If you’ve been wracking your brain trying to figure out the difference between the fiddle and the violin, I’m happy to say I can shed some light.
Maybe you’ve decided to learn the violin, but the word “fiddle” keeps cropping up, or perhaps you’re just curious.
Either way, I’ve got all the answers.
Let’s get to the bottom of the ‘fiddle vs violin’ question once and for all!
Fiddle vs Violin: What’s the Difference?
In contrast to what one might expect, fiddles and violins are visually indistinguishable. Despite their different names, a violin and a fiddle are essentially the same types of instrument, having four strings and being played with a bow, plucked, or strummed. The distinction between them lies in the kind of music played on them and how they are played. Let’s discover those differences!
The musical genre played on both instruments is the main difference between the violin and the fiddle. If you’re living in a country with a strong folk music scene, you’ll likely notice a clear distinction between violinists and fiddlists.
Playing the fiddle is incredibly common in countries like Scotland and Ireland, where folk music is a prominent aspect of cultural heritage. The versatility of the fiddle has also made it a popular instrument among Country and Bluegrass musicians due to its compatibility with the genre. On the other hand, the violin is a favored instrument among classical musicians who specialize in playing orchestral music.
A lot of classical music came from romantic countries like France and Italy. So the term ‘violin’ is commonly used in Western classical music, while ‘fiddle’ is often used in folk music traditions. Although the two instruments are similar in appearance and share some technical features, they have distinct playing styles and musical repertoires that reflect the different musical traditions in which they are used.
Gosh, I love a history lesson, don’t I?
Violinists and fiddlists are trained in completely different ways. I know quite a bit about this section because I learned to play the fiddle and later took classical lessons. When I was learning to play the fiddle, I was taught to play with the bow almost immediately.
On the other hand, classical teachers tend to teach their students how to pluck the strings first. They also teach their students to tune their violins by ear. Personally, I believe classical players are prepared to do things the “right way,” whereas fiddle players are taught the easy way.
As a result, fiddlists learn much quicker, but classical students learn more in-depth and, most likely, become better overall musicians. That’s a pretty risky thing to say, but I may as well be honest, considering I’m a fiddlist myself!
Another main distinction between classical violinists and fiddlists is their bow-tension approach. As violinists keep their bows quite stiff, fiddlists often opt for a looser, more fluid bowing style. It’s not a massive difference, but it does change the instrument’s sound, hence the overall performance.
The playing style between fiddlists and violinists is pretty varied. While violinists don’t deviate from what’s written on the musical score, fiddlists often add their personal touch to a tune. The way a tune sounds varies from player to player, each bringing their flair to the music.
In a way, the differences between fiddle and violin playing are like regional accents, with each musician expressing their unique musical ‘accent’ through their playing style. Think of it like this – just as Scottish and Irish people have completely different accents, so do fiddle players express their accents through music. Again, I speak based on my experience; you might feel differently.
The bridge is the little wood that holds the strings in the middle of the violin’s body. It’s what separates the strings and allows you to play one string without hitting another with your bow. Classical violin players stick to playing one string at once most of the time.
Conversely, fiddlists are all over the shop. They play two strings at once and do crazy jumps from the low strings to the high. For that reason, some fiddlists prefer to use a flatter bridge. That way, the strings aren’t separated by height as much, and they can play chords much easier.
Fiddle vs Violin: Which Should You Learn?
So far, learning to play the classical violin would be different from the fiddle; so, which route should you take?
As someone with experience with both, I can offer insight into making this decision. Consider asking yourself the following questions to help you choose the right path.
What Genre of Music do You Like?
This one’s pretty obvious, so we may as well get it out of the way first. When it comes to choosing between the classical violin and the fiddle, your personal taste in music is a crucial factor to consider. If you’re a fan of classical music, then the violin would be the best option for you. However, if you prefer the lively and upbeat sound of folk music, then the fiddle is the way to go.
I know this from my own experience, as I used to despise classical music when I was younger with an absolute vengeance (genuinely, I’m not even exaggerating this time). So I opted for the fiddle instead. Nowadays, I’ve developed an appreciation for classical music, but if you can sympathize with the 9-year-old me, you should definitely go down the folk route.
Accordingly, when deciding, consider your personal taste and which instrument resonates with you the most!
Is There a Strong Folk/Country Scene Where You Live?
If you’re living somewhere that doesn’t have much of a folk/country music scene, you might not enjoy playing the fiddle. What I loved most about learning to play the fiddle was how social it was. Even now, I like to go to the pub for jam sessions with friends.
However, it might feel lonely if no one around you plays the same music genre. Plus, you might need help finding a fiddle teacher.
Would You Like to Have a Career in Music?
Consider your career aspirations when deciding which instrument to choose. If you want to pursue a music career, it’s important to note that the paths of a professional violinist and a fiddlist can be pretty different.
Typically, professional fiddlists perform in folk or country bands and play gigs in pubs and bars. In contrast, professional classical violinists often pursue solo careers or work their way up in an orchestra.
If you’re simply looking for a new, fun hobby, I think learning the fiddle is an excellent choice. Fiddlists tend to be more laid-back and want to have a good time. I don’t have anything against violinists, but personally, I prefer playing in pubs rather than orchestras.
I just thought I’d share my two cents!
Fiddle vs Violin: FAQ
You may have heard someone (like me) refer to a violin as a fiddle. Sometimes people use the word fiddle to describe their violin informally. It’s like slang for violinists! Both terms describe the same instrument.
Essentially, all you have to do to play the violin like a fiddle is play folk music. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I’ll go into more depth later in this article. Generally, violinists are classically trained, whereas fiddlists have learned by playing folk music. So, the instruments are the same, but the players have different styles.
The fiddle is one of the most complex instruments to learn. Some would argue that mastering the classical violin is more challenging than the fiddle, but it all comes down to the player. Fiddlists are usually social players who learn it in order to play with a group of friends or in bands.
Not many fiddlists want to “go pro,” whereas violinists tend to be more disciplined. That’s why most people think the classical violin is harder to learn!
The fiddle and the violin are the same instruments. So, the fiddle comes in the same range of sizes as the violin. They come in 8 different sizes – 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16, and 1/32. All adults use the 4/4 size whether they play the classical violin or folk fiddle.
Yes! “Fiddle” is a term folk, country, and bluegrass players use to describe their violin, whereas classical players stick with the classical name! All you’d have to do to use a violin as a fiddle is play a different genre of music than classical.
In musical terms, fiddle means violin. Here’s a little history lesson for you! Both words, fiddle and violin, come from the exact Latin derivative. The word violin came about through romantic languages like French and Italian, whereas the word fiddle came from Germanic languages like English! Hence violinists play classical music, and fiddlists generally play folk music.
Beginner fiddles (or violins) usually cost around $100 to $400.
Yes! Although there aren’t as many resources for fiddle players as for violinists on the internet, you can still teach yourself to play the fiddle. There are plenty of beginner fiddle lessons on YouTube to get you started!
Fiddlists Have More Fun!
I hope this article has cleared things up for you.
Now you can decide whether the fiddle or the violin wins the argument!
If you’re trying to decide between learning to play the fiddle or the violin, don’t stress yourself with too much thinking!
At the end of the day, the only real difference between the two is the music they play. So, if you start classical training and hate it, you can always change your mind and get some folk music on the go! I first learned to play the fiddle, then realized that I’d need some extra training if I wanted to join an orchestra. To be honest, I loved the challenge.
So, you can always chop and change between the two. Music has no rules! I do think fiddlists have more fun, though…
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Fiona is a musician and writer. When she’s not working, she’s either playing the ukulele or finding another instrument to add to her collection.