I very often refer to violins as fiddles. That is what my Grandfather called them, so it has been a part of my vocabulary from a very young age. Many people seem to be put off by the use of the word. The word fiddle is often associated with an instrument of inferior quality. This is absolutely untrue. Fiddles are made to the same standards as violins. Usually the only difference between them is the shape of the bridge. Some fiddles are fitted with a flatter bridge than classical violinists use. The difference between a round and flat bridge is not more than about a quarter, or a half millimeter variation in the height of two strings. The small variation is enough to reduce the range of right-arm motion required for the rapid string-crossings found in some styles. Fiddle players contend that it makes playing double stops and shuffles easier. And, that it can make triple stops possible, and allows them to also play chords.
Almost all classical players prefer a more curved top on their bridge, allowing them to articulate each note in a more precise manner. I have made several “fiddles” for people that insisted their bridge be cut round (probably because they had some classical training in their formative years). An instrument with a flat, or round bridge installed does not define its quality of construction, or intended use.
One of the early lessons a maker learns in his career is that “fiddlers” are looking for the same quality as their classically trained counterparts. Really fine fiddles are not student violins, or substandard in any way.
The word “fFiddle” has a more generalized meaning than “violin.” The descriptor Violin refers to a specific instrument, fiddle may be used to refer to a violin or any member of a general category of similarly stringed instruments played with a horsehair bow, such as the Hardanger Fiddle, 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 contra bass ("bull fiddle" or "bass fiddle"), and so on.
The origin of the word fiddle is uncertain. The “Germanic Fiddle” may be derived from the same early Romance word that was applied to the violin, or it may be uniquely Germanic. Like the violin, it had four strings, but came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Another family of instruments which contributed to the development of the modern fiddle were known as “Viols”, which were held between the legs and played vertically, and have fretted fingerboards.
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 play fiddle music, and today many fiddle players have some classical training. As might be expected from the differences between the classical and folk music cultures, more musicians with no formal training play fiddle music than play classical music.
So, don't be offended if someone refers to your instrument as a fiddle. They are not wrong, and mean no offense.
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