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What is the difference between Violin and Fiddle?

Young child playing violin fiddle

Basically, a violin is considered an instrument used to play classical music while fiddle is usually referred to an instrument for playing country music and folk melodies. In the US, bluegrass music is often played by a fiddle.

Other than the different kind of music types they are generally used for, there is really not much differences between the two. They are both made of wood (generally), they both have four strings, and they are both played with a bow.

Fiddle vs. Violin – What Do The Experts Have to Say?

When considering this matter, what do the music theory and musicology experts have to say? According to theNew Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a fiddle is the “generic term” for any stringed instrument that’s played with a bow.

Person playing violin as beginner violin player

Person playing violin outdoor

In other words, a fiddle is an entire class of instruments – ranging from the violin in Western music to the sarangi in Hindustani classical music. The goge instrument of Africa, which is a dried gourd and fitted with just one string, also comes under the category of fiddle.

All western classical and jazz players usually use the word “fiddle” affectionately when describing the kind of music they play. Many people think that “violin” is the right term for classical music while the “fiddle” is the right term when the music being played is folksy.

What Are The Technical Differences Between Fiddle and Violin Music?

You will be surprised to note that there aren’t a lot of differences between fiddle and violin music when it comes to technique and skill. The same playing technique is used for both – although the fiddle can be very fast.

The tempo of pieces played on the fiddle is quicker, and there is also a lot of leeway for improvisation and jazz. Another thing you’ll notice is the fact that most fiddlers like to play their tunes in the first position. Fiddles are rustic, simple, and have a beautiful sound.

Tunes played on the fiddle are not very technically complex. On the other hand, they are lively, and they focus mainly on the rhythm instead of the complexity of the melody. That is why a lot of Western folk music, such as Romani music, is played on the fiddle exclusively.

The Appearance of the Fiddle in Jazz, Blues & African-American Music

Another interesting area where the fiddle vs violin topic can be considered is in the area of music, primarily African-American in origin. This is a huge umbrella including jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, church music, and much more.

Jazz and blues made their way into the musical consciousness around the early 20th century. Before they did, there had been a very long-standing tradition of African-American musicians preferring fiddles and banjos more than the guitar. Even the largely 1900s vocal doo-wop bands preferred to use the fiddles instead.

There has also been a rich history of Black string bands in the 1920s and 30s that used the fiddle as their instrument. Bo Chatmon and Lonnie Johnson are some of the world’s most gifted fiddlers who have graced the blues stage. Chatmon was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks.

In fact, the Sheiks were the creators of the hit song “Sitting On Top of the World,” which had Bo Chatmon playing the fiddle and Walter Vinson on the guitar. Lonnie Johnson was one of thefirst violinists to play an electrically amplified violin during his live performances and recordings.

The Gypsy Style of Music – A Remnant of Old Europe

The fiddle also has a vibrant history in Romani or Gypsy music, which is one of the most striking remnants of Old Europe. Gypsy music is essentially instrumental, and the fiddle is a very important part of their repertoire.

In fact, the sound made by gypsy fiddlers is so rich and individualistic that people think that there is something called a “gypsy violin.” This is nothing but a simple fiddle that is able to play a“dark tone” – which is a musical term for low notes and rough melodies.

The orchestral violinist and the gypsy violinist might play the same instrument, but there are a lot of subtle differences in the technique that’s involved. Gypsy music is significantly more folksy and rustic – and there is also a lot of individual ornamentation. There are also breathing pauses in the music.

Differences in Bow Technique Of the Violin and the Fiddle

Another area where there is a difference between the violin and the fiddle is in the bow technique. In fiddle techniques, downstrokes are the preferred choice, and fiddlers use gravity to give power to their music. This is an important characteristic.

There are also a lot of circular motions involved in the bowing technique for the fiddle. This kind of circular motion is not very prevalent in classical Western violin techniques. In fact, only the folksy pieces in classical Western music make use of a totally circular bow technique in general.

Summing Up

When it comes to the fiddle vs. violin, these are all of the differences that you need to know about. In fact, the differences in tone can actually be identified quite instinctively. Fiddles and violins are both beautiful instruments that lend a lot of soul to the sound.

Summing up, there are a few differences between fiddle and violin music. Fiddle music has a faster tempo and is connected to folksy musical genres such as Gypsy music, rhythm, and blues, African-American string bands, etc. There is also a noticeable difference in the bow technique for these two instruments.

This has been a comprehensive explanation of all the differences that exist between the fiddle and the violin. They are essentially the same instrument – but the differences all exist in the style of the music and the technique of the musician. Hopefully, you find this article very useful for the topic. We have great review articles from violin cases, bows, strings and many more. Please take a look here.