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.