DIfferences Between a Violin and a Fiddle
Surprisingly, numerous articles have been written about the differences between the violin and the fiddle. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians defines “fiddle “as a “generic term for any stringed instrument played with a bow”.. This means it could describe a violin, a Byzantine lira, the Hardanger fiddle and others (1). Most of these articles agree that fiddle is a nickname given the violin, as both are bowed four string instruments and look the same. Given the physical likeness, the differences are most likely related to the manner in which these instruments are played.
There is also agreement that the difference between the violin and fiddle has to do with the bridge. Clarisse points out that violins are used in orchestral concerts and played with classical music and jazz. The violin’s arched bridge allows the player to play each note individually giving a clear sound. The fiddle has a flatter bridge allowing the player to play two strings at once to produce a danceable sound (2). The violin may be more difficult to learn because the violinist needs to master vibrato.
Another difference between a violin and a fiddle is whether the violinist is reading what is on the music and playing with accuracy and precision or playing by ear and free to improvise. The former is playing a violin and the latter is playing a fiddle. As noted above one learns to fiddle by ear. Once you learn the song you are free to bow it the way you want and to improvise freely. Country, bluegrass, jazz and rock music also fall in the fiddle category. If playing in an orchestra one must play what is written on the music and bow along with the section. This would fall into the violin category.
European-American and African-American fiddle and violin styles may include flattening the bridge, setting up and holding are different from the Western-Classical violin standards (1). One should also consider those opportunities to cross conventional boundaries to create interesting music.
1. Swift, Gordon. Learn the Difference Between Violin and Fiddle. http://stringsmagazine.com. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
- Clarisse. Difference Between Violin and Fiddle. http://www.differencebetween.com. Retrieved March 20, 2019.