Fiddle, or violin? The definitive difference

Fiddle, or violin? The definitive difference


norman lebrecht

February 02, 2014

Vi Wickam, Canadian fiddle player, keeps getting asked for a critical distinction between what he plays and a Stradivarius.

He has come up with a whole range of delineators, some amusing, some true, some mythical (there is at least one classical violinist who plays concertos barefoot). But the volume of technical information that Vi assembles is valuable. This is a blog to cut out and keep. Click here.

vi wickham


  • “You won’t shout, as I fiddle about….”

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    Interestingly, the words “violin” and “fiddle” both come from the same Latin word, “vitula”.

  • Marshall says:

    Modern classical violinists constantly refer to it as the fiddle, to, I suppose, to make it sound more popular and accessible. You know, the common man thing, It always sounds ridiculous.

    Another phrase I’d love all musicians to drop is “making music”-it’s the de rigeur expression and they all throw it in at some point when they’re being interviewed. Nothing is more fun than making music with them, we made music together, it was a wonderful performance, and making music with these colleagues is , and on, and on

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      That’s because the process of making music together is generally referred to as “making music”. That’s not a recent fad. That’s just what it is called. You can also say “we play together” or “we play music together”. Apparently you never made music with anyone.

      • Marshall says:

        How do you know?

        The expression used the way it is-is relatively recent-30 yrs. or so? As I said there is not a classical musician interviewed who does not at least once throw it in. My interpretation is to make what they do seem more regular-more accessible, and like all those popularizing attempts sounds, silly. Yes, what about we “performed together” , “I/we played the music/together”, etc.and the others you mentions. It’s so inelegant anyway:what else are you doing when you perform music?

        .It has become some essential phrase for the masses-and watch them as they consciously stick it in-almost without fail-sounds so studied and calculating at this point.

        I, personally cringe when I hear it.

        • m2n2k says:

          You may cringe all you want – it is your inalienable right. However, when I get together with my colleagues and we have great time reading through some chamber music, we are not performing – it is not a performance – but when it goes well, we are definitely making music together. In other words, the terms are not interchangeable, and sometimes “making music” describes what we do in the best possible way.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Marshall simply didn’t know that it is a very common phrase, and it has been for a long time, nothing recent that people came up with to “popularize” anything. And it’s a very simple, basic way of describing the act of, well, making music together, nothing particularly fancy anyway. It’s funny how much people read into some stuff.

          • Marshall says:

            Well, m2n2k, I find it interesting that you take the effort to reply to me, yet won’t even consider that maybe there’s something to what I’m saying? Speaking of quibbling over words and phrases, I think we all get that playing music is not necessarily a performance, but I think the word is used loosely-almost as loosely as “making music” is.

            So only when you play well, or it is a better performance is it “MM” the rest of the time it’s just chopping wood? And who makes that detirmination. If you’re playing a sonata on the piano (without an audience), that can’t be “MM”?

            OK-so it’s not a performance but, it isn’t just playing-or playing music, an instrument etc.? You are ascribing special judgemental qualities to the phrase-but can you “MM” badly?

            I hold to how the phrase is being used-and on top of it I just find it a tad inelegant. Yes, I will continue cringing when I see well known musicians being interviewed-(and I chuckle to myself when I hear it coming, or I know tthere will be one) and we have the making music

            term shoe horned in.

      • Marshall says:

        Mr. Schaffer- see my response to m2n2k

        To return the favor-you “simply’ are not looking at the phrase too simply. I never disputed it is “common”, but since I go back a while, I don’t recall it going back all that long-I said 30-maybe 40 years? I notice it most when famous muscians are interviewed, and many professional muscians I know, NEVER use the term. I think I beagn noticing it with Mehta, Barenboim, Pearlman-back in the 70’s and these are all guys who knew eachother when they were younger. I never heard it with the older generation of performers-nor come to think of it with the young ones.

        Actually it would be interesting for someone to find out when it first started being used-and I think not “that” long ago-and the actual information would interest me. much more than being proved correct.

        And I will continue cringing.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    The violin and the fiddle started as one and the same, the “baroque” violin. In the 18th century it was just the violin. In isolated places such as Appalachia the playing style did not have the modernizing of equipment and compositions, and stayed more true to its origins. One can still see this in the way both instrument and bow are held. Of course local styles developed with very little crossover until radio and TV brought the outside in. If the Pachelbel Canon is played at the proper tempo instead of the lugubrious currently fashionable one, it sounds amazingly like fiddle music.

  • Please excuse my ignorance, but I`ll pass on what I was told i.e. the primary difference is that fiddlers are playing mostly with only 2 positions whilst a trained violinist is required to master ALL of the positions.

  • Vi Wickam says:

    Thanks for sharing my post, Norman!

    Vi “The Fiddler” Wickam

      • Vi Wickam says:

        Thanks, Norman. I really appreciate your repost.

        For reference, I actually live in Colorado, USA, not Canada. Also, my primary instrument is an early 1800’s French violin that belonged to my great Grandfather, Joseph Wickam, who also played classical violin as well as popular tunes of his time.

        Thanks again!