World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000010618
Reproduction Date:

Title: Fiddle  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: The Voice of the People, Traditional Nordic dance music, List of national instruments (music), Reel (dance), Gaelic Storm
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A fiddler fiddling
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322-71
(Composite chordophone sounded by a bow)
Developed Early 16th century
Playing range
Related instruments
More articles

Fiddle is another name for the bowed string musical instrument more often called a violin.[1] It is also a colloquial term for the instrument used by players in all genres, including classical music. Fiddle playing, or fiddling, which could refers to various styles of music.

There are no real distinctions between violins and fiddles, though more primitively constructed and smaller violins are more likely to be considered fiddles. Fiddle is also a common term among musicians who play folk music on the violin. The fiddle is part of many traditional (folk) styles of music which are aural traditions, taught 'by ear' rather than via written music. It is less common for a classically trained violinist to play folk music, but today, many fiddlers have classical training.


The medieval fiddle emerged in 10th-century Europe, deriving from the Byzantine lira (Greek:λύρα, Latin:lira, English:lyre), a bowed string instrument of the Byzantine Empire and ancestor of most European bowed instruments.[2][3] The first recorded reference to the bowed lira was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments he cited the lira (lūrā) as a typical instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the rabāb played in the Islamic Empires.[4] Lira spread widely westward to Europe; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009).

Over the centuries, Europe continued to have two distinct types of fiddles: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, became known as the lira da braccio (arm viol) family and evolved into the violin; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, was the lira da gamba (leg viol) group. During the Renaissance the gambas were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) lira da braccio family.[5]


The etymology of fiddle is uncertain: the Germanic fiddle may derive from the same early Romance word as does violin, or it may be natively Germanic.[6] The name seems however to be related to Icelandic Fiðla and also Old English fiðele.[7] A native Germanic ancestor of fiddle may even be the ancestor of the early Romance form of violin.[8] Historically, fiddle also referred to a predecessor of today's violin. Like the violin, it tended to have four strings, but came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Another family of instruments that contributed to the development of the modern fiddle are the viols, which are held between the legs and played vertically, and have fretted fingerboards.


Peter Stampfel from the Holy Modal Rounders

In performance, a solo fiddler, or one fiddler or two with a group of other instrumentalists, is the norm, though twin fiddling is represented in some North American, Scandinavian, Scottish and Irish styles. Violins, on the other hand, are commonly grouped in sections. These contrasting traditions may be vestiges of historical performance settings: large concert halls where violins were played required more instruments, before electronic amplification, than did more intimate dance halls and houses that fiddlers played in.

The difference was likely compounded by the different sounds expected of violin music and fiddle music. Historically, the majority of fiddle music was dance music, while violin music had either grown out of dance music or was something else entirely. Violin music came to value a smoothness that fiddling, with its dance-driven clear beat, did not always follow. In situations that required greater volume, a fiddler (as long as they kept the beat) could push their instrument harder than could a violinist. (Different fiddle traditions have different values, as detailed below. These explanations present the differences between fiddle music and other violin music.)

Following the folk revivals of the second half of the 20th century, however, it has become common for less formal situations to find large groups of fiddlers playing together—see for example the Calgary Fiddlers, and Swedish Spelmanslag folk-musician clubs, and the worldwide[9] phenomenon of Irish sessions.

Scottish fiddle with cello

In the very late 20th century, a few artists have successfully attempted a reconstruction of the Scottish tradition of violin and "big fiddle," or cello. Notable recorded examples include Iain Fraser and Christine Hanson, Amelia Kaminski and Christine Hanson's Bonnie Lasses[10] and Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas' Fire and Grace.[11]

Balkan fiddle with kontra

Hungarian, Slovenian, and Romanian fiddle players are often accompanied by a three-stringed variant of the viola—known as the kontra—and by double bass, with cimbalom and clarinet being less standard yet still common additions to a band. In Hungary, a three stringed viola variant with a flat bridge, called the kontra or háromhúros brácsa makes up part of a traditional rhythm section in Hungarian folk music. The flat bridge allows for three string chords to be played. A three stringed double bass variant is also used.


To a greater extent than classical violin playing, fiddle playing is characterized by a huge variety of ethnic or folk music traditions, each of which has its own distinctive sound.


Great Britain


  • Irish Folk music fiddling including:
    • Donegal fiddling from the northwest in Ulster, which features mazurkas and a Scottish-influenced repertoire including Strathspey and Highland Fling dances. Fiddlers tend to play fast and make heavy use of staccato bowing and may from time to time "play the bass," meaning a second fiddler may play a melody an octave below where a first fiddler is playing it.
    • Sligo fiddling from northern Connacht, which like Donegal fiddling tends to be fast, but with a bouncier feel to the bowing.
    • Galway fiddling southern Connacht, which is slower than Sligo or Donegal traditions, with a heavier emphasis on ornamentation. Additionally, tunes are occasionally played in Eb or Bb to match the tonality of flat pipes.
    • Clare fiddling from northern Munster, which tends to be played near the slower Galway tempo yet with a greater emphasis on the melody itself rather than ornamentation.
    • Sliabh Luachra fiddling from the southwest in Munster, characterized by a unique repertoire of polkas and slides, as well as the use of double stops and drones as well as playing the melody in two octaves as in Donegal.[13]


Continental Europe


North America

American fiddling, a broad category including traditional and modern styles.


  • Blues fiddling
  • Cajun and Zydeco fiddling
  • Old-time fiddling, including:
    • Fiddling from Appalachia, the most well-known style today, featuring heavy use of droning and double-stops as well as syncopated bowing patterns.
    • Athabaskan fiddling of the Interior Alaska.
    • Midwestern fiddling, highly influenced by Scandinavian music.
    • Ozarks fiddling, faster and crisper bowing than Appalachia.
    • Texas fiddling, with influences from Mexican fiddling and an emphasis on competitive playing.
      Fiddler Kenny Baker.
    • New England fiddling, with strong influences from Québécois and British repertoires.
    • Northwest fiddling, with influences from both Ozark and Midwestern fiddle styles, though with a strong emphasis on competitive playing like Texas fiddling.
  • Tohono O'odham fiddling, a Native American style heavily influenced by Mexican fiddling[17] and featuring irregular counts and harmonies in thirds, fourths, and sixths.


Canadian fiddling Fiddling remains popular in Canada, and the various homegrown styles of fiddling are seen as an important part of the country's cultural identity, as celebrated during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Latin America

Other Areas



Near Relations

Distant Relations

See also


  1. ^ Gyles, Mary Francis (January 1947). "Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned".  
  2. ^ "fiddle." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 6 March 2009.
  3. ^ Anthony Baines: The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments. Oxford University Press, USA (November 12, 1992).
  4. ^ Margaret J. Kartomi: On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990 p. 124.
  5. ^ stringed instrument. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 14, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009).
  6. ^ "fiddle, n.". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 2008-03-28. 
    (as access to the OED online is not free, the relevant excerpt is provided) "The ultimate origin is obscure. The [Teutonic] word bears a singular resemblance in sound to its [medieval Latin] synonym vitula, vidula, whence [Old French] viole, Pr. viula, and (by adoption from these [languages]) [Italian], [Spanish], [Portuguese] viola: see [viol]. The supposition that the early [Romance] vidula was adopted independently in more than one [Teutonic language] would account adequately for all the [Teutonic] forms; on the other hand, *fiÞulôn- may be an [Old Teutonic] word of native etymology, though no satisfactory [Teutonic] derivation has been found."
  7. ^ "Bosworth and Toller". Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  8. ^ Mario Pei, The Story of the English Language (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 109.
  9. ^ "The Session: Sessions". Retrieved 28 August 2006. 
  10. ^ "Amelia Kaminski Productions". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  11. ^ "Fire & Grace". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  12. ^ Joseph Lyons. "Scottish Fiddle Music". Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  13. ^ "Regional Irish Fiddle Styles". Retrieved 2012-04-30. 
  14. ^ "Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Fiddle". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  15. ^ "Klezmer Fiddle". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  16. ^ "East European and Gypsy Fiddle". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  17. ^ "Gu-Achi Fiddlers - Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music (CR-8082)". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  18. ^ "Western Swing Fiddle". Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  19. ^ "Jackson School of International Studies - Canadian Studies Center". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 


  • The Fiddle Book, by Marion Thede, (1970), Oak Publications. ISBN 0-8256-0145-2.
  • The Fiddler's Fakebook, by David Brody, (1983), Oak Publications. US ISBN 0-8256-0238-6; UK ISBN 0-7119-0309-3.
  • Oldtime Fiddling Across America, by David Reiner and Peter Anick (1989), Mel Bay Publications. ISBN 0-87166-766-5. Has transcriptions (standard notation) and analysis of tunes from multiple regional and ethnic styles.
  • The Portland Collection, by Susan Songer, (1997), ISBN 0-9657476-0-3 (Vol. 2 ISBN 0-9657476-1-1)
  • North American Fiddle Music: a research and information guide by Drew Beisswenger (2011) Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-99454

External links

  • Faroese fiddle
  • Fiddle and Alternative Strings Forum
  • Fiddle Fork
  • Fiddle Hangout
  • Kimberley Fraser's Fiddle Blog - Cape Breton Fiddler Kimberley Fraser discusses issues relevant to traditional fiddle music.
  • Voyager Records' catalog,organized by region, has clips of many North American styles.
  • A French Violin fiddle method website - video, text, and forum with explanation (with tablatures).
  • The Fiddler's Companion, an encyclopedia of historical notes on tunes from British, Celtic, and American traditions.
  • Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Fiddling
  • Traditional Irish fiddle Players
  • Difference Between Fiddle and Violin
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.