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So, off subject: will someone please edify me and explain "fiddles". Is it a generic term for a style of play; as in Irish fiddle or ol' timey fiddle. Can any of the "violins" family be a fiddle? Can the lower voiced viola be a fiddle? more or less strings on violin vs. fiddle? Or is a fiddle a specific instrument? shelly

 

maybe I should put this in a new subject....

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It may be a bit unrealistic to expect "fiddle" to be well-defined. The word derives from the same root as "violin." that is, "fiddle" is to "viol" as "vittles" is to "victuals."

 

Orchestral violinists are known to refer to their instruments as "fiddles." It's really just a "cute" name for a violin, although it has acquired several more specific meanings as regards folk music.

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In my mind 'fiddle' refers to the same instrument as 'violin'. There are however a few more or less home made (folk- if you like) instruments that can be referred to as 'fiddle', the brass fiddles of the travelling musicians of Donegal, the 'Russion' or 'box' (rectangular bodied) fiddles that have occurred in Clare or the 'fiedel' made out of a clog in Belgium or the Netherlands for example.

 

klompviool.jpg

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Some 40 years ago when I lived in Northwest Arkansas, a violin maker moved there from "back east" (Pennsylvania, I think). He went to a local community college and offered to teach a class in violin making and put up adds all over the place. He got too few takers make a class. A few moths later, with the help of some new Arkansas friends he offered a class in "fiddle" making and filled two sections.

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'fiedel' made out of a clog in Belgium or the Netherlands for example.

 

Now that is way too cool. If I had ANY apptitude for string instruments, I'd be sorely tempted to try this. .....but I don't, so I won't. ha thanks everyone, for your replies. shelly

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Can any of the "violins" family be a fiddle? Can the lower voiced viola be a fiddle? more or less strings on violin vs. fiddle? Or is a fiddle a specific instrument?

 

Shelly,

This is partly a question of organology, partly a question of linguistics.

 

The organologists have a system of categorisation for musical instruments, similar the that used by zoologists. The animal kingdom divides neatly into vertibrates and invertibrates; the vertibrates into fish, reptiles, birds and mammals; the mammals into pawed and hoofed mammals (ungulates); the ungulates into cloven- and single-hoofed types. The single-hoofed ungulates are represented by individual species, e.g. horses, donkeys, zebras.

 

So also musical instruments. Here we have the broad categories aerophones (wind instruments), cordophones (stringed instruments), membranophones ("skinned" instruments, e.g. drums), and a few others. The cordophones (whch are relevant to your question) are further divided by their configuration.

There are only a limited number of ways to construct an instrument that will make a string tunable, playable and audible. The audibility comes from a resonator of some sort, which in Europe is usually a wooden box. Also, the string must be acoustically coupled to the resonator. Tunability comes from tension, so there must be one fixed point and one adjustable point of attachment for each string. And playability means having the different notes that your musical system requires.

In all human cultures (before the electronic age) we find the same 4 configurations:

1. One string for each note, pulling outwards on part of the sound-box, with the tension taken up by an open framework.

2. One string for each note, stretched from one end of the sound-box to the other.

3. Fewer strings than notes, stretched from one end of the sound-box to the end of a thin strut (the neck). The few strings can be stopped on the neck to produce many notes. The strings pass over a bridge, which couples them acoustically to the sound-box

4. One string for each note, stretched from one end of the sound-box to a bar (the yoke) that is supported by two spars (the horns), and passing over a bridge as in 3.

 

If you think about it, any stringed instrument from any continent and any period from ancient Egypt on, fits into one of these categories (with the exception of one or two "hybrids" here and there, but they are combinations of two or more of the above, not something entirely different).

 

The early organologists - Europeans - named these 4 configurations after 4 instruments already familiar to them: 1. is the category of the "harps"; 2. is the "psalteries" or "zithers"; 3. is the "lutes", and 4. is the "lyres".

 

We haven't had the fiddle or violin yet, so where do they fit in? Well, they have a sound-box with a neck, and the strings bear down on a bridge, and you can get many notes from each one of the few strings. So they're "lutes". The same category as the guitar, mandolin, banjo, sitar, saz and instruments in Egyptian wall paintings.

 

But of course there's a further subdivision of the "lutes", depending on how the strings are sounded. Some are plucked, and some are bowed. And we use the word "fiddles" for all bowed lutes, which we find in Europe, Arabia, India and east Asia.

 

So each of these these words, harp, zither, lute, lyre and fiddle, has two meanings: an abstract category based on the physical configuration, and a very specific "species" of European instrument.

 

In English, we have two words for the specific species of instrument that is used as the treble in a string orchestra and as a solo instrument in many European folk musics: violin and fiddle. This is hardly surprising, because English has a lot of "doublets" - pairs of words that mean basically the same, one of which is Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) in origin, the other Norman French (Romance), e.g. house / mansion; love / cherish, etc. "Fiddle" is the Germanic English word, "violin" is the Romance English word for the same thing. The early English organologists chose to use the more archaic, Germanic word "fiddles" as the generic term for "bowed lutes."

 

The instrument in our house when I was a child (in Ireland) was called both a "violin" and a "fiddle." My mother, classically trained, usually called it the violin, my father, a rural musician in his young days, called it the fiddle. Both correct, both logical!

Of a doublet, the Germanic word is usually the more basic, down-to-earth one, the Romance word usually more elevated. So bourgeois classical musicians tend to talk about their violins, rural traditional musicians tend to say "fiddle" for the same instrument. I'm quite sure that the wide distribution of the fiddle in folk musics stems from the extensive use of the violin in classical music, making second-hand instruments readily available to rural musicians.

 

So apart from the organological use as a category designation, a fiddle and a violin are identical.

 

The big difference is between the players! A violinist and a fiddler are two different animals, and remain so, even if they swap instruments.

 

Hope this doesn't confuse too many of you too much! Maybe someone could start a similar, more on-topic thread, like, "Is a Chemnitzer really a concertina?" Or "Is a Bandonoen not a concertina?" B)

 

Cheers,

John

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So, off subject: will someone please edify me and explain "fiddles". Is it a generic term for a style of play; as in Irish fiddle or ol' timey fiddle. Can any of the "violins" family be a fiddle? Can the lower voiced viola be a fiddle? more or less strings on violin vs. fiddle? Or is a fiddle a specific instrument? shelly

 

maybe I should put this in a new subject....

 

It's about the musical genre, not the instrument, IMO.

 

Old time and bluegrass players play fiddles. Classical players play violins. They're playing essentially the same instruments (well, maybe not exactly the same; I've never encountered a string band musician playing a Strad, and I've never encountered a symphony musician playing an instrument with a rattlesnake tail in the body, as an old bandmate had).

 

 

The fiddlers I play with play violins but bristle if you call them that. The classical violinists I know hate it if you call their fiddles "fiddles."

 

It can get murky. I know klezmer and Scandi musicians who call themselves violinists, others who call themselves fiddlers.

 

 

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Chemnitzers and Bandoneons are all members of the concertina family but they are entirely different instruments and immediately distinguishable from each other and from "our" concertinas. They can all be called "concertinas" in the same way that other instruments could be called "woodwinds".

 

Whether an instrument is a violin or a fiddle is entirely a question of context and playing style. The same instrument could be a "violin" playing Bach in an orchestra on one occasion and the following night be a "fiddle" playing folk tunes in the pub without any changes to the instrument itself. The difference is in how it's played.

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In his orchestral scores, the composer Percy Grainger (1882 - 1961) often referred to violins, violas and cellos idiosyncratically as 'fiddles', 'middle-fiddles' and 'bass-fiddles'.

 

In my own classical chamber orchestra the violinists often refer to their instruments affectionately as 'fiddles'.

Edited by Steve_freereeder
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Grainger had some eccentric ideas and often preferred to use what he called"Nordic English" avoiding Latinisms, which would explain his preference for "fiddle" over "violin", even in an orchestral context. He also called music "tone-art", and concerts were "tone-feasts".

 

Of course "fiddle" is also used colloquially for a violin, but in a mock-disparaging way.

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It may be a bit unrealistic to expect "fiddle" to be well-defined. The word derives from the same root as "violin." that is, "fiddle" is to "viol" as "vittles" is to "victuals."

 

Hadn't heard that before--the parallel isn't exact, though, since "fiddle" and "viol," unlike "vittles" and "victuals," aren't pronounced the same way. I've always assumed that "vittles" derived from "victuals," rather than the case of parallel evolution you describe.

 

But: I'm fairly certain I read somewhere--it might have been in Dan Worrall's The Anglo-German Concertina, but I can't swear to it and haven't the time to look it up--that "fiddle" used to be a generic term for the dance musician's instrument, regardless of whether strings and a bow were involved. Of course, that doesn't mean that the word didn't start out as it is now, used almost solely to describe violins...

 

[edited for clarity]

Edited by jdms
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fiddle (n.) dictionary.giflate 14c., fedele, earlier fithele, from O.E. fiðele, which is related to O.N. fiðla, M.Du. vedele, Du. vedel, O.H.G. fidula, Ger. Fiedel; all of uncertain origin, perhaps from M.L. vitula "stringed instrument," which is perhaps related to L. vitularia "celebrate joyfully," from Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory, who probably, like her name, originated among the Sabines [Klein, Barnhart]. Unless the Medieval Latin word is from the Germanic ones. Fiddle has been relegated to colloquial usage by its more proper cousin, violin, a process encouraged by phraseology such as fiddlesticks, contemptuous nonsense word fiddlededee (1784), and fiddle-faddle. Fit as a fiddle is from 1610s.fiddle (v.) dictionary.giflate 14c.; the figurative sense of "to act nervously or idly" is from 1520s. Related: Fiddled; fiddling

 

 

 

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No one seems to have mentioned this yet, but there is one traditional difference between a violin and a fiddle, and that's the contour of the bridge. Violin players favor a bridge with more arch, which allows for cleaner single string playing, and fiddlers like a flatter bridge which allows them to play two or even three strings at once.

 

I dimly recall that fiddle players like their bridges to angle back (or forward, I forget) a bit to give the sound more "growl".

 

Of course that's a general rule, and I'm sure that there are countless violin players who like flat bridges and vice versa. In fact, in the photo below the bottom bridge was used by a rather well known Canadian fiddle player.

 

Photo found on Google:

post-9575-0-24736100-1351118612_thumb.jpg

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I really liked Randy's reply, where it is clear, that Violin and Fiddle both come from the work Fiolin, where o and that Greek thingy (th) are looking alike. Because Russian alphabet comes from Greek, there are many such borrowings, where "th" is replaced with "o", "b" with "v" (like "babylon" is pronounced "vavilon"), as greek "B" is russian "V".

But you would be very surprised to find out, that elevated Russian word for classical violin is "Skripka", which can be translated as "scratchie", and Violinist is a Scratcher. Therefore an add at Conservatory Theatre sounds like: "And tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we'll present Paganini Opus no "N" for Scratchie, played by infamous Scratcher Ivan Ivanovich Ivanovsky and his chamber Scratchers' Ensemble "Scratching virtuosos".

All the while lowly Klezmorim are playing their humble Fideles in Folk group "Oy-Vey".

Not mentioning, of course, that most of the "Oy-Vey" Klezmorim have day jobs as members of Chamber Ensemble "Scratching virtuosos".:)

Edited by m3838
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No one seems to have mentioned this yet, but there is one traditional difference between a violin and a fiddle, and that's the contour of the bridge. Violin players favor a bridge with more arch, which allows for cleaner single string playing, and fiddlers like a flatter bridge which allows them to play two or even three strings at once.

 

I dimly recall that fiddle players like their bridges to angle back (or forward, I forget) a bit to give the sound more "growl".

 

Of course that's a general rule, and I'm sure that there are countless violin players who like flat bridges and vice versa. In fact, in the photo below the bottom bridge was used by a rather well known Canadian fiddle player.

 

Photo found on Google:

I would add that fiddle players often use metal strings and violinists usually use gut or synthetic core strings.

Edited by Daniel Hersh
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