Violin vs. Fiddle

Fiddle was never a word in my dictionary before I came to the States. I learned violin for seven years, then stopped learning it for another seven years. I practiced songs by Beethoven, Bach, Sibelius, and those names that I have long forgotten. For me, violin is always the equivalence of elegance, classics, serenity or grandness. And all of that was about to be torn apart.

On a lovely Saturday of September, 2014, one month after I came to this country, I went to the Columbia Farmer’s Market to look for story ideas for class J7802. I saw a bluegrass band playing there. They played instruments I’ve never seen (which were later known as mandolin and banjo), but I was happy to see something I am familiar with—the violin. By then I was still trying to not even fit it, but just get to know this new country and its people, and I could not jump out of my comfort zone, or, I didn’t have one; I didn’t feel comfortable with anything.

So when you finally see something you know in a environment where the rest of it just doesn’t make sense, you feel relieved and reach out to it.

“Hi. That was fantastic over there! So how long have you been playing violin?”

“Well, this is fiddle sweetheart.”

“—Oh,” WHAT???

No. You gotta be kidding me. I know this is violin. I’ve been playing it since I was even shorter. So there I asked:

“But I thought it is a violin.”

“Well. It is, but not exactly. It depends on what kind of music you play on it.”

Ever since then, I started looking for an answer to best explain the difference between a violin and a fiddle.

Some say no, there is no difference, and some attribute it to the slight difference between the height of the bridges. A more scientific saying is “fiddle” is an English word and “violin” belongs to Italian.

But I enjoyed reading some of the more acute/funny answers:

People clap after a violin song while people clap during a fiddle song“—Mike Gonzalez

A violin is kept in a violin case, and a fiddle is kept in a sack“—Henry Stour

A fiddles usually got a redneck (red neck) on it,” —Nathaniel McDonald


You don’t spill beer on a violin.”

Finally I was able to give a cursory conclusion that, whether a instruments with four strings is a fiddle or violin depends on the person playing it and why he/she is playing it.

When you play violin, you try to accomplish something. You try to recreate the sentiment a song was written to show, and sometimes you add your own interpretation to it. But with a fiddle, you just play it. You play it on a party, in your yard; you play it in a band, with friends and for fun. It is not to say that fiddler don’t have techniques and subtle emotions, they do, but they only exists in a lifestyle where people gather to spend the whole afternoon together, to dance, to drink beer, to talk or just to enjoy life. Yes, fiddle is a lifestyle.

I could never imagine having fiddle in my country, because people just don’t share each other’s life in the way those who play fiddle do.

Learning about fiddle became part of how I started to learn a country.

By the way, I now started playing violin again.

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