You may have heard a nursery rhyme called “Hey diddle diddle”. Leaving all the other vivid imagery behind you must have looked at the picture of the aforementioned fiddle and seen something that looks exactly like a violin and wondered “why do people call the instrument a fiddle when it is a violin?”
While the violin has grown in popularity over the years we forget that the violin in essence is a fiddle! So then what forms the divide between the fiddle vs violin and why are they treated as separate instruments?
1. The Origins of the Fiddle and Violin
It is important to note that the fiddle has been around longer than the violin. The origins of the fiddle are traced back to the 10th century in Europe. Its thought to have developed from its cousin in the Byzantine empire, the lira.
The violin on the other hand made its debut around the mid to late 16th century in Europe with the earliest surviving violin being from 1565 from the court of Charles the ninth of France created by Andrea Amati.
2. Fiddle vs Violin Explained: What’s The Difference?
While both violin and fiddle, more or less physically similar are both played and handled very differently. A few minor differences are the strings used, the type of music played, and the playing style.
But the biggest difference that can be stated is the music style used in the two. While fiddle playing is involved in a more “casual” setting like Folk, bluegrass, and country music, A violin is used in a very “formal and serious” environment like classical music.
In a way, it can be said that folk musicians who play folk music on a four-string fiddle are “playing a fiddle” while the classical musician who is going to render his/her solo in front of a distinguished crowd of people is going to “play violin”
2.1. Physical Differences Between the Violin and Fiddle
While looking largely similar, quite a few Physical nuances separate a fiddle from a violin.
2.1.1. Different Strings Used for Violin Playing and Fiddle Music
The key difference in the strings lies in the materials used. For fiddle music styles like folk music, country, and bluegrass, players prefer a sharper sound so steel strings are used.
While in classical music a classical violinist would prefer using gut or synthetic core strings as they have less tension to them when tuned as compared to steel strings which help classical violinists to move between notes on a string easier
2.1.2. Violin and Fiddle Tuning
Both violins and fiddles are four-stringed instruments with the strings being tuned in the following order.
The thickest string of the fiddle/violin is tuned to the note of G(3)the second thickest to the note of D(4) and the third and fourth ones are tuned to A(4) and E(5) respectively.
A newer variety the five-string fiddle and violin has now entered the market with the fifth strings sound being tuned to the note of E(5)
2.1.3. Bridge Modifications Are Done on the Fiddle
The traditional violin comes with a slightly arched bridge that bends its strings at an angle. This is considered good by tradition and classical violinists train with this classic bridge for a more formalized way of playing.
While on the other hand, fiddle players may prefer to make modifications to the bridge of their fiddle to make techniques like playing double stops (bowing two strings at the same time) easier.
This easier method of playing double stops can be achieved by having a flatter bridge or cutting the bridge lower. A flatter bridge can help fiddle players to do achieve more intricate fingerwork with less strain as fiddle music is played for longer periods.
3. Different Techniques of Fiddle and Violin Playing
While violinists produce and sound each note clearly as the composer had intended in classical music, A fiddler may play an old classic folksong in their interpretation which may be similar or vary to a great degree from the original.
Some techniques that are employed by a fiddler are bowing the string, double stops, and triple stops.
Fiddlers may also bend strings and accommodate the instrument differently on them to complement their playing style. some use the shoulder rest while others play in a more unconventional style.
3.1. Same Instrument, Different Technique
If you gave a four-stringed instrument to a classically trained violinist he would produce the most exemplary sounding distinguished pieces by Vivaldi and Paganini while if you gave the same instrument to a fiddler he would produce the most joy-invoking country or bluegrass songs to sing and dance along to.
The only thing that separates the classical playing of the formally trained violinists from the fiddler who learned through trial and error is the difference in the sound produced by them. As stated before, the difference lies in the way in which the instrument is handled/played.
If a chordophone with four strings is being played in a very disciplined formal manner, the same would be called the violin while if it were played in a dance fest in a very upbeat dance music/country manner it would be called playing the fiddle.
This means the only separating marker is the different styles that the chordophone is played in.
4. Famous Violinists and Fiddlers
Classically trained violinists and their classical violin playing have grown steadily in fame along with their parent genre, fiddle music. Considering fiddle music and violin playing has been around for a considerable amount of time. Many fiddlers and violinists are present who have risen to prominence by way of mastery of their art.
Let’s see a few fiddlers and violinists who have had or still have the spotlight focused on them.
4.1. Famous Fiddle Players
There have been many famous fiddlers over its centuries-old existence, With many being lost to time. Let’s look at a few modern-day Fiddlers who have had great influence over what the genre of fiddle music has become today.
4.1.1. Darol Anger (1953 – present)
Darol Anger is a prominent American fiddler who was one of the founding members of the famous David Grisman string quintet, A quintet That would go on to receive national and worldwide recognition in which, Anger was the fiddler. Anger is associated with the genres of folk music, bluegrass, and chamber jazz.
4.1.2. Joseph Allard (1873 – 1947)
Joseph Allard is the famous French – Canadian fiddler and composer who is known as the Prince of fiddlers. Not much is known about Allard since he did not spend his life as a professional fiddler but rather as a fisherman.
Allard”s musicality on the violin would only be realized later on in his life when he recorded his now-famous reels and gigues. Allard was one of the first household names to be recognized with fiddling and the first French-Canadian to record his music commercially. He would go on to record many reels and gigues in his lifetime.
4.1.3. Gilles Apap (1963 – present)
Gilles Apap is the famous french fiddler who has been an absolute virtuoso with fiddlers. He is involved with swing, gypsy, and jazz music.
Apap was born in Béjaïa, Algeria, and raised in Nice, France. Apap also showed his resolve for conducting by being the concertmaster for the Santa Barbara Symphony. He then tried to be a solo artist.
4.2. Famous Violinists
A Modern classical violinist stands on the shoulders of giants who have paved the way for classical violin, violin music, and the violin family as a whole. let us look at a few of these characters that have shaped classical and modern violin into what it is today.
4.2.1. Yehudi Menuhin (1916 – 1999)
Yehudi Menuhin is widely considered one of the greatest violin players of the twentieth century and was a true modern pioneer of violin music.
Menuhin was born in 1916 in New York and displayed virtuosity in music from a young age. Going so far as to be a soloist in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1923 at the age of seven. Menhunin Studied under Louis Persinger, Another Famous violinist.
4.2.2. Hilary Hahn (1979 – present)
Hilary Hahn is the face of the modern violin and an avid enthusiast of contemporary classical music. Hahn has shown a love for the violin since a young age.
Her skill and passion for the instrument were recognized when she debuted in 1991 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and on an international platform in 1994 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra spearheaded by Ivan Fischer at the time.
4.2.3. Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840)
Niccolò Paganini is one of the most famous violinists of all time forming one of the cornerstones of classical violin. Paganini’s name has been connotated with both fame and infamy since one point that will always haunt his legacy is the myth that he made a deal with the devil to obtain a musical prowess that can and will not ever be matched.
Paganinis technicality on the violin is second to none with his compositions still being a great inspiration to many violinists around the world.
5. Bottom Line
Pitting the fiddle vs violin seems to be an activity in vain since both instruments are the same with the only difference in the instrument being the hands of the musicians that play in their corresponding styles.
Be it jazz, bluegrass, or, classical violin. It is best to look at both styles of playing as an art in their own right with no one being better.