What’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin? One has STRANGS, and the other has strings.
If I were to lay a violin and a fiddle next to one another and asked you to figure out which was which, would you be able to tell the difference? If your answer is “yes,” you’re in for quite the surprise: the two instruments are one and the same.
Is there a distinction that can be made between fiddle and violin playing? Of course, hence the two different names for the same musical instrument. The violin is used for playing classical music, whereas the fiddle is used for more contemporary styles of playing, such as country, bluegrass, or folk music.
However the fiddle or violin is played, it is still the same historical piece of wood strung with the same four strings. So, let’s rosin up that bow and get down to what makes a violin different from a fiddle.
What Is a Violin?
A violin is a wooden instrument found in the string family that rose to fame sometime during the 16th century. It is the highest-pitched and most recognized constituent of the violin family, which also includes the cello and viola. Characteristics of the violin include:
- Four fifth-tuned strings in G3, A4, D4, and E5
- Originally strung with sheep gut (also known as catgut); modern violins use steel or synthetic strings
- Can be played in three different ways: with a bow, plucked or strummed with fingers, or with the wooden back of the bow
- Is the soprano voice of a stringed choir
- Vibrating strings atop a hollow wooden body generate sound
- The top (or soundboard) is made of spruce, and the rest of the body is made of maple
- Has a fretless fingerboard
- Has both peg tuners at the top and fine tuners at the tailpiece
The violin is the most well-known and recognized member of the string family. It has been largely celebrated across the ages, and numerous classical composers have honored it with special sonatas and concertos.
The violin is commonly associated with classical music, but it also works well in the genres of country and rock-n-roll. Surprisingly, the violin has no limitations in terms of what it can do. The tone of this instrument can complement a variety of musical styles and genres.
On a side note, did you know that the smallest violin in the world measures a mere thirty-seven millimeters (that’s smaller than most watches!) or that you can torch more than 150 calories per hour playing the violin (that’s more calories than you burn walking a mile!)?
So, What Is a Fiddle?
Physically and mechanically speaking, a fiddle is a violin. The word “fiddle” usually refers to a violin played in the bluegrass, folk, or country genres of music. It can also be used in an everyday manner to refer to a violin being played in the traditional, classical way.
What Is the Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle?
Violins and fiddles, for the most part, are the same instrument just played in with different techniques.
|Strings||Synthetic polymer or gut||Steel core or synthetic polymer|
|Bridge||Higher arch for crisp single note play||Flatter to allow for specific bow techniques|
|Playing Style||Primarily classical, but can be seen in jazz, folk, and country genres||Folk, country, bluegrass, jazz, zydeco, polka, and other genres|
The traditional set of strings for the violin consists of four strings. Classical violinists tend to prefer polymer synthetic or gut strings for their instruments, while fiddle players seem to be more fond of steel core strings for the crisp, intense, distinct sound they produce.
The violin and fiddle are the same in their physical appearance. It is true that one instrument can be played as either a violin or a fiddle, with the only difference being the style in which it is played.
There are stringed instruments specifically designed for fiddling rather than classical playing. They will have a flatter bridge, pushing the strings closer to the fingerboard enabling certain fiddling techniques to be easier to master.
A classical violin will have a more arched bridge geared to producing cleaner, singular notes.
Technique and Style Differences
Techniques and playing styles are the main determining factor in deciding whether to call the instrument a fiddle or a violin.
A violinist will faithfully, painstakingly reproduce a composer’s piece of music, right down to the softness or loudness of each individual note. A classical violinist will not diverge in any way from the musical composition in the least. This dedication to the written notes on a page is what allows for a symphony orchestra with many, many musicians to perform in perfect unison.
While violinists are working to painstakingly reproduce a composer’s piece of music, fiddle players will bring their own unique understanding and interpretation to each piece they play. At times, they can add so much of their own style and flavor that the initial work of music is completely undetectable.
Fiddlers are known for their unique playing style, which includes fast-paced rhythms, straightforward sections, and a jovial demeanor. Fiddlers frequently play uncomplicated, straightforward sections, which is one of the main differences between them and violinists, who play intricate lines and rhythmic harmonies. The beauty of fiddle play is its simplicity, but it is also one of the key differences between the two.
These technique differences should not be interpreted to imply that one style is more or less impassioned than the other.
The violin is undeniably one of the most difficult instruments to master. The same is true for the fiddle, despite the fact that so many musicians claim that the violin demands a completely different skill set. However, this statement is not completely true. The following are the skills required for each instrument:
- Must have knowledge of scales and notes
- Octaves and modulations are required
- Scale progressions and transitions become second nature
- Solos are common among violinists
- Individual note plucking
- Strong in chord play
- Rhythm sections are high-tempo
- Longer songs
- Special techniques (double and triple stops: pressing two or three strings simultaneously)
Now that you are becoming a bit more comfortable with accepting the fact that violins and fiddles are one and the same, let’s move on to a few famous violinists and fiddlers that you may know (or might want to look up later!).
Nicola Bendetti (1987- )
Julia Fischer (1983- )
Viktoria Mullova (1959- ) (Side note, Viktoria once had to outrun the KGB during a concert tour!)
Ginette Neveu (1919-1949)
Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Charlie Daniels (1936- ) (Who hasn’t heard The Devil Went Down To Georgia?)
Craig Duncan (1954- )
Alison Krauss (1971- )
Natalie MacMaster (1972- )
Mark O’Connor (1961- )
Bob Wills (1905- 1975)
We hope that this article has shed some light on the age-old question of “what’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle,” but there isn’t much else to say. Fiddles and violins are, for the most part, the same instrument played in different styles.
The biggest difference between a violin and a fiddle is the style of music played by the player. And, because many violinists refer to their instrument fondly as their fiddle, the definition of the word will be unique to the person speaking it.