I am trying to say someone has a perfect command of a musical instrument. I am looking for an idiom which would convey this.

In my language, we have a saying that literally translates to this:

The cello is a very difficult instrument. The cello is like a wild horse but it is completely tame in his grasp.

First of all, do you think this sentence works in English? If not, is there an idiom which has the same meaning?

  • 2
    The above quote is pretty good!
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 29, 2020 at 0:00
  • You really think it works? I like it. Mar 29, 2020 at 11:54
  • 'Mastered' (as in the answer below) is very suitable in English as the word 'mastered' is used idiomatically, both of successfully training animals and also of becoming proficient in the use of musical instruments, so it conveys the idiom of your own language well. But in English musical instruments are not usually likened to wild animals, because musical instruments require to be caressed, not tamed. (unless we're talking drums and cymbals).
    – Nigel J
    Mar 30, 2020 at 0:04

2 Answers 2


First of all, your sentence works just fine in English. You can, however, polish it up just a tad by removing the second mention of the subject in the second sentence, like so:

The cello is a very difficult instrument. The cello is like a wild horse but is completely tame in his grasp.

Note the word 'it' has been removed. The sentence sounds a bit cleaner now.

Second, there are a number of ways you can express an artist as being of the highest ability.

We can describe them as artists of consummate skill. Such nouns that reflect this thought regarding musicians are: maestro and virtuoso. Note that maestro is wholly specific to music, especially classical music, whereas virtuoso is specific to the arts in general but is often used even more specifically with reference to music.

In your case, with reference to the taming of a wild animal, there are number of synonyms we can use:

gentle - Make an animal docile by gentle handling.

break / bust - To tame a horse.

reclaim - To tame a falcon.

subdue - To bring under control, with emphasis on the exertion of one's will.

The word master works well in your case because it serves double purpose as expressing one's ability as being at the highest level as well as one's command over their instrument. This word is, however, broader than maestro and virtuoso and hence applies to a much wider range of objects. The same goes for the verbal analogues [gentle, break, bust, reclaim, subdue]. Master is a broader term than any of these. So you will want to decide which expressions to use given such factors as precision and connotative meaning.


You could say the cello was eating out of his hand. I think the word you are looking for is mastery. He has mastery of the cello meaning he is the master of the cello.

  • Can I say the cello was like a tame horse eating out of his hand? Mar 29, 2020 at 11:54
  • This answer is completely tone-deaf. A cello can't eat out of your hand -- that just sounds ridiculous.
    – TonyK
    Mar 29, 2020 at 13:05
  • I think we can agree that the cello is not a wild horse either. Eating out of your hand is a phrase describing an animal that is docile. The transition to or contrast from a wild horse to a docile one is what the OP is looking for described with one word. If you have not heard a cello eat out of a musician's hand then you have not heard Yo Yo Ma.
    – Elliot
    Mar 29, 2020 at 18:59

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