A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Hello. I’ve been wondering is a Fiddle different to a Violin? Because I’ve read that a Fiddle has different string material as well as the addition of a fifth string. I don’t know. I’ve always thought of it like this "A Violin moves you by your heart, and a Fiddle moves you by your feet" I always thought Fiddle was just a different style. I could be wrong. Am I wrong? I’m curious what all of you have to say.

Thanks!:)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Hi Kellie, they are the same instrument. Ive heard of fiddlers having a bit less arched bridges to give a little faster action on their playing but even that isn’t a hard/fast rule. I think your quote probably has its heart in the right place. Its really difficult to distinguish hard/fast rules for these things. Most people associate violin more with classical playing and fiddle more with traditional/folk music. In my experience, fiddle playing has more emphasis on repertoire, rhythm, and ornamentation (some might actually call this improvisation) while violin is much more technique focused spending lots of time on scales, etudes and intonation. Fiddlers also tend to memorize their repertoire while violinists are much more likely to use sheet music. Im not an expert. Just my observations. Im sure there will be no shortage of individuals whose thoughts on the subject will differ from my own. :-)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Well, as a very simple non-player of either, it’s exactly the same instrument AFAIK! If you play "classical" music, you’ll probably call it a violin, if trad is your thing, it’s a fiddle. As for strings, I guess you can put what strings on it you like, just as guitarists and mandolinists use different brands according to their preference. As for 5 strings: yes you can get 5-string fiddles, with the 5th string being lower than the usual 4th string, but it does not distinguish a violin from a fiddle. Check out Kate Bramley for a 5-string (plays with Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies).
And I think players of both violin or fiddle - and their audience - can be moved by their hearts: however a classical violinist might get thrown out of the orchestra for tapping the feet!

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

The instrument is exactly the same. It doesn’t matter if you change the bridge shape for whatever reason, or if it has five strings, it’s still called a violin, or you can call it a fiddle if you like. it depends on the attitude of the person playing it really.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Yeah it just comes down to how it is played, it is just different names for the same instrument. Generally classical musicians will tend towards higher quality strings, but that is also not carved in stone. Violin is the "proper" name for the instrument, while "fiddle" is more of a colloquial nick-name. But again, I am certain I’ve seen in writing Yehudi Menuhin call his violin a "fiddle" so there you go. Some people make a 5-string violin, with a lower C string so like combining the violin and viola, but they are fairly uncommon. Some here play them I believe. Oliver Schroer played one, called it a "fiddola". There was a middle-ages instrument called "fidel" (?) but not near as sophisticated as a modern violin. My ex wife played classical violin and got a bit put off when I called her violin a "fiddle", while folk musicians (Irish, Scottish, olde timey, etc) will call it mostly a fiddle but would not usually get bent up if you call it a violin. Jazz musicians I suspect are similar…

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Or, just go with the "That would be an ecumenical matter…" explanation ;-)

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Is this for discussion or a debate, Kellie?

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I seriously doubt there is anything to debate, but as cbw just said,"That would be an ecumenical matter…"

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Hi, Gobby, good to hear from you. I was asking for Austin’s thoughts though if it’s all the same to you.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"I was asking for Austin’s thoughts though if it’s all the same to you." And he’s free to give them, just as we all are!

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Thank you. Sorry if my response offends you, Gobby. My intention is not to censor you.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Cheers Ben. no offence mate.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

No difference, only personal preference. Well, personal preference tempered with performance needs.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

My music friends and I often answer: A violin has "strings." A fiddle has "straaaaangs." :)

John

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"Is this for discussion or a debate, Kellie?"

Either one

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

To me that link highlights that there is a difference between asking the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and asking the difference between PLAYING the violin and fiddling. The answer to the first question is that there is no difference. The answer to the second question is open to interpretation.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Feed your head?

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"A SIMPLE debate" ? No Kellie, you are on the wrong site. Nothing is ever simple here. We specialise in extracting blood from stones.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I was once told that if you turn the instrument upside down, shake it, and beer and/or cigarette butts fall out, it’s a fiddle. If not, it’s a violin.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Now THERE is a good answer!

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

A violin sings, a fiddle dances.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Mine just howls like a cat.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

As I understood it, if you’re playing classical music - it’s a violin. Otherwise, it’s a fiddle.
Personally, I couldn’t care less as long as it’s played well.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Hmmm! I don’t know about that first sentence Callison. There seems a lot of foggy ground in between to me. It’s just my own judgement but I wouldn’t feel totally comfortable about calling the likes of Stephane Grapelli a fiddle player. Nonethelss I totally agree with your second sentence.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Apparently the difference is very simple:
ATTITUDE :) :) :)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Nope! I’ve heard that before, but you can’t tell me (as one yourself) that there are not lots of classical players who play with lots of attitude. But anyhow the question was about fiddle’s and violins, not about fiddlers versus violinists. I reckon that PatrickJWK wins the coconut so far.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Malcolm my learned friend tells me that a fiddle was played in your elbow ie hand to elbow see 12 years a slave the film for an example. Could this be right?

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

OK, Gobby. I see your (very good) point :)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"Malcolm my learned friend tells me that a fiddle was played in your elbow ie hand to elbow see 12 years a slave the film for an example. Could this be right?"

Some fiddlers (i.e. traditional/folk players) play it in this position, but you can still call it a violin. Many fiddlers play using the classical position - yet they would not call theselves ‘violinists’.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

One of the joys of being a native English speaker is having access to if not the use or knowledge of the world’s largest vocabulary. There are lots of words which mean the same thing, lots which are practically identical in meaning and lots of people who will argue the toss about every angle there is to take on the matter. If semantics interests why not go and read some Chomsky ?

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

If you’d like to have a versatile instrument that functions as both fiddle and violin, you might consider the fiddolin:
https://tinyurl.com/y6uxbftc

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Why has that shop got the same mustard logo as this site?

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I and most musicians I know refer to it as a fiddle - we would think of strathspeys and reels as archetypal fiddle music yet the Strathspey King himself, J Scott Skinner always referred to the Scottish Violin.
Victorian snobbery maybe?

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

And "fiddle" a classic case of inverted snobbery?

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

joe fidkid - that there site is a piece of pure genius. You owe me a new keyboard, and you made me choke laughing :)

oh, and the Mighty Craic recordings one is partly serious, in that I still have loads of members recordings from the good old days :)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

A fiddle has had beer spilled on it.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Oh god. So glad I’ve still got a violin then.
Or does ‘granddad carved his initials into the varnish’ give mine some fiddle cred at least?

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Ha-ha! All instruments there hilarious! The mind boggles at the one at the "bottom" of the page!

And Kellie, go back and look at the "Nicola Benedetti meets Aly Bain" thread, and/or related YouTube clips.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Fiddle comes from the germanic languages, violin from the romance (latin/italian). Different language for the same instrument - although fiddle and the original word does tend to encompass a larger group of such instruments (hardanger fiddle and bass fiddle are terms I’ve seen used in english).

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Yes, and as I understand it, the notion that violin = classical evolved from the fact that written music uses Italian terminology. The ‘folks’ were playing their fiddles, while those who got their music from a sheet of paper were playing the violin parts.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Many, if not most, of the older (i.e., born later 19th Century, early 20th C.) Cape Bretoners referred to the instrument as the ‘violin’. Some felt that the term ‘fiddle’ was condescending, if not dismissive, but for most, it was simply the English word they were familiar with. FWIW.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

@joe fidkid That was hilarious. Thanks.

Fiddle is the same thing as violin. Folk players tend to call it fiddle, classical players, violin. Technique and the strings you use differ slightly (there’s some things you do in playing folk style that are considered "bad form" in classical playing and vice versa - mainly playing spiccato constantly), that’s about it.

And you can call something with extra strings a violin (in fact you usually do). Friend of mine just got a 7(!) string electric violin (it goes down into the range of a cello). He plays in a symphonic heavy metal band.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I’ve always heard that the difference between a fiddle and a violin was about $10,000.

The flatter bridge on a fiddle is not so you can play faster (classical players often play faster than fiddlers), the flatter bridge is to more easily play two and three strings at a time, which fiddlers do more than classical players.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Look at the case. A Violin is carried in a hard-shell, humidity controlled, locking case. A violin is carried in a foam case with a zipper. A fiddle comes with it’s own, used, potato sack

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"A violin sings, a fiddle dances"
"A violin is a melody instrument, a fiddle is a rhythm instrument."

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

It is not easier to play two strings simultaneously with a larger radius bridge. 180 degrees equals 180 degrees.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

>"It is not easier to play two strings simultaneously with a larger radius bridge. 180 degrees equals 180 degrees."
I guess I should have said three strings instead of "two or three". There IS a shorter (easier) move from two strings to an adjacent string with a larger radius.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Fiddles existed before violins. The word fiddle comes from the same very old word as the word filament. It means a string. There were fiddles, fithils, vielles and viols - all instruments with strings played with a bow. Ordinary people might play a one string fiddles they had made from a bladder attached to a stick. You’d have to be a musical genius to get a decent note out of them - but maybe some of the players were musical geniuses.

By the time the modern violin was invented - they say by Andrea Amati in Cremona in about 1550 - there were better instruments already in use but Amati’s fiddles were the best and they got the new, fancy name violin. (Viol, of course, comes from exactly the same word meaning string as fiddle does but I think violin is French). It is legitimate to call a violin a fiddle because it is a type of fiddle, but the reverse is not true. If you put a bladder on a stick and attach a string to it I think you would be unwise to advertise the resulting instrument on ebay as a violin. You could play Irish music on it if you could persuade it to make any sound but by the time the very sophisticated music now played as Irish music came into being most ordinary people could get hold of some kind of better instrument than that, so it wouldn’t be particularly authentic.

Which heads us in the direction of authentic instruments for Irish music which is a different thread.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I was always taught that the difference between a fiddle and a violin was the attitude of the person playing it.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I don’t think ‘attitude’ defines anything Mike. I mean, it’s obvious from this site alone that there are lots of fiddle players here with different attitudes, and as I said earlier, there would be lots of classical violinists that play with extreme attitude. But the bottom line is that whatever a persons attitude towards the instrument, the instrument itself remains the same thing. I call it a violin, because that’s what the maker called it, and sometimes (mostly on here) I call it a fiddle. it remains the same thing.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Violin is an old word used to describe the instrument and its music. Variations appear in several languages. Fiddle is a term more like slang, and can be use affectionately or in a derogatory tone. Whether one player favours a certain arch to the bridge, makes no difference.

The wife of classical violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin wrote a memoir of the life together. It’s titled Fiddler’s Moll.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Gobby, I would think that ‘attitude’, inasmuch as it is a combination of intent, perception, and a settled way of thinking about something, would very much define something like a fiddle.

The word is not the thing. If you were French and walking through the rain with your parapluie, and suddenly it stopped raining, the clouds parted, and the hot summer sun came out—would the thing in your hand turn into a parasol?

But yeah. Fiddles and violins, they’re the same thing.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

@David L , you said "play two and three strings at a time, which fiddlers do more than classical players."

When you say "three strings at a time", do you mean a 3-note chord? Which fiddler(s) did you hear doing that?

@Aaron : "It is not easier to play two strings simultaneously with a larger radius bridge. 180 degrees equals 180 degrees."

Agreed, but there are more (and different planes) to handle on an instrument with 5 or more strings.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"I would think that ‘attitude’, inasmuch as it is a combination of intent, perception, and a settled way of thinking about something, would very much define something like a fiddle."…. Yes, but also the violin. It would be wrong to think that violinists don’t also play with attitude. Attitudes may differ but the instrument per-se remains the same (and that was what the op asked). I may call my instrument a fiddle, and we all know what we mean by the word, but it was a violin when it was made and sold to me, and it remains one. From the start I have maintained that there is nothing to debate.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"I’ve always heard that the difference between a fiddle and a violin was about $10,000."
I assume that’s a joke because it has no truth to it whatsoever. Also, I have never heard, or heard of anybody playing three strings at the same time. And if you do reshape the bridge the label makers inside will still identify the instrument as a violin.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"Labels inside"…… may indeed be used to identify the object as a violin or VSO [violin shaped object], but that’s about as far as labels go for any definitive identification.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Gobby mentioned Stephane Grapelli, and he is right in that jazz musicians (and those who play Carnatic music from south India) say “violin”. I will add that as far as I know, English is the only language to make this fiddle/violin distinction. In French, whether in Louisiana or in the Paris Orchestra, it’s a “violon.”

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Is a violin called a fiddle, or is a fiddle called a violin? Which is right/both or neither? This is a nonsensical thing to ‘debate’. I think I’ll go and strum some chords on my axe,

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"Labels inside" don’t necessarily say "this is a violin" or something similar. The label in mine simply shows the details of the shop who sold it. "Bell Bros Stonegate York".

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

It was me who first mentioned the label, and I agree with Ebor I have ever seen a label that states that the instrument is a violin. What I was getting at is that it identifies a violin ‘maker’ (well it does in mine). The guy who made my instrument and put his label inside it calls it a violin, and he should know;- he’s a renowned violin maker. I may call it a fiddle, and what does it matter? But it’s still a violin.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Oy, this again… :-)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

OY indeed!

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

@Joefidkid I couldn’t find the ‘Syrup-Stik’
.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Hi postie. Still in stock. Under "Miscellany," second from the bottom on the left. Thank you for your enquiry.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

A fiddle is 0.10% bigger and has a soft rubbery texture to the touch.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"Fiddle comes from the germanic languages, violin from the romance (latin/italian)"

Both words stem from Latin ‘vitula’. ‘Viola’ was a form that developed in Southern dialects of Vulgar Latin (what were to become Italian) and reached England in the renaissance as ‘viol’. When the instrument as we know it emerged, it acquired the diminutive suffix ‘-ino’, which became Anglicised to ‘-in’. Meanwhile, ‘vitula’ had already been borrowed into Germanic languages before the elision of the middel consonant, giving rise to forms such as ‘fidula’, ‘fiðele’ and ‘vedele’ - and ultimately the modern words ‘fiddle’, ‘fiedel’ (German), ‘vedel’ (Dutch). Norwegian ‘fele’ has apparently seen a later elision of the middle consonant, since Old Norse had ‘fiðla’. Other related words, albeit referring nowadays to different instruments, are French ‘vielle’ and Spanish ‘vihuela’.

The reason the word ‘violin’ is more readily associated with classical music is probably that Italy was both the centre of the instrument’s development and the centre of musical innovation in Europe at that time (early 17th Century). English already had ‘fiðele’, ‘fiddle’ or some intermediate form, to refer to earlier kinds of small bowed instrument.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

" It would be wrong to think that violinists don’t also play with attitude".

Maybe "attitude" is the wrong word, maybe not, but what I meant was that the attitude of the player is what makes it a fiddle or violin. If the player plays with a classical ‘attitude’ then it is a violin and if with a folk "attitude" (maybe "intended purpose of the music" is a better definition) then it’s a fiddle.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I think it is true that the style of playing has a lot to do with it. A violin sings, but a fiddle dances ;) The main thing that makes a fiddle a fiddle and a violin a violin is the type of music that is played on it. Generally, fiddles play folk/traditional genres, like bluegrass and irish trad, and violins play composition-based genres, like classical and jazz.

Another difference is the shape of the bridge. A fiddle player will often use a bridge that is carved to be flatter than that which a violinist would prefer. The flatter bridge lessens the angles between the strings, which allows the player to play two and even three notes at a time… a desirable thing in many acoustic fiddle genres. This is a matter of preference, of course, as a bridge is fully replaceable and fairly easily changed. Some violinists may prefer a flatter bridge, some fiddlers may prefer a more arched bridge. Generally speaking, though, a fiddler will prefer a flatter bridge than a violinist.

Hope this helps!!! :)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

There is a difference between the two questions (a) ”what’s the difference between fiddling and playing the violin?", and, (b) "What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?" The answer to the latter is clear;- i.e., there is NO difference. The can call it what you like but it remains the same instrument (to me it is a violin and ‘fiddle is a nick-name). The answer to the first question, which was not the primary question asked, is so wide open for interpretation that a definitive answer just can’t be provided.

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I didn’t tag this question onto the end of my previous comment because the ‘debate’ is getting so tiring that people may not be bothered reading through my comment. But I was just wondering…….

All these claims that " a fiddler will prefer a flatter bridge than a violinist". Well as a fiddler it has never entered my head to flatten the bridge, and i have no intention of trying it. But I am now curious as to how many of you other fiddlers do this?

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

@Gobby I started on an inherited Scottish-made fiddle (definitely a fiddle as the Italian masters would probably have wept over its shape, materials and finish) with a slightly flattened bridge. I had to have the bridge altered to a more classical profile before handing that lovely instrument over to its real owner (as unfortunately it wasn’t me who had inherited it) so I got to experience the difference. I could still play with the arched bridge but found the more extravagant movements needed meant that (a) accessing the G was slower and (b) I was more likely to poke the sessioner next to me with the bow - so now that I have a different instrument I use a slightly flattened bridge again. It isn’t flat. It’s just slightly flatter than the average classical bridge.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

A point about the flattened bridge - some of the bluegrass fiddlers (not so much now) used to use steel strings, which don’t have much ‘give’ in them, so flattening the bridge profile made it easier to move from plane to plane, ie not so much of a bowing angle change to move across pairs of strings.

Steel core strings these days are quite a bit more flexible, so there’s less need for the bridge to be flatter.

Synthetic strings have even more ‘give’ in them, and a standard ‘classical’ cut bridge will work fine, and it’s quite easy to go back and forth between string pairs. It’s also quite easy to play a chord on 3 strings as well.

One disadvantage of a flattened bridge is that there’s more chance of accidently hitting aa adjacent string if playing in the higher positions, eg playing on A string, and accidently contacting the E or D strings.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Somewhere I read that a “Violin is culture and a Fiddle is agriculture”. Has all sorts of appropriate innuendo to me…

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I have played flattened bridges before and I dislike them for the reason Jim gave, that I hit other strings too often. I do probably still have some classical habits from my childhood but I have only played fiddle music in adulthood. (Unless you count college but that was awhile ago.)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

Thanks CMO for the more detailed explanation - I knew mine was extremely simplified, and that ultimately both words derived from the same one, but it’s good to have a fuller explanation!

Posted by .

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

"A fiddle is 0.10% bigger and has a soft rubbery texture to the touch."

That 0.10% is just all the rosin that the fiddler has let build up on the fiddle :)

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

I had a friend, an elderly man originally from Romania, who made a fiddle out of old Douglas fir lumber he’d salvaged and a poplar tree. It had machine heads and a fingerboard carved out of the aforementioned fir. The work was very rough but it sounded pretty good to my ears. I don’t remember how it met it’s end or if i gave it away. Now it’s a fond memory from some 40 years ago and most definitely a fiddle.
Check out the indigenous fiddles from Mexico.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

My apologises if this has already been shared, but there is one critical difference between a violin and a fiddle…that would be that a fiddle can hold more beer.

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

All the above kind and patient, gentlemanly (gentlewomanly) advice on the differences, or lack thereof, between fiddles and violins is very nice. But there really is no serious debate. It boils down simply to: violin = fiddle = violin. The difference between the two is nothing more than in name. There are €100 violins and €100,000 violins. All are also fiddles. Many of my orchestral friends refer to their instruments as fiddles. Several Canadian and Irish trad players I know refer to their violins. I have yet to meet anybody who knows and plays this instrument who cares which term is used. But I too often run into this inane subject. Curmudgeonly yours….

Re: A Simple Debate: Fiddle or Violin

So now on a new thread, we have the Violin Fiddle book - covers all eventualities!