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Violin vs Fiddle


MarkHoffman

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Violin and fiddle are the same instrument. Some fiddlers may flatten and lower the arch of the violin bridge to suit their playing style. The distinction between violin and fiddle really arises because of the type of music played on the violin. It is more to do with the music genre. Violinists are thought more to play classical music whereas fiddlers play more of a type of folk music ie. Scottish reels, strathspeys, jigs, hornpipes, marches, polkas and even slow airs. The Irish play similar tunes (except strathspeys) and the English have their Morris tunes. In the United States there is bluegrass, old timey etc. and so the list of fiddle genres goes on. I would not agree with Yuen that fiddle music is played in first position only. As a Scottish player of fiddle music I regularly use first, second and third positions and occasionally fifth position. I think the Irish tend to play mostly in first position, much more so than the Scots. However gypsy music and Hungarian fiddle music also encompasses higher positions than first.

Rob.

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What distinguishes a violin from a fiddle? Could they be the same instrument only fitted with 4 fine tuners and a slightly rolled bridge toward the E string?


Ten years ago when we started the FAQ, this was one of the questions which came up, over and over again. Here's our bit regarding the answer:

http://www.geocities.com/conniesunday/FAQ.html#7

(7) Are the violin and the fiddle the same instrument?

Well, yes and no, it depends. What it depends on is who's playing it, and in what cultural context you're speaking. Growing up in the midwest, I felt uncomfortable using the term fiddle, because what that meant, then, was country and western fiddle, and I wanted no part of that. However, you hear violinists of the highest calibre, like Stern and Perlman, for example, referring to the violin as a fiddle...but their cultural context is Eastern European Jewry, which included gypsy-like so-called "fiddle" music, which is not the same at all as the American genre. The instrument itself may be the same, though folk players of violin (and other players who are playing something besides art music) may take more liberties with respect to the way the instrument is held, its fittings, and so on. Aside from some small details, however, the instrument is pretty much the same; there is no separate genre, fiddle, which is not also a violin. I get asked this a lot.

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I wonder how much the loose term "fiddle" could be an American peculiarity. The times I was in the States I never failed to be amused by the way the term "horn" was applied to the trumpet, trombone, tuba, etc. - as in "nice horn you've got there..." when the guy was playing an E-flat tuba.

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The problem with the term 'fiddler' is that it has a long history of being used in a pejorative sense in English, like 'he just fiddles about', 'fiddling while Rome burns', 'he fiddled the books'. To some extent this negative association goes back to pre-Enlightenment England when any sort of 'fiddler/violinist' was seen as being a pretty fast, lose, and low character. Over the past two centuries of course there has been an increasingly 'stylistic' use of the term to contrast those of the 'Classical' school and those of all other violinistic endeavours (from Klezmer, to Cajun, to Scots/Irish, etc.). However, I would not draw this distinction between those who play by the mainstream classical rules regarding bow & fiddle grip and those who hold them differently -- else Classicists would have to divorce themselves from most pre-1850s 'violinists', who gripped their bows in diverse ways (as well as their fiddles!). Vive la difference!

Regards,

Tradfiddle

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Allow me to add this in my own defense: I'm approaching 60 years old, and in the narrow environment I grew up in, in Kansas and Oklahoma, country & western or so-called "fiddle" music was, in my mind, associated with racism (and sexism). The people who liked this music were heard by me to use the "N" word, and make derogatory comments about Catholics, Jews, Asians, Indians, and were just, in general, ignorant. This association with country music (and mainstream Protestanism) and racism, is no longer valid, and I no longer feel the same way I did back then. With a very small percentage of exception, it seems to me that younger people don't like racism and those days are over, thank god.

When I was a child, I didn't like--or understand--racism, and I don't like or understand it now. I considered myself then, and now, as being a citizen of the planet, and I found the attitudes of the people in my environment to be contrary to my own most deeply felt beliefs, so I rejected their music.

Now, however, if I ever felt snobbish regarding "art" music versus popular folk music, I have lost that and no longer feel that way. Mainstream Protestanism and the culture have changed in the last 50 years, and I have revised my views. That's what I meant when I said I "wanted no part" of "fiddle" music back then. It wasn't snobbishness, it was a rejection of the cultural attitudes of people whom I did not like or agree with.

T.F.

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Quote:

I wonder how much the loose term "fiddle" could be an American peculiarity.


I don't think the term "fiddle" is American in origin, and King Cole thought fiddles were fine instruments. Obviously nothing can compare to a fine fiddler.

Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he;

He called for his pipe in the middle of the night

And he called for his fiddlers three.

Every fiddler had a fine fiddle, and a very fine fiddle had he;

Oh there's none so rare as can compare

With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

Children's Nursery Rhyme

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I think that originally "fiddle" was simply the word for "viol" in certain languages, and the perception of differences between the two was created later. At the bottom of the page of the first address below is a 1913 dictionary definition showing at least some of the derivation. A search for "fiddle" on Wikipedia sends you to "violin", with a short discussion of the "fiddle/violin" issue towards the bottom of the page. http://www.hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=violin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddle

By the way, Rob, will you be at Fiddle 2004 in Edinburgh next month? I'll be there.

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Oops again, put the wrong link in for the dictionary definition... meant to supply the link to fiddle, not violin! Here's the one for "fiddle": http://www.hyperdictionary.com/search.aspx?define=fiddle.. Sorry, I was tired when I did the posts, I had been to see Mount St Helens yesterday. It was a glorious day and a wonderful experience but I'm glad nothing major happened, because the visitor's center is right in the 1980 blast zone, about 8 miles from the crater, with tree stumps all around, and that mountain is BIG when you get up close!!

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I am a member of the "they're interchangeable" school.

For example, when my violins were first brought to Calif. the luthier who fixed them up referred to one as "a very good violin..." the other (higher quality) one was picked up and prompted the assessment "now this is a fine fiddle..."

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"For example, when my violins were first brought to Calif. the luthier who fixed them up referred to one as "a very good violin..." the other (higher quality) one was picked up and prompted the assessment "now this is a fine fiddle..."

That is exactly what I was trying to say.

You don't say "pig meat" in polite company, you say "pork". If you see a brass instrument of some sort and you can't readily identify it, you say "horn". If you see something which somehow you feel needs a less mundane description than "violin" but words fail you, you say "a fine fiddle" - the very quaintness of the term somehow adds weight to you admiration as well as giving credence to your expertise. I can just hear Charles Beare on a guided tour of the Ashmolean pointing to the "Messiah" and saying: "Now there is a fine fiddle..." and the next day in his shop, when a customer brings in a Crackmeister with brass machine-heads and wire strings: "It's a fiddle.."

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  • 5 months later...

Wow- so many levels here to discuss:

First of all- use of the word "fiddle" to describe an instrument used by a classical player. My first REAL private teacher and her husband were German symphony players- she on violin, he on cello. The term "fiedel" and related words come up from the renaissance though the ages to present day, in various languages and spelling variations. My German teachers always referred to the instrument itself as the "fiddle" with this background to their usage.

secondly - I agree that the set-up of bridge, and fine tuners, and string selection are affected by the style of music usually played. I haven't seen a need to change my violin to a folk or "fiddle" setup although I am mostly playing Celtic fiddle stuff just now. Since I learned classical style, I think it would throw me off to change the bridge height, etc.

However, my "Fiddle mentor" is trying to get me to use only about 3 inches of the upper bow, to avoid the exhaustion that hits me after about an hour of reels and jigs. Personally, I think its just that that fatigues those upper arm muscles. All those notes of the same lenghth of bow- with almost no variation!

The real difference is how you play the thing!

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I agree with all you write maestramusica: I play folk music and started learning more or less from the word go with a flattened bridge which made it really difficult to bow single strings but now I have to try hard to double/triple stop. However, it does mean that playing these traditional tunes is much less effort and the speed (I find) is easier to achieve. I know many traditional players who use flattened/customised bridges. I also know many who prefer steel strings to give the punchy and almost raw sound that folk music often needs to mimic pipes etc. although I know that in the classical world, many would run a mile from that sound.

Incidentally, you don't have to play 'All those notes of the same lenghth of bow- with almost no variation!', slur more notes together and get into the groove of the tune!

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