Fiddles and Violins: What’s the Difference?

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We’ve all heard the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” used interchangeably. Maybe you associate one term with specific genres or prefer to be called one over the other. You may also be confused as to why we’re quibbling over labels.

A Fiddle is Just a Violin–isn’t it?

Yes. A fiddle is a violin and vice versa. Fiddle refers to a style of playing rather than a completely different instrument.  However, the specifics are not that simple. Fiddle can refer to a number of different genres including country, jazz, rock, bluegrass, old time, and so many more. It can be a traditional acoustic instrument or an electric fiddle.

But what’s the difference???

“Fiddle” and “violin” are used to describe the same instrument in different genres of music. What most people call fiddling consists of traditional styles that were historically taught by ear and passed down between generations. This was music you would hear at a community dance, at house parties, or on the back porch. It was meant to be heard over a band before amplification and in some cases to simulate multiple instruments at once, so many techniques were originally intended to help the sound carry over a band or in a large space. For the purposes of this post, when we say “fiddle,” we’re referring to old-time, bluegrass, and similar styles.

When people talk specifically about the violin, they tend to be referring to classical players who were trained by teachers over an extended period of time. Classical music incorporates written music and was historically heard in churches, concert halls, small salons, and similar venues.

There are some additional differences as well:

Physical

While none of these adaptations are required to play one style or another, many fiddlers make some changes to their instrument:

  • Flatter bridge. Some players request their bridges to be less rounded to make string crossings and double stops easier to play.
  • Different bow hair. Many fiddlers (or players of other alternative styles) will use a combination of or completely coarser hair. Since these styles are more percussive and require more aggressive bow techniques, this helps keep the bow hair from breaking.
  • Flatter profile. This brings the strings closer together, again making string crossings and double stops easier.

Technical

Since these styles are different, the techniques vary too:

  • Positions. Classical violinists are all over the fingerboard while traditional styles require less shifting, almost never going higher than third position.
  • Alternative Bowing Styles. Fiddlers use percussive techniques such as chopping, while classical players have a less percussive type of bowing style.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about these genres in the broadest of terms. Some prefer to play more within one or the other, and many fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what genre(s) you prefer to play, we have everything you need to make playing your instrument enjoyable!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Silvija Kristapsons

Social Media and Marketing at Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins.