Among the different string instruments, both the violin and the fiddle have been used for centuries in a variety of musical styles. Are there any noticeable differences if we compare the violin and fiddle side by side?
Most people would say – there’s no difference – and you’re right!
The violin and the fiddle are one and the same instrument. Fiddlers and violinists use the exact same instrument. The only difference between the two is in the style of music they are used to play.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can use the terms interchangeably. Using one over the other in the wrong context could cause confusion.
What is the Difference Between a Fiddle and a Violin?
Although the instruments are similar, there are some slight differences between a fiddle and a violin.
1. Type of Music Being Played
A violin, known for its sweet and melodic sound, is one of the most popular wooden instruments. With four strings, it can produce a wide range of notes, and its size makes it perfect for playing solo and chamber music. Soloists, string quartets, and orchestras typically use violins. Its sweet and classical sound is perfect for baroque, classical, and romantic pieces.
On the other hand, a fiddle is a colloquial term used to refer to a violin when playing a genre different from classical or chamber music. It usually refers to a style of traditional folk music, such as country, bluegrass, and Celtic styles. Irish music and Scottish music are two popular styles played on fiddles.
2. Type of String Being Used
Physically speaking, there are no significant differences between the two. However, if there’s one notable difference, that would be the strings.
From a physical perspective, when you look at the instrument itself – you won’t see much of a difference. The main difference between them lies in their approach to sound production.
Fiddlers tend to play with a more relaxed and “loose” technique while still maintaining the same notes as a violinist. This style allows them to take certain liberties in their playing, such as sliding between pitches or using vibrato more often.
Fiddlers often use a higher tension of the strings and different bowing techniques than violinists. The sound produced is more traditional, forceful, and dramatic compared to the sweet tones of a classical violin.
Additionally, violin players often opt for synthetic strings or gut strings, while fiddlers use steel strings mainly because they produce a sharper sound. Fiddlers prefer this kind of string because of the crisp and sharp sound they make when played.
The term “fiddle” was coined in the 19th century as an improvement over the “violin” by popular musicians. This was intended to differentiate their playing style from the more formal and classical approach of violinists. Since then, the terms have remained separate and distinct, despite the fact that they use the same kind of string instrument.
3. Instrument Modification
There are times when fiddlers may also modify their instruments. This could involve flattening the bridge’s curve or, sometimes, cutting it a bit lower. Such modifications are made to make double stops smoother and easier. Unlike violinists, fiddlers usually play faster tunes and may require more flexibility in their playing. Additionally, since they play more than two notes at a time, this modification can help them achieve the desired effect.
As for the tuning, violins are typically tuned at G starting from the topmost, followed by D, A, and lastly, E. Fiddles, on the other hand, are tuned depending on the style of music they are playing. It could be tuned similarly to a violin, but more advanced fiddlers might opt to use a different tuning.
Overall, the physical differences between a fiddle and a violin are very minimal, but the sound they make greatly depends on how they are played. For more elegant and classical music types, violins are preferred, while for folk and traditional music, fiddles are the choice of instrument.
Understanding these subtle differences is essential for choosing the right instrument for your style of music.
Is There a Size Difference Between a Fiddle and a Violin?
As mentioned earlier, generally speaking, both the fiddle and the violin uses the same instrument. There is no size difference between the two. If you are looking to purchase either a fiddle or violin, you can expect them to be the same size and shape.
Can You Purchase a Pre-Made Fiddle?
Considering that fiddlers typically modify their instruments to achieve a crisp sound, do they always do the modifications themselves?
Not necessarily. Today, you can purchase a fiddle kit that comes with all of the components pre-assembled. The kits may slightly vary from a beginner’s violin kit since fiddles come with a steel string, less curved or flatter bridge, and lower cut-out for the double stops. These kits may come with a bow, carry bag, rosin, and so on. Some even include instruction materials to help you understand how to use it properly.
Additionally, some specialized stores offer special fiddle variations that are pre-made with the required modifications. As such, it is possible to find a fiddle that has already been customized for your playing style without doing any of the work yourself.
Alternatively, if you already have an existing instrument and want to modify it to become a “fiddle,” there are also companies specializing in such modifications.
However, bear in mind that the modifications aren’t required to be able to play the type of music. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of modifying the instrument itself, all it takes to convert a violin into a fiddle is to simply change the strings.
Ultimately, how you refer to an instrument depends on the music being played. Violins produce a classical sound, often heard in symphonies and orchestras, while fiddles have this upbeat, vibrant, and crisp tune that is usually heard in folk music.
The physical variations between a violin and fiddle might be subtle, but it can make a big difference in the quality of the sound. If you want to play the fiddle, ensure that the violin kit you purchase comes with steel strings. Otherwise, go with gut-core or synthetic strings if you prefer the classical violin sound.
Also, do take into consideration that you may need to make some modifications if you want a sharper sound. However, this isn’t necessary as long as you know how to play it properly and use the right strings.