String instruments are beautiful. The strings generate lovely music as musicians play them with their amazing expertise. The violin is one of the most famous stringed instruments and is well-recognized worldwide. So what about a fiddle? Is it similar to a violin, or is it the violin itself? That’s a question many people ask. Talk to the violinist, and they’ll tell you how often they were asked about their instrument. Is it a fiddle or a violin? Let us find the difference between the fiddle vs the violin.
Well, it is both. They are both the same instrument. It’s the music that’s different and causes confusion. A violin is used in classical music and jazz, while the fiddlers play country, folk, and bluegrass music. Identify it as a fiddle or violin by identifying the type/ genre of music. The main difference lies in fiddle and violin music.
Of course, you might have more questions about these stringed instruments, and we are happy to answer them all in this article. Read on, guys.
Is the Fiddle a Violin?
Well, yes. So is the violin a fiddle? The question is similar to asking if the soundbar is different than a speaker!
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states that a fiddle is a generic term used for stringed instruments with bows.
That means the violin, cello, mandolin, sarangi, one-stringed goge, banjo, viola, etc., would all come under the category of a fiddle. Any music instrument from the violin family can be called a fiddle. Moreover, the fiddle is considered an informal and affectionate term for violin.
For example, a Western classical musician like Itzhak Perlman might call his violin a fiddle even though he is a violinist. It’s an endearment. However, when someone from the US calls a violin a fiddle, they think of it in terms of the Irish-Scottish musicians or old-style American country and folk music.
It’s natural to be confused. Just remember the bottom line that the violin and fiddle are pretty much the same instruments used for playing different music.
The fiddle music is faster than violin music and is intended to ease the audience into motion. For example, if you are tapping your feet, swaying your body, or moving with the music, you are listening to a fiddle. A violin can also do that, especially if the player is performing jazz. But the beat and the rhythm when you play the violin will be slightly different.
What Is the Difference Between a Fiddle and Violin?
We’ll list out the major similarities and differences between a fiddle and a violin to better understand this stringed instrument. For example, the fiddle vs. violin issue can be easily sorted once you notice the minute differences in their appearance, playing, and usage (vernacular).
Type of Strings
What’s a string instrument without strings? The type of strings used can change the music tenor and precision. For example, classical violinists prefer synthetic-core strings, and fiddlers tend to go for steel core strings. However, even electric violinists like steel strings (for jazz) due to the sharpness of music output they generate.
The violin has a bridge through which the strings pass. While the violin’s bridge is traditionally arched. But fiddlers tend to experiment a little to improvise fiddle music. Some fiddlers use a flatter bridge for playing more than two notes simultaneously. A flatter bridge reduces the angle between the strings and makes it convenient to produce fast-paced fiddle music seamlessly.
A violinist will rarely deviate from the actual musical note. Precision is critical, especially in an orchestra, and the violin player will follow the composer’s notes.
A fiddle player has more freedom to improvise. For example, the fiddler might bend the bow or hold it a bit higher from the frog. They might hold the instrument differently, though it’s more of a personal choice.
A string instrument played in informal settings is usually called a fiddle. The bluegrass band members will like to use the term fiddlers instead of violinists. The same string instrument played in a full symphony orchestra would be a violin. We sure don’t call Itzhak Perlman a fiddler, right? He is a violinist and a great one too.
As much as we have to confuse you, the lines between a fiddle and violin blur when it comes to African-American music. During the 1920s and 30s, the bands used fiddle and banjo as string instruments. But they listed the fiddles as violins in their recordings. That helped them differentiate their string instrument from an older music style called square-dance fiddling.
Do remember that the talent of the musicians doesn’t determine whether they are violinists or fiddlers. Nor does calling the instrument a violin makes the music played serious and formal. It’s the other way round.
How to Play the Fiddle?
Any musical instrument is hard to play. Stringed instruments like the violin and fiddle are no exception. Some players claim that a violin is harder to master than a fiddle in the fiddle vs. violin debate.
That’s not true. The training for violinists and fiddlers is different from the genres they play.
Let’s add a small disclaimer here. There’s no substitute for learning fiddle from a master. Free tutorials or videos can help only to an extent. Though fiddlers from the previous centuries learned by observation, we cannot rely entirely on the same technique in today’s world; not if you want to become a professional fiddle player and join a band to perform for the public.
Luckily, you can join an online course to learn the fiddle. It helps save time and money and directly interact with fiddle masters from other countries/ regions. We’ve got some tips to help you play the fiddle.
Learn How to Hold the Instrument
Holding the fiddle and the bow can feel uncomfortable or unnatural initially. It’s vital to get the positioning right so that you won’t feel the instrument’s pressure on your neck, shoulders, arms, and wrists. Even before you play a tune, practice how to hold the instrument.
Copy the Teacher/ Master
It’s not considered wrong to copy your master. So be it how they hold the fiddle, the angle of the bow hand, or the way they play a tune, imitate them as much as possible.
It will help you become attuned to the instrument and the music it plays. Just make sure your mentor used the same dominant hand as you. Your right hand and left hand can both be used for playing.
Hold the Bow
The golden rule is to relax your bow hand and hold it gently yet firmly. The styles of holding differ from one person to another, and that’s expected. Just pay attention and don’t apply too much pressure or grip the bow tightly. The bow and the strings will also be tense if your arms are tense. The music will sound strained and bad. The same rule is applicable to the entire string family.
Adjust the Volume
Again, the bow is an important player here, apart from the other hand used to hold the fiddle. The music becomes faster and louder when you move the bow quickly on the strings.
Play close to the bridge if you want normal speed but at a louder sound. Play close to the end or near the fingerboard for a softer sound. Use the bow’s end tip to lower the volume.
Change the bow’s weight (not pressure) to increase or lower the sound. The bow’s weight will fall on the fiddle if you loosen the grip. Taking the weight on your fingers, especially the pinkie, will lighten the bow’s weight and soften the music.
Don’t add pressure on the bow as it will result in rough notes and might damage the bow and the strings. Listen to as many fiddle players as you can and keep practicing.
What Does a Fiddle Look Like?
A fiddle looks exactly like a violin (yeah, we know that doesn’t help). It is a wooden instrument with multiple parts. A classical fiddle has four strings that are tuned in the fifths (G3, D4, A4, E5).
Traditionally, the fiddle has spruce wood for the soundboard and maple wood for the rest of the body. When the strings play over the hollow body, the air is disturbed and generates sound waves.
There is a fingerboard where you press your fingers to adjust the pressure on the strings to modulate the music notes. If you press down on one string, it is termed stop. When you press down two strings, it double stops. In the same way, you can try triple or quadruple stops. The fingerboard is located on the neck of the fiddle.
There’s a pegbox towards the end, with pegs on both sides and a scroll at the tip. The other end of the fiddle has a button connected to the tailpiece. The fine tuners are located on the tailpiece and connected to the strings.
There are two f-holes, one on each side of the bridge, at the center of the fiddle. The bow is a separate unit and is made of wood and horsehair.
Where Did the Fiddle Originate?
The fiddle originated in Western Europe; the medieval fiddle was first mentioned in the 10th century in Europe during the Byzantine Empire. The term fiddle was interchangeably used to talk of the lira, another string instrument from the 9th century.
One-string gourd fiddles were used in West Africa since the 12th century. Europe saw two types of fiddles- a square-shaped one held in arms that became a violin and a bigger one played by placing it between the knees. The latter fiddle now belongs to the violin family.
Scotland and Ireland have a rich cultural heritage with fiddles. Though they played different types of tunes, the instruments were quite similar. Sometime in 1620, an immigrant was heard playing a fiddle in the US.
How Many Strings on a Fiddle?
A standard fiddle has four strings. Of course, we now have five-string fiddles with an added viola range, C. Each string denotes an alphabet (to represent a musical note).
For example, classical music players set the default tuning to GDAE. E is the last string made of steel and is tuned using fine tuners rather than a tuning peg. Fiddle and violin players tend to follow the same GDAE tuning as it fits most music genres.
In the older days, fiddle players used catgut strings that were made using sheep intestines. Now, they are synthetic (thankfully!) and wrapped/ wound in fine metal.
In a violin, it’s only the E string with a steel core, while a fiddle has a steel core for all the four/ five strings. Fiddlers use tuning pegs and fine tuners to work the strings.
What Do You Call a Fiddle Player?
A fiddle player is a fiddler (even if the word fiddle is used as verb itself)! The bow is called a fiddling stick. In general terms, a fiddler is someone who doesn’t necessarily have professional/ classical training to play the string instrument. In the ancient/ medieval days, a person from any part of society could be a fiddler. A peasant was a fiddler, as was a nobleman or a king.
Many fiddlers from the past centuries were those who had an ear and a natural inclination for music. They listened to others playing and learned the art themselves. They also improvised the tunes and took part in dancing/ acrobats during fairs and events. That’s how fiddle-playing began to signify informal occasions.
Fiddle players love calling themselves fiddlers. Most won’t use the term violinist, which denotes a more formal and classical form of playing string music.
Final Words – Fiddle vs Violin
We hope you now have a better understanding of this lovely musical instrument and are clear about the fiddle vs the violin. We don’t need more fiddle vs violin debates when they both serve the same purpose of playing fantastic music using the same instrument. Formal or informal, classical, folk or country, fiddle or violin, let the music work its magic on us.
Got any questions? Have a few more points to share? Drop them in the comments!