What’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin? A complete Answer

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What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin

Introduction:

Calling a fiddle a violin

Is like calling a Chevy a Rolls Royce. The both are cars and they both operate in the same manner, use the same fuel and so on. But there is a difference between the two cars.

It is the same with a fiddle and a violin. They both use strings, are designed in similar ways but they are far from being the same instrument. The differences between the two instruments may be minor but those differences define both instruments.

To find the answer to the question what’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin just continue to read our article. It provide you with the answer as well as much more pertinent information.

What’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin

Some people may say that the differences between the two instruments are minor. Even if they are, those minor differences make for major changes between both instruments.

Our quick comparison chart will highlight some of those differences:

  Instrument part  Violin  Fiddle
  Music  Classical, jazz  Folk, blue grass, cajun, Irish jigs, etc
  Playing  One string at a time  Can play one or two strings at a time
  Bridge  Arched  Flat
  Strings  Cat gut or metal  Synthetic or steel
  Tuning  Perfect fifths  By ear

The overall structure of the violin and the fiddle are the same. They each have four strings, they use tuning pegs, fingerboards and a curved scroll. Then each instrument has a nicely designed body and chin rest.

The main differences are in the setup, the chin rest , tuners and the previously mentioned bridge. Fiddlers like a flat bridge as it allows them to play more notes at one time. The violin has an arched bridge which restricts them to playing only one note at a time.

In the strings, the violin E string is made of unwrapped metal and is tuned through using a fine tuner. The violinist also tunes according to the GDAE scale in perfect fifths. The fiddle does not do either of those actions and uses steel core strings for a better timber.

Then the type of music played on both are not the same. The violin plays more classical pieces with written notes while the fiddler plays more freestyle favoring folk and similar genres.

The fiddle and violin are basically the same instrument

That is about the size of it with the fiddle being called the traditional violin. With the same body and neck any differences previously mentioned are not that big. Those differences are in the style of play, how to play and not so much in the overall design of the two instruments

One difference that may be a major one is that there are such things as a 5 string fiddle but the 4 string is the most common. There is no 5 string violin. Plus, violins are held between the cheek and the shoulder keeping the violinist from opening their mouths.

The fiddle player likes to sing with his music so it is held more down on the arm freeing up the jaw so the player can sing as he plays.

What is the Fiddle

Probably the most famous fiddle player was the late Charlie Daniels. He and his band were able to make fiddle music sound like the classics and that is because the fiddle has the flatter bridge allowing fiddle players to explore different music genres and create the liveliest sound.

Also, fiddles are meant to play more up beat music that has people leaping to their feet and dancing the night away. Then fiddle players have lots of leeway in how they play their instrument. They do not need music books full of notes.

Instead they play whatever is in their heads and have the freedom to play whatever song suits their fancy.

What is the Violin

While it looks the same as a fiddle it is a more reserved instrument that plays one beautiful note after another one at a time, the player needs a musical book full of notes. There is no real freedom to play what you want when you play the violin, your sound is restricted to classical and similar formats.

What may make the violin superior to the fiddle is that while the latter instrument can make people dance, you do not truly understand emotion until you hear a violin whose heart has been broken play.

If you want to capture the emotion of a song, or other influences, it is the violin that can capture them and communicate them in a way that is masterful and inspiring. The fiddle helps people be lively but it is the violin that brings meaning.

The Violin pros and cons

Pros

  • There is more great music to be played on the violin than any other instrument.
  • Playing the violin teaches perseverance and helps you gain confidence.
  • You can carry it with you everywhere you go and play it at those locations.
  • Developing a skill.
  • You can communicate real, raw emotion.

Cons

  • The tones or sounds of the notes can be hard to listen to.
  • It needs special care.
  • It needs daily tuning.
  • There is a steep learning curve.
  • It takes years of practice and lots of money for lessons to master.

The pros and cons of the Fiddle

Pros

  • Creates a lively sound.
  • Helps make people feel good when playing the right music.
  • More freedom to play notes.
  • Easier to hold and master.
  • Wider range of music genres can be played on the fiddle.

Cons

  • Considered a cheap violin.
  • Need music playing skills to master.
  • May be harder to learn how to play than the violin.
  • Cannot express emotions beyond fun and enjoyment.
  • Only used for a good time.

Top Fiddle players and Violinists

In every music category there are always people who stand out above the crowd. In Comedy it was Jack Benny, Robin Williams and many others. For rock you have the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Eagles and so on.

When it comes to individual violinists and fiddlers there is a long list of each who have taken their instrument of choice to new levels. They have inspired people of many generations to pick up those instruments and learn top play. Here are just a few from each instrument:

Top Ten Famous Fiddlers:

  • Charlie Daniels
  • Kenny Sears
  • Stuart Duncan
  • Hyram Posey
  • Justin Branum
  • Buddy Spicher
  • Rob Hajocos
  • Byron Berline
  • Johnny Gimble
  • Mark O’Conner

Top Ten Famous Violinists

  • Antonio Vivaldi
  • Isaac Stern
  • Itzhak Perlman
  • Viktoria Mullova
  • Gidon Kremer
  • Hilary Hahn
  • Sarah Chang
  • Jascha Heifetz
  • Nigel Kennedy
  • Yehudi Menuhin

We were tempted to place Jack Benny on this list but he was not that good of a violinist even though he was certainly famous.

How are violins and fiddles made

Since there is relatively little difference between the fiddle and the violin it stands to reason that the two instruments may be made in the same fashion. Both instruments use the finest woods available to help them achieve their distinct independent sounds and tones.

They are hand carved for the most part from maple and spruce while ebony or another hardwood is used for the pegs. Then the tools to make both instruments are the same and the violin, stringed instrument maker is called a luthier.

His tool kit comprises saws, gouges, chisels, planes, and clamps. Then there are the bending iron, purfling cutter and hide glue. Once the tools and materials are assembled, precise measurements are needed to craft the violin or fiddle to the exact perfect size needed.

The key element in those precise measurements is the consistent density in all the separate pieces. This is one element that helped Stradivarius violins stand out above the competition.

The hardest part and probably the most work involved in creating a violin comes in shaving the wood to the right thinness and patiently cutting the grooves and notches to their exact dimensions.

To guide the construction, templates are made from plywood, Then the maple is cut into strips and bent with the bending iron to form the sides of the instruments. Then those pieces are glued to blocks.

Once all that is done, the carving begins and this will take a lot of time as there is little room for error. One must have a steady hand and know what they are doing in order to carve the violin or fiddle just right.

The art of making these instruments have changed little over the past 400 years and may not have changed much since ancient times. But then why fix what isn’t broken. The process of making violins and fiddles can’t really be improved upon nor changed if you want a top quality instrument to play.

Violin and Fiddle FAQs

#1. What is the difference in the structure of a violin and a fiddle?

The only real difference in structure between the fiddle and the violin is found in the bridge. The fiddle usually has a flat bridge while the violin has an arched one. This difference restricts the violinist playing one note at a time while the fiddler can play two at a time.

#2. Why are violins called fiddles?

The reason for this is because the two names refer to basically the same instrument. Even great violinists like Itzhak Perlman will call his violin a fiddle and great fiddlers will refer to their fiddles as the family violin. Someone once said that a violin is a fiddle but a fiddle is not a violin but that is a matter of opinion.

#3. Is an Irish fiddle a violin?

Technically, you can say that the Irish fiddle is a violin but within Irish folk music industry the two are not the same even though people outside of that music tradition call the Irish fiddle a violin. One difference between the two is that the Irish fiddle began about the 12th century AD while the violin began in the 18th century AD

#4. How do you play a violin like a fiddle?

In order to do that, you would have to replace the arched bridge on the violin with a flat one. This will enable you to play more varieties of music. Then you would have to be able to comfortably hold your violin down on your arm and not between your cheek and shoulder.

#5. Is it hard to learn the fiddle?

There is a steep initial learning curve you have to master and overcome before playing the fiddle becomes more enjoyable. That initial learning experience may separate the men from the boys and determine who has the talent to learn how to play the fiddle.

#6. Are fiddles and violins made from the same materials?

Yes, they are and they are made using as close to the original techniques as the ancient masters used to make them. Both instruments need the right materials and carved in the proper manner in order to produce their unique sounds.

#7. What makes a fiddle a fiddle and a violin a violin?

The only answer to this question is the type of music that is played on both. The fiddle plays a wide variety of music genres that can be composed easily. The fiddler has more freedom to play different notes while the violinist is restricted to playing notes on the score in front of them. The former can be more creative than the latter in their music playing

Some final words

Whether you pick up and master the violin or the fiddle, you have the opportunity to entertain and enthral people. Both instruments have their unique place in the world and a solid fan base that likes to hear what tunes each instrument will play.

The key to mastering either instrument is to be dedicated, patient and have a little musical talent.

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