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When comparing the same note (e.g. E4) from 2 (adjacent) strings, the tuner says: the same, but I hear them somehow differently. I cannot tune without a tuner because of this problem.

What make them sound different? Or something wrong with my ears? Thanks

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    If it is normal, how to persuade myself that they are the same note since my brain keeps telling me that they sound somehow different? May 4, 2016 at 3:37

3 Answers 3

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The gauge and material of the strings gives the same note a different timbre on different strings.

If you are hearing different pitches, then it may be a product of an untrained ear. The longer you play for, the better your ear becomes and you will be able to better hear pitches and tonality.

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  • To amplify this one: Imagine that you have a nylon string 10 cm long, with a gauge of 1 mm, tightened to 60 newtons. This will produce a certain pitch. You can lower that pitch by: reducing the tension, making the string longer, making it wider, or making it more dense. When you play one note on two differently-tuned strings, you're of course making one of them shorter by fretting higher, so to get the same pitch it must be a different gauge (or, comparing wound and unwound, very different density; also, I'm not sure about their comparative tensions). Aug 19, 2021 at 14:09
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As jamerack says, the thickness and material of different strings does make the same note sound different. Playing harmonics will even this out quite well. You'll still get accurate notes, but they'll tend to sound more similar. Have a go at tuning using harmonics - it's been covered in other questions/answers here. Some disagree that it's accurate, all I can say is it works for me. More experience and you'll improve!

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I think that shorter strings have a more pure sounding note. This makes sense (to me at least) as the longer the string the more modes it will vibrate in for any given input. which, in turn, equates more harmonics. So as you play the same phrase further up the neck the timbre definitely changes. All things being equal I will play a phrase in the position that has tonality that suits the piece.

(checked with my daughter who plays violin. When playing in an orchestra they all have to play the notes in the same way)

Take a skipping rope get someone to hold the other end. You can vibrate one end and get it to oscillate at the fundamental, third and fifth harmonic quite easily. Now try again from the middle you will find you need much more energy to get harmonics with a shorter string.

On an instrument the impulse or bow will be about the same when the string is fretted so the same energy applied to the string will result in fewer harmonics.

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    I think there's a good idea and I'll remove my -1 if you adjust some of the language. The length doesn't impact how many modes the string can vibrate in. Perhaps a relevant difference you're hitting on is that, for shorter strings, the harmonics reach inaudible frequencies sooner than for longer strings.
    – jdjazz
    Aug 1, 2017 at 0:40
  • It may be able to vibrate in more nodes from a purely theoretical point of view. However a longer string will need less energy to vibrate in more modes. Ill make an edit Aug 19, 2021 at 13:29

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