Fiddle vs. Violin: Learning the Difference

Fiddle and violin playing used to hold a wide chasm separating the two worlds, with violinists looking down on their poor fiddler cousins. But the truth is now-a-days, that chasm is slowly closing and both violin and fiddle playing are drawing strength from each other’s characteristics. Fiddle vs violin? Let’s take a look at the difference.

So what is the big difference exactly between how to play violin and how to fiddle? Since this question gets asked often, here’s a simple explanation offered. Traditional violinists read musical notes and sheet music, while those who learn how to fiddle play by ear. Violin music is meant to evoke beauty and power, while fiddling is meant to stir up dancing. Violin music adheres strictly to the orchestra and sheet music notes, while fiddling improvises. Violins must be held with a person’s jaw, while the fiddler holds the violin down on his arm so he can call out dance moves. When thinking of fiddle vs violin, think of rock vs classical guitar and you will be close.

The violin and fiddle are both violins, and the chief difference is only in how the instrument is played and the techniques involved. Today, the musical gap concerning fiddle vs violin has rapidly narrowed, and no longer is there one side (the violinists) looking down upon the other (fiddlers). Today both violin and fiddle mix and match each other’s virtues to create classical new techniques for both styles. When a student wants to learn how to fiddle today, their classes will usually start with and include a musical education that teaches reading music, understanding music theory and holding the violin in the classical way.

When a student decides to pursue classical music education for the violin, not only will they learn the classical and traditional methods, but they will eventually be encouraged to improvise and try new techniques similar to fiddling. Old stereotypes of fiddle vs violin and the differences between violin and fiddle are wearing away to create a comfortable co-existence between these two amazing musical brothers.

Photo Credit: Waldo Jaquith

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