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Fiddle vs. Violin: Are Violins and Fiddles Different?

The answer is a surprising “no.” A violin and a fiddle are the same four-stringed instrument, generally played with a bow, strummed, or plucked. They are identical in their physical appearance. What distinguishes a violin from a fiddle is the style of music that is played on the instrument; it’s all in how you play it.

The term violin is most often associated with classical music, orchestras, symphonies, and chamber music. Fiddle, in contrast, is associated with a wide variety of music styles including Cajun, bluegrass, folk, and country.

There are Some Subtle Variations in Player Preferences

While the body of the instrument is the same whether it’s a violin or a fiddle, the set-up of the instrument can vary between violins and fiddles.

One difference has come about due to the introduction of the five-string fiddle, which has an added lower fifth C-string. Many electric violin -- also called electric fiddle – manufacturers such as NS offer five-string models with that same additional C string.

Another difference is the type of strings preferred by classical violinists -- gut or synthetic-core -- vs. the steel core strings typically chosen by fiddlers (and electric violinists) who prize the sharp, crisp sound those strings lend to the music.

Some fiddle players prefer to have a flatter bridge instead of the more traditional arched bridge. The flatter bridge decreases the angle between strings and allows two or more notes to be played at a time, which is desirable to many fiddlers.

It’s All In How You Play It!

Classical violinists are very precise in how they play a piece. There is no deviation from the music as it was written by the composer. It’s a more “technical” way of playing. Fiddlers, on the other hand, have much more freedom in how they interpret a piece of music and in creating their own playing style.

Music played on the violin tends toward a more traditional interpretation of the instrument. Fiddle players will often employ alternative techniques such as string bending and extended multiple stop bowing passages, depending the style of music they’re playing.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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