Difference between String and Wind Instruments

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 3:22 PM

Have you ever wondered about the different key preferences of string and wind players?

It is common knowledge that string players prefer playing in sharp keys, and wind players prefer flat ones. On one occasion when I was writing a simple ensemble arrangement to include a beginner cello player, that player expressed deep terror at the idea of playing a B flat! I changed it to A sharp and he was happy.

When I was working for a company that rented orchestral as well as band instruments I took some lessons in playing violin. I wanted to get an idea of how to hold the bow and how to get the first sounds. When I took this new knowledge and started to pick out some simple tunes I realized that the way of thinking in playing a string instrument is totally different to playing a wind instrument:

To play a note on a wind instrument, one selects the closest open, or non-fingered note above the one you want to play, then you lengthen the tube (by pressing down valves, keys, or lengthening a slide) down to the note you want. 

Wind instruments are descending Instruments.

To play a note on a string instrument, one selects the closest open string below the one you want to play, then you shorten the string with the finger onto a fret or press the string onto the fingerboard up to the note you want.

String instruments are ascending Instruments.

The very technique of wind instrument playing revolves around flattening notes, whereas the technique for string instruments revolves around sharpening the notes.

When we also factor in that string instruments tend to be tuned to sharp key notes like G, D, A, B, and E, but wind instruments typically have “natural” keys like Bb and Eb, there is little wonder that string players are more comfortable with sharps and wind players more comfortable with flats.