Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, but both tenor clef and treble clef are used for higher-range parts, both in orchestral/chamber music parts and in solo cello works. A person who plays the cello is called a cellist or violoncellist. In a small classical ensemble, such as a string quartet, the cello typically plays the bass part, the lowest-pitched musical line of the piece. In an orchestra of the Baroque era (ca. 1600–1750) and Classical period (ca. 1725–1800), the cello typically plays the bass part, generally doubled an octave lower by the double basses. In Baroque-era music, the cello is often used to play the basso continuo bassline, typically along with a keyboard instrument (e.g., pipe organ or harpsichord) or a fretted, plucked stringed instrument (e.g., lute or theorbo). In such a Baroque performance, the cello player might be joined or replaced by other bass instruments, playing bassoon, double bass, viol or other low-register instruments.
The name cello is derived from the ending of the Italianvioloncello, which means "little violone". The violone ("big viol") was the lowest-pitched instrument of the viol family, the group of stringed instruments that went out of fashion around the end of the 17th century in most countries except France, where they survived another half-century before the louder violin family came into greater favour in that country as well. In modern symphony orchestras, it is the second largest stringed instrument (the double bass is the largest). Thus, the name "violoncello" contained both the augmentative "-one" ("big") and the diminutive "-cello" ("little"). By the turn of the 20th century, it had become common to shorten the name to 'cello, with the apostrophe indicating the missing stem. It is now customary to use "cello" without apostrophe as the full designation.Viol is derived from the root viola, which was derived from Medieval Latinvitula, meaning stringed instrument.