While playing a particular piece (not chords, fingerpicking/single note playing) on my ukulele (or as far as the question is concerned, any similar instrument), I use the standard notation and then play the different notes by engendering the required notes by appropriately fretting different strings.

My question is, is there any difference between the same note played on different strings? Or choosing where to play the note is purely a matter of convenience?

Logically, since the sizes and tensions of the strings vary, there might be some difference even with the same fundamental frequency, maybe in the harmonic spread. If it is so, on what basis do we choose the strings while doing the aforementioned exercise?

I am not certain of the tags to be used. Please add if necessary. Thanks :)

  • 2
    On the violin notes of the same pitch sound different if played on different strings, partlly because the violin sounds different higher up the fingerboard. Sometimes when I'm playing in orchestra the composer (especially Elgar) will write "Sul G" meaning that the entire phrase should be played on the low G string. Hard, but sounds wonderfully eerie if you can pull it off. Also as the violin is not fretted an open string sounds very different from the equivalent note on a stopped string. Folk fiddlers often use this to play both 'versions' of the same note together as it sounds rich.
    – dumbledad
    Jan 4, 2016 at 16:34

4 Answers 4


There can be a difference in tone quality due to the difference in thickness and tension of strings. This is true on guitars, lutes, violins, etc. There can be a subtle difference in tuning also; the nominal pitch may be slightly different. In early times before equal temperament became popular, notes like Ab and G# would have differed a bit and which fingering would depend on which note was wanted in a particular place in the music. It's worth looking up the effects of temperament on lute (or other stringed instruments) tunings.

Some references:

http://www.theaterofmusic.com/temperaments.html (a guide to tunings with references)

https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/downloads/sf268k62m (a dissertation on the subject)

http://www.michaelkudirka.com/papers/files/the-rule-of-31.pdf (an historical discussion)

In practice for contemporary music, the easiest fingering should be sufficient.

  • 1
    There's one more difference: String angle. Using guitar as an example, fingerings that are higher up the neck deflect the string farther downward towards the body in the area where most picking is done. If one plays with a plectrum and is using minimal picking for tone or speed purposes, choosing different places to play the same note can make a difference for precise picking depth. I would say the tonal difference is a definite factor, as opposed to possible, and is the most obvious consequence of playing the same note on a different string and fret combination. Jan 4, 2016 at 17:51

Interesting question. I have a ukulele and play it on occasion but my main instrument is acoustic guitar. With either instrument my choice of where to play a note is predicated by the overall musical phrase and where the other notes lie in relation to each other.

In other words, I have to take into consideration what the preceding note is and the following note and which direction I am moving on the scale which could inform which direction I might want to move on the fretboard.

Also, if I want a note to sustain while I play other notes, then I might choose to play the next note on a different string. If playing guitar where it is common to bend strings to produce different notes and effects, I might choose the placement of the note based on where it will be easier to bend if that is my intention. Of course it is not so common to bend notes on a uke.

In the absence of a compelling reason to do otherwise (see above), my choice of where to play the note will in fact be a matter of convenience. I choose the easiest to reach note position to play a particular note.

While it is true that there may be a slightly perceptible difference in tone playing the same note on a different string, I would not worry about differences in the harmonic spread or which overtones are emphasized or anything like that. With most music played on a ukulele, the listener is not going to notice any practical difference.

Don't over think it and have fun!


Convenience is certainly a factor, but it's not the only one. Others have mentioned selecting strings to allow previous notes to ring out etc. I think this is one other thing to consider when playing uke.

All fretted instruments have imperfect intonation. Ukuleles tend to suffer from bad intonation more than guitars. Much of this is down to just how many ultra-cheap poor quality ukes there are, but I think the short scale also emphasises it (I'm prepared to be corrected). With this in mind, the lower the number of fret you're playing the more in tune it will sound.


Of course there is a difference: you cannot let a previous note ring on when you are playing the next note on the same string rather than a different one.

Bach's Partita III for Solo Violin (BWV 1006 I think) is also available for lute. At any rate, even the violin version transfers well to guitar in the first movement and you should likely be able to figure out a version for ukulele if you try.

There are characteristic, uh, licks?, which very idiomatically go across two or three strings where sometimes the notes on two of the strings are even the same. Even though the first movement is formally monotonic (just one note at a given time), without distributing these phrases in the intended manner across three strings they become pointless.

  • I don't understand the phrase "without distributing these phrases in the intended manner across three strings they become pointless"
    – dumbledad
    Jan 4, 2016 at 16:29
  • 1
    While you're correct I think the OP was asking purely about how the sound of the same note differs when played on different strings, not the practicality of doing so.
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 4, 2016 at 16:48

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