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Violin VL100.jpg
A standard modern violin shown from the front and the side
String instrument
Hornbostel-Sachs classification 321.322-71
(Composite chordophone sounded by a bow)
Developed Early 16th century
Playing range
Range violin.png
Related instruments
More articles
Scroll and ear.jpg
This article is part
of the Fiddle & Violin series.
Basic physics of the violin
History of the violin
Musical styles
Making and maintenance
Playing the violin
Violin construction
Violin family of instruments

The term fiddle may refer to any bowed string musical instrument, usually the violin.[1] It is also a colloquial term for the instrument used by players in all genres, including classical music. Fiddle playing, or fiddling, refers to various styles of music.


The fiddle

Any bowed string musical instrument may be informally called a fiddle, regardless of the kind of music being played with it. Violins or other members of the violin family are often affectionately referred to by their players as "my fiddle".


The bowed string instrument first appeared in India circa 3000 BC, and is described in Hindu myth as Ravanahatha[2]. From India, the technology traveled out both to China, and through Central Asia to Europe.

The medieval fiddle emerged in 10th-century Europe, deriving from the Byzantine lira (Greek:λύρα, Latin:lira, English:lyre), a bowed string instrument of the Byzantine Empire and ancestor of most European bowed instruments[3][4]. The first recorded reference to the bowed lira was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments he cited the lira (lūrā) as a typical instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the rabāb played in the Islamic Empires[5]. Lira spread widely westward to Europe; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009).

Over the centuries, Europe continued to have two distinct types of fiddles: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, became known as the lira da braccio (arm viol) family and evolved into the violin; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, was the lira da gamba (leg viol) group. During the Renaissance the gambas were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) lira da braccio family[6].

The fiddle or violin

Fiddle has a more generalized meaning than violin. Whereas violin refers to a specific instrument, fiddle may be used to refer to a violin or any member of a general category of similar stringed instruments played with a horsehair bow, such as the Hardanger fiddle, the Byzantine lira, the Chinese erhu, the Welsh crwth, the Apache Tzii'edo' a 'tl, the cello in the context of a Scottish violin/cello duo ("wee fiddle and big fiddle"), the double bass ("bull fiddle" or "bass fiddle"), and so on.[citation needed]


The etymology of fiddle is uncertain: the Germanic fiddle may derive from the same early Romance word as does violin, or it may be natively Germanic.[7] A native Germanic ancestor of fiddle may even be the ancestor of the early Romance form of violin.[8] Historically, fiddle also referred to a predecessor of today's violin. Like the violin, it tended to have four strings, but came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Another family of instruments which contributed to the development of the modern fiddle are the viols, which are held between the legs and played vertically, and have fretted fingerboards.

Musical style

Common distinctions between violins and fiddles reflect the differences in the instruments used to play classical and folk music. However, it is not uncommon for classically trained violinists to try to play fiddle music, and today many fiddle players have some classical training. A lot of traditional (folk) styles are oral traditions, so are taught 'by ear' rather than with written music. Most experienced fiddlers are able to pick up a tune in a matter of minutes, knowing the key instantly.

Construction and setup

In construction, fiddles and violins are essentially identical (with the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle excepted as a special case). The medieval fiddle had rear tuning pegs set in a flat headstock similarly to the Byzantine lyra and unlike the rabāb and rebec.


Some (folk) fiddle traditions fit the instrument with a flatter bridge than classical violinists use. The difference between "round" and "flat" is not more than about a quarter or half a millimeter variation in the height of one or two strings, but is sufficient to reduce the range of right-arm motion required for the rapid string-crossings found in some styles, and those who use flatter bridges say it makes playing double stops and shuffles (bariolage) easier. It can also make triple stops possible, allowing one to play chords. In bluegrass and old-time music, for example, the top of the bridge is sometimes cut so that it is very slightly flattened; the Hardanger fiddle uses an even flatter bridge, and the bridge of the kontra or bracsa (a three-string viola used in Hungarian and Transylvanian folk music) is flat enough that all three strings can easily be played simultaneously.

Most classical violinists prefer a more rounded curve to the top of the bridge, feeling that this allows them to articulate each note more easily and clearly. Many fiddle players use the same top curve as well; most fiddles are fitted with a standard classical bridge, regardless of the style of music played on the instrument. Since the bridge may be changed, it does not permanently define an instrument as fiddle or violin.


Since some genres of fiddling favor different tone than what most violinists might prefer, soundpost position and tension will vary according to the use of the instrument.

Strings and tuners

Fiddle is more likely to be used than violin if the instrument's strings are steel rather than gut or synthetic, as the sound of steel strings better suits some fiddling styles. Tuning steel strings is easier with fine tuners (small screw mechanisms attached or built into the tailpiece) so fiddlers may favor instruments with fine tuners on all four strings; it is very uncommon to see four fine tuners on full-size instruments played by classical musicians. Strings are subject to regular replacement, fine tuners may be added or removed, and tailpieces may be changed, so, like flattened bridges, they do not make an irreversible difference.


Various clichés describe the difference between fiddle and violin: "When you are buying it, it's a fiddle. When you are selling it, it's a violin." "What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle? About $10,000." "The difference is in the nut that holds the bow." "The violin sings, the fiddle dances." "A fiddle is a violin with attitude." "No one cries when they spill beer on a fiddle." "The difference between a violinist and a fiddle player is $100 a night, and a tux."According to the performer Shoji Tabuchi, the difference lies "in how you fiddle around with it."[citation needed]


In performance, a solo fiddler, or one fiddler or two with a group of other instrumentalists, is the norm, though twin fiddling is represented in some North American, Scandinavian, Scottish and Irish styles. Violins, on the other hand, are commonly grouped in sections. These contrasting traditions may be vestiges of historical performance settings: large concert halls in which violins were played required more instruments, before electronic amplification, than did more intimate dance halls and houses fiddles were played in. The difference was likely compounded by the different sounds expected of violin music and fiddle music. Historically, the majority of fiddle music was dance music, while violin music had either grown out of dance music or was something else entirely. Violin music came to value a smoothness which fiddling, with its dance-driven clear beat, did not always follow - in situations that required greater volume, a fiddler (as long as they kept the beat) could push their instrument harder than could a violinist. (Different fiddle traditions had different values, as detailed below; these explanations are meant to present the differences between fiddle music and violin music generally.)

Following the folk revivals of the second half of the 20th century, however, it has become common for less formal situations to find large groups of fiddlers playing together—see for example the Swedish Spelmanslag folk-musician clubs, and the worldwide[9] phenomenon of Irish sessions.

In the very late 20th century, a few artists have successfully attempted a reconstruction of the Scottish tradition of violin and "big fiddle," or cello. Notable recorded examples include Iain Fraser and Christine Hanson, Amelia Kaminski and Christine Hanson's Bonnie Lasses and Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas' Fire and Grace.

Bows used in fiddling

Most fiddling styles that use the standard violin also use the standard violin bow, the same as classical players; the bow stick may be usually made from wood, but bows made from fiberglass and other materials are becoming more common. However, there are a few styles which use other bows. One notable example is the folk music from Hungary and Transylvania used in the táncház tradition. While the violinist uses a standard bow, both the kontra (3-string viola) and bass are played with heavy and crude "folk bows", consisting of a stout stick, usually hand-hewn, with the hank of horsehair attached at the tip and tied around the frog. Some players tension the hair by squeezing it when playing.

Scottish fiddlers emulating 18th century playing styles sometimes use a replica of the type of bow used in that period, which is a few inches shorter, and weighs significantly more.[citation needed]

Fiddling styles

To a greater extent than classical violin playing, fiddle playing is characterized by a huge variety of ethnic or folk music traditions, each of which has its own distinctive sound, including, but not limited to:

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "fiddle." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 06 Mar. 2009
  4. ^ Anthony Baines: The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments. Oxford University Press, USA (November 12, 1992)
  5. ^ Margaret J. Kartomi: On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990 p.124
  6. ^ stringed instrument. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 14, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009)
  7. ^ "fiddle, n.". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
    (as access to the OED online is not free, the relevant excerpt is provided) "The ultimate origin is obscure. The [Teutonic] word bears a singular resemblance in sound to its [medieval Latin] synonym vitula, vidula, whence [Old French] viole, Pr. viula, and (by adoption from these [languages]) [Italian], [Spanish], [Portuguese] viola: see [viol]. The supposition that the early [Romance] vidula was adopted independently in more than one [Teutonic language] would account adequately for all the [Teutonic] forms; on the other hand, *fiÞulôn- may be an [Old Teutonic] word of native etymology, though no satisfactory [Teutonic] derivation has been found."
  8. ^ Mario Pei, The Story of the English Language (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 109.
  9. ^ "The Session: Sessions". Retrieved 28 August 2006. 


  • The Fiddle Book, by Marion Thede, (1970), Oak Publications. ISBN 0-8256-0145-2.
  • The Fiddler's Fakebook, by David Brody, (1983), Oak Publications. US ISBN 0-8256-0238-6; UK ISBN 0-7119-0309-3.
  • Oldtime Fiddling Across America, by David Reiner and Peter Anick (1989), Mel Bay Publications. ISBN 0-87166-766-5. Has transcriptions (standard notation) and analysis of tunes from multiple regional and ethnic styles.
  • The Portland Collection, by Susan Songer, (1997), ISBN 0-9657476-0-3 (Vol. 2 ISBN 0-9657476-1-1)

External links

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Parts of the Violin and Fiddle

Here are the various parts of the violin
: Violin-chart.jpg

  • Fingerboard -- This is where the fiddler's fingers are placed to change the note being played.
  • Tuning Pegs -- These are used to tune the strings of the fiddle, and are located underneath the scroll, a small spiral-shaped ornament on the top of the neck of the fiddle.
  • F-Holes -- These are f-shaped holes in the fiddle that are important in the fiddle's production of sound.
  • Bridge -- This is one of the smallest parts of the fiddle that suspends the strings above the fingerboard. It is set directly between the 2 center points of the F-holes.
  • Fine Tuners -- These are used for tuning the fiddle's strings within a very small range (the tuning pegs change the note a lot more than the fine tuners).
  • Chinrest -- This is where the chin of the fiddler is placed and is important in supporting the fiddle.

Tips on Playing the Fiddle and Violin

  • When holding the neck of your fiddle, ensure your wrist is curved and your posture is perfect in order to create a rich tone.
  • Make sure your left wrist does not "collapse". You should support your fiddle with your neck and shoulder. Your left hand must be free to move, though you can bring your thumb underneath a bit to slightly counterbalance your fingers.
  • Keep your fingernails trimmed short. This is important for a clear sound. You should depress the strings with the tips of your fingers on your left hand and you won't do that well with long fingernails. Also, a good vibrato will not be achieved with long fingernails.
  • Hold the fiddle in a relaxed manner. The use of a shoulder rest will help. The shoulder rest prevents excessive tension in the shoulder.
  • Keep your fiddle up high on your left shoulder with the scroll out to your left rather than directly out in front of you as this can make proper left hand positioning very difficult.
  • Ensure that you look straight ahead, not down your strings as you play. This will have the effect that it's more the left side of your jawbone that rests on your "chinrest" than your chin.
  • Your bow should move perpendicular to the strings. Lead your bow with your right wrist. The stick of the bow should be slightly tilted toward the fingerboard (away from your face).
  • Be very careful to keep your pinky from "floating." Instead, make sure it's firmly on the nut or shaft of the bow but without being "buckled" or bent backwards.
  • Your bow should move between the fingerboard and the bridge. When closer to the bridge, it will be louder. Play closer to the fingerboard to play more quietly. (For the beginner: the fingerboard is the long, black piece running down the center of the fiddle. See the photo above.)
  • When playing quiet sections of music, keep using all the bow but press down lighter.
  • Practice! (As a guide, college majors are recommended to practice roughly 2 to 4 hours per day. At least an hour a day should be expected as a bare minimum for serious practitioners.)

...And more tips

  • The fiddle is tuned (from low to high) G D A E. The A is usually 440 hertz (420-435 hertz for Baroque tuning).
  • The viola is played in the same fashion, but tuned a fifth lower (C G D A).
  • As you play, rosin from the bow will collect on the top of the fiddle. Clean this off gently with a soft cloth regularly to ensure it doesn't harm the finish or the tone quality.
  • There are several positions for your left hand depending how close to your face on the fingerboard your hand is. The 1st position is when your 1st finger on the A string plays B, the 2nd position is when it plays C, 3rd when it plays D. When a change of position is required a number is printed above or below the score to indicate which finger is used to play that particular note.
  • Before playing the bow should be rubbed with rosin. You can buy some at any musical instrument store. Keep rosin in your left hand and rub the bow against it in the same way you play. Do not overdo this, since it will result in the fiddle sounding harsh.
  • Fiddles do come in several sizes, but the smaller sizes are only meant for students too small to properly play a full sized fiddle. If your fiddle is less than full size, you can measure whether or not you are ready for the next larger size by placing the fiddle on your shoulder just as you would play it and reaching with your fingers around the scroll. If your fingers extend all the way around the scroll and touch the pegbox (the portion just below the scroll into which the pegs fit), you are most likely ready for the next size up.
  • Playing with vibrato involves your left wrist and/or elbow. Keep bowing with your right hand as you normally would.


  • The faster you move the bow, the richer the sound coming from the string will be. But make sure you get all the notes in before running out of bow hair.
  • As you get better, pay more attention to how you move the bow. Changing directions (up to down, etc.) is, to a large extent, equivalent to taking a breath while singing. Experiment with different bowing speed and pressure.
  • Sheet music will generally include bowing notation intermittently. The "up bow" mark looks like a V and the "down bow mark" like a staple or a square missing its bottom side. Up means you should start at the tip and push the bow, and down means you should start at the frog (which is where your hand is holding the bow) and pull the bow. An up-bow usually generates a softer sound, while a down-bow is stronger and more assertive. Feel free to pencil in your own marks, but remember the printed bowing marks are there for a musical reason, so they should usually be respected.
  • Be sure to practice using the whole length of the bow.


  • For violin playing, it is recommended that lessons are the best way to learn violin. Violin is one of the hardest instruments to play, let alone teach yourself to play. Consider this: you might consider using videos, CD-ROMs, or other such multi-media channels for violin instruction, but remember: this is only a one-way form of instruction. If your elbow isn't positioned properly, a video cannot correct you. The violin can do serious damage to the body if played incorrectly. If you are teaching yourself to play, and have strain or pain in your wrist, neck, shoulder, or elbow, stop playing immediately and pay for a few lessons to have a teacher correct your technique. Proper technique early on can prevent serious injury.
  • The only difference between the violin and the fiddle is the style in which you play it, though many fiddlers will use a flatter (less curved) bridge (to make it easier to play double stops) and a few even tune the violin differently. However, it is due to the fact that different styles have different tonal requirements, that what is proper for one style could be considered improper for the other. Teaching yourself to play the fiddle is generally considered acceptable, and has less strict requirements compared to playing violin. To achieve a great result, practice as often as you can.
  • Remember that everything about technique and theory in this book that involves the fiddle is exactly or almost exactly the same with the violin.

by (mark masbad)

Some Basic Music Theory

  • Music theory is the study of the notes and symbols used when writing music and how they apply to playing. Generally, all instruments share much of the same concepts in music theory.
  • Documents on which music are written are called sheet music. Sheet music that contains music for more than one instrument are called scores.
  • Notes are written on five lines called a staff.
  • Both the violin and the fiddle use the Treble Clef, which is used to write notes on higher-sounding instruments. The lines of the treble clef are from bottom to top: E, G, B, D, F; the spaces are from bottom to top: F, A, C, E. You can remember both of those with the following chant: Every Good Boy Does Fine, tells what's on the treble line. F, A, C E, tells what's in the treble space.
  • A time signature appears at the first line in every piece. It tells you how many beats are in a measure, and looks like a fraction; the top number tells you how many beats each measure has. Until a player steps up to the intermediate level, the bottom number will always be 4, and the longest measures will all have 4 beats.
  • The type of note tells you how many beats it has. For example, most notes are quarter notes, which have one beat. A quarter note is filled in black and has a stem.


  • Arco is when you play with the bow
  • Vibrato is the slight movement back and forth of the finger to produce a wavy sound (this is really hard to do!!! but it should come naturally)
  • Tremolo is the rapid movement of the bow, marked by three slashes through the note
  • Trill is a rapid playing of the marked note and the note one step above, marked by a wavy line above the note
  • Col legno is when you tap the string with the wood of the bow
  • Pizzicato is when you pluck the strings
  • Slur is when you play multiple notes on one bowing, marked with a curving line connecting the slurred notes

For more information

The following sites have information for your research:

Simple English

The word fiddle means a violin when used in folk music. Many people also use it simply as a fun word for "violin". Someone who plays the fiddle is a "fiddler". The bow is sometimes called a "fiddling stick". Fiddle playing, or fiddling, is a style of folk music.

The word fiddle is also used for instruments of several hundred years ago which developed into the violin. These instruments varied a lot from one country to another and one time to another. They were of different shapes and sizes, and even had many different names. Often they were held against the chest instead of being tucked under the chin. In the middle ages a small, narrow violin called a kit was often used by dancing masters. It was small enough to be put in a pocket. In south eastern Europe there was even a fiddle with a belly (the front of the instrument) made of skin. Fiddle strings were usually made of gut.

Many fiddles have bridges which are flatter on top than those of classical violins. The flatter bridges makes it easier to play chords and to bow quickly from one string to another. The strings are tuned in a variety of ways. A player might even change the tuning for playing different pieces of music. Tunings other than the regular G-D-A-E tuning, such as G-D-G-D or A-E-A-E, are common. One, two or three of the strings may have been used for a drone (continuous note) while playing the tune on the top string(s).

Many fiddlers have not received classical training but have learned by listening to other fiddlers and copying them. The music they play is dance music. Classical violin playing developed out of country fiddle playing. Most fiddlers use bows which are the same as violin bows, but in some countries such as Hungary they use shorter, heavier bows with horse hair that is tied around the frog (the heel of the bow). With this type of bow the player tightens the hair by squeezing it while playing.

Fiddles were played by people from all areas of society: from noble people to simple peasants. Many of them were minstrels who entertained important people. Some of them may have been able to read music, but many would have learned by copying other players and memorizing the music. At important feasts the minstrels may have played music while walking up to the high table when the food was brought in. They played to accompany dancers and singers, and even acrobats. We can see from old paintings that they sometimes played with other instruments such as trumpets, drums or percussion. We do not know the music they played because it was never written down, but some tunes we still hear today may have come from those old tunes, since some people still learn tunes by ear, from people who learned them by ear, and so on. Some American "old-time" tunes, and some Breton tunes may have come to us in this way, for example.

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