What’s the difference between a fiddle and violin?  This is the number one question I’m asked as a player or teacher.  I think that it’s asked so often because the answer is usually a bit dissatisfying.

Essentially, they are the same thing.

This is a perfectly good answer to anyone who asks this question, but the person who gives this answer will usually be greeted with a slightly perplexed and expectant look.  It’s just not enough – there has to be more to it than this.  Indeed there is – but once you get into that the eyes of your questioner start to glaze over, a yawn is stifled and they begin to wish they never asked.  Until next time they see a fiddle player and they decide that, once and for all, they will get an answer to this question.  And the whole rigmarole goes round again.

Now for the eye-glazing, yawn-stifling stuff:

Picture someone with a violin in their hand.  They play in an orchestra and so are very likely to refer to their instrument as a violin, as that is what classical people do.

Now that person hands their violin to a folk person, complete with straggly hair, beard and pewter tankard.  This person will be very likely to refer to the instrument as a fiddle.

They’d both be right.  Physically, the instrument hasn’t changed.  It’s just that folk players tend to call them fiddles and classical people tend to call them violins.  It should be pointed out here that there are exceptions.  For example, a classical player who wishes to appear cool may call their £75,000 violin a fiddle.

There may be superficial differences

A violin will probably be very clean and well-polished

A fiddle may have years of caked rosin dust on it

A violin will normally only be seen in the hands of its owner, or safely tucked away in its case.

A fiddle may be seen lying on a pub table surrounded by pints of beer.

Also, the set-up will often be different.  Classical players like a more pronounced curve on the bridge than fiddlers do.  A flatter bridge helps with all the fast string crossing that occurs in folk music.