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I'm teaching myself to play the violin and only just starting on the notes and how to read the music, but I am getting a little stuck on knowing what note to play on what string from reading the sheet music?

Example: how to know to play the D note on the D string or the D note on the A string?

From what I'm gathering the sheet music will tell you what finger you'll be playing and therefore with no notes repeating on the one finger, you will know what note to play on what string?

But I have seen sheet music with no numbers in reference to 1st, 2nd finger etc. so that's confusing me.

I just want confirmation if I'm close or if I'm totally off.

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    Surely the string instruments as violin are among those, where a teacher is essential. There is so much to get wrong (concerning posture) and it is horrendous effort to unlearn that later.
    – guidot
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 8:43
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    Are you experimenting with positions or are you speaking of 1st position? In 1st position there is nor ambiguity. The D on the G string is not the same pitch as the D on the A string. So in this case the answer is: google for a fingering chart. The only ambiguity is 4th or empty string in 1st position.
    – DrSvanHay
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 19:07

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The answer is: don't. Please don't. If you fail to take lessons from a qualified teacher, even if you do manage to place your fingers in the correct locations, you are at grave risk of developing incorrect mechanics (fingers, wrists, elbows) which will be very difficult to fix later on, not to mention risking tendinitis or other injury.

The choice of which string to use for a given pitch depends on the tone you wish to produce, the feasibility of reaching the desired finger position from the previous and following notes, etc. Again, without a teacher available you risk learning bad fingering patterns.

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Basically, when you read a book of starting level, it would usually show you the fingerings, so you will know which string to play the note. It is not uncommon to include the name of the string as well.

After you've played quite a few novice exercises, you'll have figured out on which string to play what note, according to the passage. There are some exercises/songs that might require the D note to be played on the G string because the next notes are close by, or similarly to have the D note played on the A string.

If there are no fingerings and you still don't know which string to use, just try out the possibilities. Play the note on both strings and see which one fits better for that exercise. This is also a good way to learn your way around the violin (see where the notes are on different strings).

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Look at the treble clef staff. There are two D notes: one at the more top of the staff, on the 4th line, and a lower D, which hangs from the first line. These notes have the same name(D), but they are different octaves/pitches. The first I mentioned is higher than the other. This is how to tell whether you should play D on the D string (hanging from first line) or on the A string (note on the fourth line).

If you can, you should try to find a private teacher to help you develop your skills and answer your questions more in-depth. Having a teacher really helps a lot, and can help to correct any bad habits you might make along your way.

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    Thank you Andy! I’ve edited my answer.
    – Meredith
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:33
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I believe that this question is not about what fingering is best for a certain exact pitch; I believe the OP is confused about the difference between "D" in different octaves. Meredith's answer addresses this best. One detail that isn't addressed yet:

If you're reading traditional staff notation, then it's clear which exact pitch is intended. This note: enter image description here is D5, with a frequency of 587.33 Hz; meanwhile this one : enter image description here is D4, 293.66 Hz.

But if you're reading from a page that just contains the letter D, then you don't have this information. This often comes up if you're reading from chord notation. For example, you could see this: enter image description here These "G, C, G" letters aren't really intended for a melodic instrument. They're intended for a chordal instrument like a guitar or piano, and when they see "G" they'll actually play a combination of G, B, and D; and there's no saying which octave each note will be in; they get to pick. If you're reading from a chord chart like this on a melodic instrument, you can pick as well. Later you can be more adventurous, but playing the letter that's printed is not a bad way to start.

But sometimes, especially for beginners, letter notation is used for a melody: enter image description here

In this example, it does matter which octave you play each note in. As you go from C to G at the beginning, the tune goes up, not down to a lower G. Here's the important part: this notation doesn't tell you that. The only way you're supposed to know is either that you already know the tune by ear, or perhaps you're playing on an instrument that can only play very few notes (like an ocarina), or you have only been taught a small subset of notes so far. If you're not in this situation, then you can either choose which octave you want—or better yet, throw that notation away and find something more clear (like learning staff notation). If you change the octave of pitches in a tune willy-nilly, it's no longer the same tune.

Finally, there is a notation that uses letter names and specifies which octave to play; that's "ABC notation". In this case, the octave is indicated by Helholtz notation, using upper-case or lower-case letters and tick marks.

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Certainly at beginner level, you play the note, which may have two alternative places, at the place closest to where the previous and next notes will be. That makes sense, as being a beginner, you won't want to move far from where you know is safe. It's bad enough fingering exactly the right pitch with a finger, given that another finger is anchored already, so moving as little as possible - be that up, down or to another string, seems to be the best option.

Later, you'll want to experiment moving further, but keep it safe for now!

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I have noticed that if there is a descending chord progression it can be easier to take the notes higher up on the neck. Either based on "fret 7" on the string below or "fret 14" two strings below. In case the question was about choosing which unison D to play.

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  • Welcome! I think the original poster's question was more basic: when told to "play a D," they weren't sure which octave to play. And of course violins don't have frets and beginners don't really play chords, but maybe that's why you put them in quote marks. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 17:30
  • Yes, I mean P5 or "tone near 700c relative to open string" with "fret 7". The only times I have seen fingerings is in very tricky pieces which you might look at and dream of playing fluently. I have always assumed the fingerings were "position-agnostic", but maybe I am wrong.
    – Emil
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 6:12

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