What's The Difference Between Violin and Fiddle?

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Classical Violin By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Violin » Classical Violin
Last updated: 06/03/2018
Tags: difference between violin and fiddle, fiddle, folk fiddle, violin, violin playing

I get asked this question very regularly, "What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?" I get asked mostly by non-musicians who are just curious. But it still always makes me smile.

Some people are convinced they are different instruments – “Is one bigger than the other?” I hear often – but I can assure you that the violin and the fiddle are exactly the same. It is purely how you play it, which is the difference.

Playing the ‘violin’ generally means you are playing classical music – that is, in an orchestra or a quartet, or solo with a piano accompaniment. Violin players read music (though often perform from memory), sit up straight and can play a huge range of notes, often ‘shifting’ their hands very high up the violin to get those high notes.

Whereas if you play the ‘fiddle’, you are more likely to be playing folk music. Scottish, Irish, English, Arabian, Mexican, it is all folk music, and all of these genres to have ‘fiddles’ in them. Fiddle players may or may not be able to read music, but will be excellent at playing by ear. They will be able to sit down with a group of musicians they don’t know and pick up a tune in minutes, just by listening and working out the ‘rules’ of what everyone is playing. ‘Fiddlers’ can sometimes play extremely fast, or equally play beautifully slow laments. Their technique and how they hold the instrument may not look as perfect as the violinists, but they get the job done.

I studied classical violin, and later discovered folk fiddle. I have to say, there are huge benefits to being able to do both. To be able to sit down in an orchestra and sight-read a piece by Mozart is an incredible skill. But equally, to be able to join a music session in your local pub in the Scottish Highlands and play tunes you have never heard before, is equally an amazing skill. So my advice is, if you are learning the violin – branch out and learn some ‘fiddle’ too. It could open up a whole new musical world for you.

And don't get me started with 'handanger fiddles' and 'octave fiddles' and '5-string fiddles'. That really is where it gets exciting!

Rachel B Classical Violin Teacher (Inverness)

About The Author

I am a friendly and fun violin teacher who specialises in teaching beginners and youngsters.

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