I'm looking for a word to nicely describe how a cello sounds, and I think that an opposite of wailing might be a good description.

The definition for wail describes a high-pitched tone:


1 A prolonged high-pitched cry of pain, grief, or anger.

So what would be the word for the same description, except it's a bass (or just low-pitched) tone?

The purpose is preparing subtitles for a music video which has cello playing, so it would be something like:

[Cello playing]

(But I want to replace "playing" with the cello sound word, in verb form)

  • i’m not sure how many of the descriptors you mean to invert. For instance, I’m pretty sure you still intend “prolonged.” So are you looking for a low-pitched cry of pain, grief, or anger, or for more pleasant connotations? Oct 19, 2021 at 19:43
  • Prolonged - yes, pleasant - not necessarily.
    – HeyJude
    Oct 19, 2021 at 19:59
  • I hear a cello as a melancholy groan. Oct 19, 2021 at 20:28
  • 1
    Patrick O'Brian sometimes refers to a cello 'booming'. Oct 20, 2021 at 7:49
  • 1
    @AndyBonner - when I was 12, my secondary school was misguided enough to offer me free music lessons (my choice of instrument from a limited range) and I chose the cello. Old fashioned people still wrote 'cello because it's short for violoncello. Laboriously over a term I learned to hold the bow properly and play 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'. One weekend I took the school cello home on the bus. I set it up and began playing. Our family cat became very distressed and rather vocal. My father, grinning, said 'She can hear her mother'. I gave up soon after. I am not musically gifted. Oct 20, 2021 at 9:11

2 Answers 2


A low-pitch corollary to wail is moan: prolonged, primarily associated with grief or pain but can also have a counter-intuitive positive connotation ("a moan of pleasure").


I think that if you choose a verb other than playing, it should also reflect how and what the cello is playing. I would describe the cello in the clip more as droning or humming than low-pitched wailing. These verbs are also more neutral in connotation and perhaps a better fit for the mood being created.

drone (v.)

To emit a continuous steady deep humming or buzzing sound, esp. a continuous musical note of low pitch; to hum or buzz, like a bee or a bagpipe. OED

The wind in the leaves hums like the violins singing; the clouds scud across a quarter moon like the mellow drone of the cello. Elaine Alphin; Simon Says

While the simple duple meter is maintained in the drone of the cello , the Indian theme uses a combination of three quarter notes , or a half note and quarter note per ... Bernadette Kopp; The Twelve-tone Techniques of Adolph Weiss

The instrumentalists took their places, checked their scores, and emitted a drone of notes, moving first from the low-end registers of cello and bass to the violins and then to the winds, like a game of sonic tag, until all the instruments were on the same wavelength.
Eric Siblin; The Cello Suites

  • droning is not considered a pleasant sound.
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:08
  • Not especially on the bagpipes, but the Bach Cello Suites have a fair amount and most folks find them pleasant enough. Drones are a characteristic of musettes. Note "mellow drone" in the example.
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:15
  • bagpipes are not a stringed instrument. humming and droning are not words I put use in movie descriptor: cello droning.....ugh.
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:19
  • If you find a drone on the cello unpleasant, fine, but others may disagree.
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.