put out a few minor revisions to the book (see here). If you (or anyone else) would like me to send you the small amends - just drop me a message with your email and I'll send them over.

Really hope you enjoy this book as much as the last.

Simen Kjaersdalen
March 16, 2014 02:08 PM
Bach was actually the reason that I got myself a mandolin. I learned to play the first sonata and the second partita on the violin, and wanted to study the complexity of the polyphony on a plucked instrument. The mandolin was the obvious choice, due to its tuning. And I was struck by the beauty of the sound, the harpsicord-like serenity - and was "hooked" from then on. In the violin-transcription little had to be done, I guess, but the cello-transcriptions must have been a quite different task. After hearing what can be done on an ukulele, I think this music must go very well on our little instrument. Looking forward to try, and have ordered the book!
March 17, 2014 11:45 AM
Hi Daniel, et. al.
I am new to the mandolin and have never seen tabulature before. So my question is . . . If you have never heard the piece before, how do you know how long to hold each note? Yes, there is no guesswork about which string or fret to use for the note, but how long is it in duration? My second question is: Why tabulature? It's not as good as having the music and the composers don't write in tabulature. Not trying to rile anyone, I just don't understand its purpose.
Simen Kjaersdalen
March 17, 2014 02:56 PM
Hi Bartk1448

I will point out my own opinions here. The duration of the note can be read from the score over it. In "pure" tab it was usual from the late 15th century to the end of the baroque to mark the duration above the tabulature. The composers of the lute-instruments have always written in tabulature, and it's very effective! (So Dowland, Milan, Weiss etc. actually wrote in tab.) When I compose, I usually use tab - because it's so much quicker. Another thing is that some (or quite many, I believe) players don't read ordinary scores, and they can be helped a lot by a tabulature. So I support this - even though I myself prefere the scores without tab, just as you, or just tab in the renaissance manner.
March 17, 2014 05:37 PM
Bartk, thank you for this question - I can understand the confusion for anyone who has never come across or used tablature before. And Simen, thank you so much for your informed post.

Many people play music who haven't learnt to read notation, and many people have grown using tablature as a way of accessing music. Like anything, this becomes second nature to those who have used it for a number of years. But this certainly does not mean that folk do not understand the fundamental principles of music... As we all know, there are many impressive musicians who have never leant to read a note! For many, reading tablature is as quick as reading notation for those who have learnt it.

As for note duration, the notation tells you that! As I said, people know what they are doing, they have just grown used to reading numbers rather than notation. It really is all about what and how you have learnt and what you are used to.

I don't believe that just because you haven't learnt to read notation you should be excluded from accessing this amazing music. As I said, tablature is just what many players have become accustomed to. I also don't think that anyone would claim that tablature was a better way of notating music over staff notation, but for many it is familiar, approachable, and fast!
March 19, 2014 10:38 AM
So, now I think I am more confused and less confused at the same time. I understand that people that play pre-baroque music have the tabulature written by composers that pre-date baroque music.

As I understand it, one has to read the notation to get the duration of the notes, so someone who can't read notation can't play these pieces anyway. And do the people who play strictly by tabulature know what notes they are playing in case they want to play a piece in a different position instead of the one marked in the tabulature? Are you supposed to memorize the pieces instead of trying to read 4 staves at once?

Still a little confused on some of this.
March 19, 2014 11:05 AM
I am in the process of trying to speed up my sight reading, but fall back on tablature. Like any other addict, if it is easily available and right in front of you it is hard to not use it. I know enough about music that I adapt my preferred fingering/positions and read the standard notations for timing, etc...but with most complicated pieces I listen to the piece prior to trying to play it. Tab is just so easy...wish it wasn't around. It is a great way for beginners to get into music, but it is, IMHO, detrimental for them in the long run.

Wish I would have kept up my reading when I started using tab heavily in the early 80's. It is a mixed bag for me at this point. I would love to order these, but until I can keep my eyes on the Staves, and not look at the numbers, I am going to hold off.
March 20, 2014 03:55 AM
My teacher recommends getting a roll of draughting tape, which I imagine is not very sticky as it is supposed to be removeable from paper, and covering up the tab with that. I have tried a botched version using bits of postit for one tune in Simon Mayor's Mastering Mandolin where the tab shows the final version he wants you to play, but not the initial one.

This forces you to read the notation, but the tab is still there for fingering if needed, which in this book it is as he's trying to teach playing up the neck.
March 20, 2014 04:05 AM
Quote from Bartk1448:

As I understand it, one has to read the notation to get the duration of the notes, so someone who can't read notation can't play these pieces anyway.
End Quote

Well you only need to learn the note durations, you don't need to learn to read a stave, in addition some tab I have seen actually uses the tails, dots &c. of notated music in the tab it self, so the tail for a crotchet or quaver would be attached to the number on the tab indicating where to put your finger.

The main trouble with tab is that once you know it it's difficult to get beyond it, your eye just gets drawn to those numbers, I haven't had my coffee I can't find a clean, funny, analogy.
March 22, 2014 05:25 PM
Before purchasing, I would need a way to hear the pieces. Where can I get a cd, or download with the music thats in the book? It does not need to be mandolin, just so I can hear it and try to play to it.
Franc Homier Lieu
March 22, 2014 07:10 PM
Quote from Freddyfingers: Before purchasing, I would need a way to hear the pieces. Where can I get a cd, or download with the music thats in the book? It does not need to be mandolin, just so I can hear it and try to play to it. End Quote

Yo Yo Ma has recorded the cello suites twice. iTunes must have these plus many other recordings.
March 23, 2014 03:31 AM
Your local library should have at least one recording
March 23, 2014 10:39 AM
There are still libraries?
March 25, 2014 10:16 AM
Just ordered mine. Should be here Thursday. Your arrangements of the Bach Violin Partitas and Sonatas are daunting, but fun to chip away at.
Matt Dolin
December 27, 2015 08:37 PM

Thanks for the fantastic book! These suites really speak to me, but I don't plan on learning the cello any time soon. No less fun on the mando. Can anyone recommend similar cello-tabs-for-mandolin resources out there? It's a pretty niche genre, I know...And I know there's sheet music but gosh darn it, there's no fun in learning that! smile

Matt Dolin
December 31, 2015 11:28 AM
Just curious if you had a go at the cello suites. I'm trying to find some help with the tuning...playing through this book in standard GDAE on the mando, these sound nothing like the cello recordings I'm using as reference. Any thoughts would be appreciated!
Franc Homier Lieu
January 02, 2016 05:48 AM
Hi Matt,
The blurb says that the suites have been transposed, so they are in different keys. The selection posted above is from the third suite, which is in C, but has been transposed to the key of G to make it work better on mandolin (it is also played in G in various violin transcriptions I have seen).
June 30, 2017 12:58 PM
When I first heard about this, my thought was, "wait a minute, the cello is a big low sounding instrument that isn't anything like a mandolin". True that somehow Bach just sounds good no matter what, but I was surprised that none of the comments addressed this - why play cello music on the mandolin (instead of violin music)? Not meant as a criticism, just is surprising that this actually works!
August 11, 2017 11:10 AM
I play mandola in the Philadelphia Mandolin Ensemble. We tune the mandola to the European/tenor tuning - a full octave below the mandolin. I have been playing the Cello Suite #3 on my mandola using violin transcriptions (transposed from C to G). I came across this thread today, and I would love to have mandolin transcriptions that I can play on my mandola a full octave lower. I plan to get this book if it is still available.

Just curious - has anyone tried the Cello suites on the mandocello? I bet that would sound nice.
August 11, 2017 11:27 AM
Absolutely wonderful on mandocello. There are a bunch of folks out there doing exactly that.
August 11, 2017 12:15 PM
I'm playing the Bach Cello Suite #1 on mandocello. Nice to be able to just use the cello sheets. What I like about them on mandocello is the ability to chord certain sections using all 4 strings, whereas on cello you only get 2 at a time, unless you have the ability to bow into 3 strings and keep decent tone. I don't have that ability.
My son is learning it on the cello and we are playing some of it together. I really like how the percussive faster sections sound on the mandocello and how the lower slower sections sound on the cello.
Don Grieser
August 11, 2017 06:07 PM
mandolinfox, since you obviously read, you can get the all manner of classical music at

Here's the cello suites on their site:,_BWV_1007-1012_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian) If you click on the transcriptions/arrangements tab, you find the cello suites for a variety of instruments.

The referenced book here adds tab--the only reason to get it is if you don't read.
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