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What Is the Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle?


With Mark O'Connor's workshop and concert in Ann Arbor fast approaching, we thought we'd share a quick blog post that answers the most timeless question of them all: What exactly is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

Alberta BarnesNothing, essentially, except for the type of music that is played on the instrument. (Of course, these styles of music have extensive histories and cultures of their own. It brings up a philosophical question: Is an instrument simply a thing we play or does the way we see the instrument also make it what it is? For example, if a bluesman and a classical guitarist look at the same guitar, are they seeing the same thing? Anyways.) So, leaving that rarified talk behind, “violin” and “fiddle” are just two different names, each with their own associations, for the same instrument.

That said, there are a few subtle differences between the way that violins and fiddles are set up. Every player has his or her own very individual preferences with their set up, but in general there are a few differences that we can take note of.

Dominant StringsThe vast majority of classical violinists use either gut or synthetic strings. Gut strings are the traditional choice, but over the past few decades synthetic strings – designed to retain some sound characteristics of gut strings but with greater stability and longer life – have become the most popular choice. Brand-wise, many classical violinists prefer Dominant, Evah Pirazzi, or Obligato strings.

Fiddle players, on the other hand, tend to prefer a much brighter sound and quicker response that is to be found among steel strings. In general, these tend to be louder, less nuanced, and not as warm as synthetic strings. Popular brand choices include Helicore, Prim, and Super Sensitive.

Fiddle players often find it desirable to use flatter bridges than traditional classical players do.Violin Bridge A flatter bridge makes it a little easier to play double and triple stops. Further, sometimes fiddle players prefer a lower bridge (and/ or nut) so that the instrument has a “lower action” – the strings will be slightly closer to the fingerboard, making it easier to perform quick left hand passages with alacrity.

Neck Angle
Less frequently, fiddles can be designed or selected to have a slightly lower neck angle than a traditional violin would have. This causes less tension on the strings which, in turn, can make it easier to play fast passages with clarity.

But, in the end, a fiddle player could play a violin and a violinist could use a fiddle. The main difference is genre. 


Violin uses strings 
Fiddle uses atrangs
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:25 AM by SAM MIHAILOFF
Masom Dixon line
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:51 AM by Nancy Hursey
Haha! Keep the jokes coming.
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 11:38 AM by Joseph Chapman
Boy do I get asked this question a LOT. I live in eastern NC and play enough bluegrass to be able to hold my head up high in my community, tho my genre of choice is jazz and classical. In my experience (50 years here) most "fiddle" players are untrained. Their posture is based on holding the violin with their chin in the rest and the violin sticking essentially at about 10 or 11 o'clock. Their bowarm stays at essentially one level and their left hand generally wrist up (seldom a should rest) and fingers pulled back and flattened. I do admit they get around pretty well in such a state. Because of this, they like the flat bridges and tight bowhair. As far as the strings go, most of the stores around here carry only "cheap" strings. What I see generally are Super-Sensitive metal core strings or round wound, cut down guitar strings (I hate those). This is info from the "trenches" of eastern NC where I not only live and work presently but I grew up.
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:21 PM by Dee Pellegrino
Oh! You should also see the number of folks who have decided that because they are left handed, they have to completely customize their fiddles to be played backwards. Like politics and religion, I have learned NOT to try to discuss anything with these people. I have personally only see ONE player who was justified in such a matter... when I was in college, I met a lady from an overseas symphony who had lost fingers in an accident and had to relearn her technique the other way to keep her livelihood. Also I find it enlightening as a teacher when teaching the easy beginner stuff to remind me that it isn't so easy when you are first learning it.. by hold my violin on the right shoulder and putting my right fingers down on the fingerboard and getting my bold hold with my left hand and trying to play a scale on one string. That is an eyeopening experience when you are trying to teach something and a student is having problems. But back to these left handed zealot types.... I TRY TO EXPLAIN that the violin is an ambidextrous instrument.. like any other instrument.. and that to be left handed gives you a different sort of advantage.
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:28 PM by Dee Bra
Posted @ Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:31 PM by SAM MIHAILOFF
Thanks for your comments Dee & Dee! And Sam: cool photo of Stern's headstone!
Posted @ Thursday, August 16, 2012 12:23 PM by Joseph Chapman
Just flip the instrument over. If beer pours out, it's a fiddle.
Posted @ Friday, August 17, 2012 8:48 AM by Fiddle Expert
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