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Help - violin or fiddle?

04 Nov 00 - 08:11 PM (#334772)
Subject: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Laura

Please help. My son is very interested in bluegrass and wants to learn fiddle. However, when finding a teacher, do I find him someone who will teach him classical violin or someone who will teach him fiddle. Is there even a difference? Sorry to be so ignorant but I really don't know where to start. Thanks for any help you can give.

04 Nov 00 - 08:15 PM (#334777)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: MMario

the styles are very different. if his interest is bluegrass - you would probably want to find a fiddler to teach him. He would most likely be very frustrated taking classical violin.

04 Nov 00 - 08:28 PM (#334786)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Louie Roy

Laura,If your son wants to learn Blue Grass find a fiddle teacher one who plays by ear.They say the difference between a fiddle and a violin is the violin went to college Louie Roy

04 Nov 00 - 09:22 PM (#334821)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Jeri

I'd look for someone who'll teach him bluegrass. He'll get tired of the instrument very quickly if a teacher has him doing a lot of things that aren't fun to him.

And yes, the styles are very different.

04 Nov 00 - 09:35 PM (#334832)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Matt_R

And as a pre-emptive strike, please no "fiddlers are the best thing since sliced bread, violin players are braindead robots" lines.

04 Nov 00 - 11:41 PM (#334907)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: zander (inactive)

Find a fiddle teacher and remember someone once said that a violin is a derogatory name for a fiddle. best of luck, Dave

04 Nov 00 - 11:53 PM (#334913)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Jon Freeman

I'm not a fiddler (or violinst) and I'm certainly not dissagreeing with the advice given here which I'm sure is correct but I have a question: I have met fiddlers (Irish style) who have told me that they have felt that they have benefited from some degree of classical training - any thoughts?


05 Nov 00 - 01:03 AM (#334949)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Thyme2dream

A good point raised there, Jon... in my opinion, one of the best Bluegrass fiddlers in the world is Kenny Baker (used to play for Bill Monroe)-when Kenny plays you can hear the 'violin' touch, and yet its pure Bluegrass.. I'm fairly sure that I've heard Kenny mention that he did have some classical training along the way, and also had such varied influences as Stephan Grepelli (sp?) and Django Reinhardt.

To answer Laura's query tho, I'd have to go with Louie Ray's advice...learn him a little music reading, but for a fiddle player the ability to play by ear is essential! The classical training would probably be more useful along down the line.

05 Nov 00 - 02:29 AM (#334964)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Jo King

Hello Folk I do not play either instrument or style, but I just thought I would add that, as far as I know, there is a difference in the way the instruments are set up. The set up of a fiddle tends to have a more flat radius on the fingerboard and bridge. This allows for more easy double string playing, and less motion in the bowing arm to reach from treble to bass strings. In addition the string choice may be different in trying to attain a different tone.

This is what I have gathered from another luthier (who work with bowed instruments). Hopefully someone who plays will confirm or refute this assessment.

As for which is the best route to follow, The more you know the better. Also I find it amazing how our musical destinations change the more we learn and the more we are exposed to. So, I say encourage every musical interest your son has, and keep an eye on the big picture. Who knows where he'll wind up. Maybe he will revolutionize bluegrass fiddle, or play oboe in a malasian symphony, or be a regular Joe with a pasion for music. Who knows... Good luck JK

05 Nov 00 - 07:54 AM (#335022)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Dave T

Jo KIng is essentially correct about the different set ups. Bluegrass and old-time fiddler's tend to use a flatter bridge and lower action than classical players. It does make for less bow-travel to get from string to string when playing double stops. However, some Bach pieces require 4-note chords which have to played by really "crunching" across all strings so there goes that theory!
Anyway, I've been taking "fiddle" lessons for just over a year. My instructor, unlike me, is a young guy (early 20's) and can play bluegrass, Irish, jazz and classical (as well as guitar, piano, mandolin...makes you sick don't it?). Anyway the point is, there are many techniques that cross lines of style and are great to know. Try to find an instructor who knows more than simply bluegrass or old time. That way if your son wants to learn some different techniques after a while, you won't have to switch instructors.

Dave T

05 Nov 00 - 08:09 AM (#335025)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Allan C.

I was taught to play by ear (guitar, not fiddle). That teaching has served me very well indeed. Some of the advice above is to find a teacher who will teach bluegrass by ear. I think that is a great idea. But I must tell you that one of my major regrets is that I have never learned to read music. While it is fun to be able to play songs I have heard before; it is impossible for me to play songs I have never heard.

My advice is to find some way for him to learn a bit of each. The music reading lessons wouldn't even necessarily have to be in direct conjunction with the fiddle lessons. He will someday figure out how to apply one to the other (when he is ready to do so). Whatever way you can do it, I strongly urge you to do both.


05 Nov 00 - 09:25 AM (#335039)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Jeri

On fiddle set up, the bridge is often flatter when the fiddler plays in a style with lots of double-stops. (2 strings at once) Not all fiddlers have their bridge flattened because they don't all use a lot of double stops. Even classical players with classical set-ups play double stops. My guess is that a lot of bluegrass fiddlers play with a flattened bridge. Still, it would be good to have a knowledgable teacher explain set-ups.

I'm of the opinion that no learning is wasted. I've heard the comment that being able to read music somehow hurts. No way! Being unable to learn by ear, and relying solely on sheet music does hurt, but learning by ear is the way we all start learning music. (I don't recall anyone passing out sheet music for those playground songs, camp songs or the ones we sang on school busses, and just about everyone sings along with the radio.) Someone learning an instrument simply has to transfer the ability from voice to instrument.

The best teacher would be one who understands bluegrass very well but knows about other fiddle styles. Music involves the cross genre-isation of not just tunes and instruments, but techniques.

On starting out with a classical-only teacher, I still think that a kid who wants to learn bluegrass because he loves bluegrass would get very frustrated at being made to learn something else. If someone had forced me to play scales when I started learning, I may have become a better player, but I most likely would have quit before that happened.

05 Nov 00 - 09:43 AM (#335043)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?

find a teacher of suzuki method. suzuki places a great emphasis on learning to listen followed by learning to replicate the sound...then find yourself a fiddler. remember 12 year olds change their minds with frequency.

05 Nov 00 - 10:04 AM (#335059)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?

Irish traditional (fiddle) is stuck in first position, which is fine for tunes in D, G, A. Em etc, which is all that the music ever requires (the music also accommodates pipes and whistles, which are even more restricted). Learning classical opens up massively more scope than needed for Irish traditional, but if more fiddlers learnt it, they wouldn't have to put capos on their mandolins (sacrilige!) to match someone singing in a remote key.

I'd say if someone is interested in traditional/bluegrass/oldtime, learn just that, and move on to classical if the urge is there. One of the most important, or at any rate helpful, factors in getting a youngster started, is finding one or two like-minded people among their peers.
Numb-brain JoeClone deleted the wrong duplicate message, which said it was posted by "GUEST,Fionn (still lurking in County Down)." --JoeClone, with apology.
JoeClone, I am extremely worried about this. We were all cloned from the same source. Does that mean that I am a numb-brain too? Or worse still... ;-)

05 Nov 00 - 10:30 AM (#335072)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Peter K (Fionn)

That last "guest" post was mine - don't always notice when the cookie crumbles on this (borrowed) machine.

05 Nov 00 - 10:57 AM (#335085)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Pixie

I heard this the other day....maybe here on Mudcat:

A fiddle is violin with attitude!

05 Nov 00 - 11:19 AM (#335096)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: NancyZ

Hi Laura, That's fantastic that your son wants to play fiddle! My teacher was classically trained as a child, but found when she started teaching groups of young or adult students ,her classes were almost empty. She found many did not know how to read music. She created a way to teach and learn fiddle tunes without reading notes. Her classes were overflowing after that! Here is her site if your interestred.

Now that I have a few years under my belt, I have learned to read music, but I still have to transpose that to tablature to learn a tune, some day I may be able to read it quickly. I can also improvise as jams which is essential.

If as an adult I would've started with classical training I would've given it up out of frustration. However, if I could turn back the hands of time, I would've started as a kid in Suzuki, learned to read music and the different positions,gained some real skills, THEN branched out to Old Time and Irish. My advice is find a teacher who has good essential skills, but can teach Old Time/Bluegrass tunes that your son is interested in. Also, at your local library there is a book you can check-out videos and one is taught by two kids that are brother and sister,(I can't recall there names), Its for beginners and very well taught. It may get him rolling until you can find a teacher. Cheers, Nancy

PS, My teacher was just inducted to the Old Time Music Hall of Fame:)

05 Nov 00 - 12:01 PM (#335123)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Malcolm Douglas

Speaking as an entirely self-taught fiddle player (not bluegrass, mind), I'd say that Nancy has it just right; find a bluegrass teacher who was trained formally, whether "classical" or Suzuki; your son will then have the best of both, and with luck the limitations of neither.


05 Nov 00 - 02:25 PM (#335201)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Hardiman the Fiddler

Hi Laura,

Welcome to the mudcat forum. I was wondering, how old is your son? That might affect the size of the instrument that he's going to start out with. Violins/Fiddles come in 1/4 1/2 3/4 and full size. Getting the right size is really important.

Does your son read music? If he does, Carol Ann Wheeler has published a book, "Children's Fiddling method," which she published to suppliment the Suzuki method after about the first year.

It might be helpful to have a teacher at least show your son how to hold his instrument, how to hold the bow, the correct tension on the bow, how to rosin the bow, and the correct set up for his shoulder rest and chin rest. You can learn these things by looking at pictures from a book, but believe me, a little help goes a long way. There is a Mel Bay publication, I think it is called "fun with the fiddle" that covers many of these issues.

Finally I would suggest that you and your son might interview the teachers to find one whose style he enjoys. Go and ask the teacher to play a few fiddle tunes for you and see if you like the style. See if your son hits it off with the teacher---and if the teacher hits it off with your son. Otherwise, your son will wind up really frustrated.

One final note in the difference between fiddle style and violin style is that a lot of energy is spent in the classical style learning vibrato, which tends not to be used so much in "classical" fiddle style.

Finally, it is possible to teach yourself how to fiddle without the benefit of lessons and without the benefit of classical violin training in your background. I did.

Tell your son from me "Happy fiddling."


05 Nov 00 - 03:03 PM (#335217)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Bernard

I always understood the vile-din was shoved under the chin, but the fiddle went against the upper arm, leaving the fiddler free to call the dances...

06 Nov 00 - 12:01 PM (#335245)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Kim C

In my previous life (just a few years ago)I was a classically-trained pianist. All my learning came in very handy when I decided I wanted to play the fiddle. I have been at it two years now and while I mostly play "fiddle" stuff, I also have a "violin" technical book which I have found very helpful, albeit somewhat boring! But I guess at 33 years of age you understand that the boring stuff is sometimes necessary in order to accomplish a goal.

I would also like to add that while I did fairly well teaching myself at first, I would never have known about the many finer points of fiddle playing if I had not gone to a teacher.

06 Nov 00 - 12:14 PM (#335254)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Laura

Thanks so much for all your help! My son is eight years old and has always loved bluegrass/traditional music. He's dying to get started and now I now how to go about it. I appreciate all the posts. Will keep you informed.

06 Nov 00 - 02:01 PM (#335360)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: selby

My son has school violin lessons with an excellant teacher (Dr Edward Huws Jones who has written some good books for fiddlers)but at heart he is a folkie, he is a practicing for his grade 4 exam and has found he likes the jazz classic Take 5. My advice is find the best Teacher you can and your sons own intrests will flourish and allow him to take in other influences which will I believe encourage his own style. Keith

06 Nov 00 - 02:43 PM (#335400)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Hardiman the Fiddler

Yes, Bernard,

I have seen some old time fiddlers play with the fiddle placed against their chest and cradled in the left arm, allowing them to call dances or to sing. I asked an old-timer about that style of playing, which he was using. He told me that he got tired of having a pain in the neck from playing in the traditional fashion, so he switched some years back. He'd been at it long enough that he had perfected his style to an art. That prompted me to go home and try it. What I discovered was that cradling the fiddle thus reduces the mobility of the left hand because you are holding the insrument with it, and I discovered that it also totally changed the dynamic of bowing. The tonal quality suffered such that I said, "Aw, to hell with it," and went back to the traditional under the chin stance.

I've also seen a lot of fiddlers not bother with a shoulder rest which in my humble opinion is a mistake too. Without the shoulder rest, you wind up holding the fiddle up with the left hand, which reduces the dexterity with which you can finger the notes.


06 Nov 00 - 03:37 PM (#335427)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Kim C

Us gals have a little problem when trying to play the fiddle not under the chin. For some gals it's a much bigger problem.

I got a good chin rest last year, a fairly high one, so I can play without the shoulder rest for a little bit if I choose. But it is SO much better, for me, anyway, to play with the shoulder rest, especially for a long practice session. If I can only get in a few minutes, I'll do without - but I have noticed that it's true, you expend more energy holding the fiddle that way.

06 Nov 00 - 03:45 PM (#335433)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: beachcomber

Hello Laura,

I took lessons in traditional fiddle playing a few years back. bought a new violin and the teacher took one look and said "nice instrument but you could sand the bridge down a bit to lower the string 'action' and maybe take some of the top off , like mine, as well ". He was a very well respected traditional musician even though fiddle was not his "first" instrument. I complied, needless to add and in ten nights of quite pressured classes (Once a week) I had learned to play lots of simple polkas and a few slow "airs" by reading a basic melody line. I was the only complete beginner in the class and I believe that it was the speed with which the others moved along that actually helped me. I had played some rythm guitar before. Hope this will encourage your son. My own little daughter has recently started "fiddle lessons" too.

07 Nov 00 - 03:31 AM (#335807)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?

With the violin or fiddle under your chin, it is very hard to sing whereas on your chest it is not acoustically coupled to your bones and it easier to sing with it.

Most of the fiddlers here were classicaly trained; but then again the schools don't offer anything else.

Laura, I suspect that some 8 year olds who don't want to learn classical violin might be put off by being forced to do it. I guess it depends on the personality of your son.

Whatever you do, I hope he enjoys it.


07 Nov 00 - 10:20 PM (#336395)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,leeneia

So far everyone has overlooked a very important consideration for you as a parent. You are your child's chief protector, and you mustn't risk turning him over to a self-taught, well-meaning person who teaches him bad habits that could cause problems for hia small body.

Make sure that your child's teacher has taken courses in how to teach children safely and pleasurably.

Some doctor I once read about in Smithsonian Magazine remarked that the violin is an instrument designed for destroying the human right arm.

08 Nov 00 - 06:58 PM (#336894)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?

I always thought that the only difference between a "violin" and a "fiddle" was that no-one cares if you spill beer on a fiddle!

09 Nov 00 - 04:58 PM (#337360)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Kara

I thought the differance was clear, but just the other day on radio 4 i heard Nigel Kennedy refer to himself as a Fiddle player.

09 Nov 00 - 05:33 PM (#337385)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: tradman

Most of the traditional fiddle players who I know who either started out classically trained are very pleased for having the training. I also know several fine fiddle players who started out learning by ear, and later took up classical violin to help with thier technique. All were very happy they had done so. One of the biggest advantages of classical training is that it teaches you to play in any finger position, and this is of great benefit with any kind of fiddle music. Itzak Perlman seems to do a splendid job with Klezmer fiddle. It's easier to play folk music if you start with some classical training, and although it's great to be able to play by ear, it's invaluable to know how to read music competently.

With regard to Bach's double and triple stops, he wrote for the Baroque violin which had much flatter bridges than the classical violins used today.

09 Nov 00 - 09:02 PM (#337529)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Malcolm Douglas

Orchestral players normally refer to themselves as "fiddle players"; as a rule it's a form of inverse snobbery, as the majority of them tend to look down on the rest of us.  The "under the chin" position is a fairly recent innovation, as is the shoulder rest.  Personally, I dislike shoulder rests, as they tend to force you into a stiff and unnatural stance, though I imagine that they are indispensible if you want to play in high positions or are unable to hold the instrument in a relaxed fashion.


09 Nov 00 - 10:36 PM (#337585)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Andrea

Hi! My advice to you is to start your son out with someone who will teach him to read music - whether it be classical style or fiddle. Being able to read music is an awesome thing- if you can read music you can play almost any style that can be written down. (Not that you'll play it stylistically correct, but at least the notes will be right :-) The improvizational skills required to play a lot of bluegrass music have foundations in music theory. You need ear training too, don't get me wrong. What you want is to be able to eventually do both. If you are totally dependant on written music it will be really hard for you to do any kind of improv. Classical players don't do improv. But trying to improvize without knowlege of music theory is like shooting fish in a bucket- you're going to hit something but you'll never know what. Most of the time that approach doesn't work well. My other piece of advice to you is to find a teacher who knows a lot about techique. I know a bunch of fiddlers who don't know beans about how to get a good sound out of their instrument. (I'm not slamming fiddlers - I started out with 2 years of classical training and have been playing Bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, and Old Time fiddle for 10 years.) Don't be afraid to switch teachers if you need to learn something more. And by all means play lots of different styles- you'd be suprised how many of them are related. And finally - listen to all the different styles you can get your hands on, you may find something else you really like. Good luck, best wishes, I hope I see your son at a jam session someday!

09 Nov 00 - 11:26 PM (#337608)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Gypsy

Here, here, Andrea! At 8 years old, will be a piece of cake for your son to learn to read music. And it is really handy to be able to do so! Playing by ear will definitely happen (and should) but don't neglect the importance of reading the written note. It is thus that you can compose, and preserve centuries old music. And it makes playing by ear alot easier.

09 Nov 00 - 11:29 PM (#337611)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Malcolm Douglas

I agree entirely with Andrea, except for her assertion that you need a knowledge of musical theory in order to improvise.  A practised ear is all you need for that.  Musically literate players can improvise too, of course, but they tend to find it harder if they have been trained to rely on musical notation, which in the case of traditional music is, after all, just a way of noting the bare bones of the tune.  A comprehensively notated set of even a relatively uncomplicated tune as played in real life can become so involved that many professionals without experience in that style of playing would be quite unable to reproduce it accurately.  The point is that somebody who can only play from written music probably believes that there is a "right" way of of playing a tune (well, they've seen the sheet music!) -when there is really no such thing; context determines what is right (or, more to the point, appropriate) in any given situation. &nbnsp;This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the original question...


28 Jul 02 - 12:55 AM (#755774)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull

refresh (for khandu) he bought a violin/fiddle today.
Malcolm-How did you teach yourself? Did you have any lessons at all, or just copy people in sessions etc?

28 Jul 02 - 01:16 AM (#755787)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: khandu

Thanks, John! I should have looked in the archives myself!

This is good info in this thread, but if any others want to add to it, I will be grateful.

The following is what I posted in another thread ("Advice needed from Fiddlers", which I have asked to be deleted.

I have just purchased an inexpensive violin with the very real intent of finally learning how to play. To do so, I ask the help of the fiddlin' Mudcatters.

First, as I have been asked this a thousand times, is there a difference between a fiddle and a violin?

Do fiddlers use alternate tunings? I understand that the usual tuning is G-D-A-E. Why is this best?

What pitfalls lurk for the beginner? I would rather learn correctly than to have to re-learn later.

What other questions should I be asking that I haven't even thought of yet?

Any advice or suggestions will be will be greatly appreciated. When I play Carnegie Hall, I will give you proper credit!


28 Jul 02 - 01:28 AM (#755792)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: katlaughing

My dad is 85 now and has been a fiddler since he was about 8 years old; still practices and plays everyday. He's always played by ear, but also reads music. Back when he was growing up everyone learned to read music in school. It was the same when I was growing up. So, he plays both ways. This was also partly because he's played in a lot of dance bands and some of them used music to learn the tunes.

I had classical from 8yrs old through high school and am really grateful for the discipline and experience. I am equally grateful that my ear was well trained and I can play by ear, too.

Classical training can be fun with the right teacher and there is no reason a child cannot learn both, with a good teacher.

28 Jul 02 - 01:33 AM (#755797)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: khandu

But, kat...I am not a child! :-D


28 Jul 02 - 01:43 AM (#755801)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: rangeroger

Itzak Perlman calls his Stradivarius a fiddle.And he can play some mean blues on it.


28 Jul 02 - 01:46 AM (#755802)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: NicoleC

>First, as I have been asked this a thousand times, is >there a difference between a fiddle and a violin?

Not really... it's mostly what you do with it. All else is window dressing :)

>Do fiddlers use alternate tunings? I understand that >the usual tuning is G-D-A-E. Why is this best?

I wouldn't rush into alternate tunings. Believe me, you'll be plenty busy with the regular one for a while. :)

>What pitfalls lurk for the beginner? I would rather >learn correctly than to have to re-learn later.

Er... I still consider myself pretty much in the beginner category, but one thing that is starting to haunt me is my left hand position. I can't help but "squeeze" the neck with ball of my first finger, and no matter what I do I can't manage to play without it. Bad habit, I hope, that I can eventually break -- I don't think I'll ever manage vibrato until I do.

>What other questions should I be asking that I haven't >even thought of yet?

Be careful finding a teacher who you can get along with. Some may push you harder than you'd like, or maybe you need to be pushed. So talk to lots of folks and keep looking until you find the right guy or gal.

Happy fiddling!

28 Jul 02 - 02:22 AM (#755810)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: katlaughing

khandu...with a name like that I don't think you'll have any problems!*bg*

I use a shoulder rest and a chin rest. In classical training, we had to be able to hold the violin without using our left hand, i.e. by our chin and neck muscles only. That way, we had total access to all positions on the neck for our left hand.

Nicole, not quite sure what you mean about the "ball" of your finger, but in old time fiddling a lot of people think nothing of resting the neck on their upturned wrist. If that is a habit you don't want, the solution my orchestra teacher used on some kids was to use a tiny piece of scotch tape, with a tack pointing through the non-sticky side. Said tape went on the underside of the neck, about where the wrist would hit. Said tack would poke the wrist and remind the little buggers to drop their wrist and keep their left elbow tucked in and under for greater dexterity!

Don't worry about the vibrato...just wait until you're up there playing for an audience the first'll have plenty of vibrato, but ya might want something soft on the insides of yer knees so the knockin' doesn't get too loud!**VERYBG!!**


28 Jul 02 - 02:52 AM (#755817)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Al

To my ear, most classically trained violinists still sound classical even when they are trying to play bluegrass, old-time, blues, etc. I think it takes away from their ability to play other styles. I don't like the classical sound. Just my opinion. Al

28 Jul 02 - 03:16 AM (#755828)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: greg stephens

A lot of people in this thread are trying hard to establish a "correct" usage that says "violin" for classical and "fiddle" for folk.That is not how the words are used by everyone. Lots of people say fiddle for both, lots of people say violin for both. The words are historically synonymous. If you want to make this distinction ,fine, but don't try to impose it on others who dont talk that way.
But more important, go for it khandu. You know have the best instrument in the world. Scrape on!!

28 Jul 02 - 05:02 AM (#755849)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Anahootz

you can spill beer on a fiddle

28 Jul 02 - 05:54 AM (#755858)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Catherine Jayne

I've played for a couple of professional orchestra's and the conductor's have always called the violin sections 'the fiddles'

I have to admit that I tend to play some folk tunes and give them a classical feel about them. I have classically trained since I was 4 years old and I am grateful for the discipline and the habbits I have picked up.

I refer to my violin as a fiddle but I also call it Fritz (Im sad and give my instruments names......please tell me I'm not the only one!!)


28 Jul 02 - 09:26 AM (#755882)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Jeri

First, as I have been asked this a thousand times, is there a difference between a fiddle and a violin?

Just the words, not the instruments. Folkie fiddler types may have flatter bridges, may have more fine tuners stuck on. Classical types probably modify their instruments to suit their own preferences too

Do fiddlers use alternate tunings? I understand that the usual tuning is G-D-A-E. Why is this best?

One alternate tuning is G-D-G-D. Another I've heard of is A-D-A-E - the 4th string is just tuned up a note to be used as a drone on some tunes. (Midnight on the Water is one.)

This is just conjecture, but I think tuning the instrument in 5ths allows the most notes on one string before going onto the next. You got 4 fingers you can use, and 3 or 4 notes between one string and the next. You can play all the keys. Alternate tunings are popular in 'fiddle' music because there are a very few common keys and you can play open strings as drones.

What pitfalls lurk for the beginner? I would rather learn correctly than to have to re-learn later.

The biggest pitfall, I believe, is the bow and bow hand. Practice in front of a mirror to get the angle right. Keep your bow-hand wrist loose so you can keep the angle at 90 degrees and prepare to do those fast bow strokes. It's a bitch and a half to un-learn this, and I speak from experience.

What other questions should I be asking that I haven't even thought of yet?

Questions I wish I'd asked when I was first learning:
You think I'll learn faster if I play with someone else. Answer: unequivocal YES. Find a practice buddy or a beginners session in your area.
How do you know when to change the direction of a bow? Answer: fiddle tune books will have it marked. Sometimes it depends on the style of the tune - some styles change direction with almost ever note while others have a bunch of slurs. You can also figure it out by the sound of the tune once you get your fiddle-feet under you. You probably aren't prepared to think about this just yet, but it's something to be aware of for the future.

As to classical violinists playing fiddles, whether or not they can play fiddle tunes and sound good has little to do with what knowledge they already possess. It has to do with how well they can hear. I've heard some that were locked into the already-known style because they can't hear the differences in the way fiddle music sounds. (This can also be true of an Irish fiddler trying to play Cajun music or any other example of going from familiar to unfamiliar.) They don't listen, can't listen, or are unwilling to adapt. I've also heard classical players who joined in a tune, sight reading at speed, and managed to sound beautifully appropriate, get grace notes in and improvise a bit because they were paying attention to sound.

28 Jul 02 - 10:45 AM (#755892)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: katlaughing

Greg, true, but one thing you don't ever hear is people talking about violinin'! Even Nero fiddled!*bg*

28 Jul 02 - 11:10 AM (#755904)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Malcolm Douglas

Exactly as Jeri says; there isn't much to add to that, though I daresay I'll try anyway. Since this is a longish thread brought back from the dead, we're bound to get some repetition of the usual clichés; that business about beer, for a start. I can tell you right now that anyone spilling beer on my fiddle needn't think that I won't mind; I've known instruments spring their joints from that sort of treatment.

So far as learning is concerned (since John asked), I taught myself the basics from listening to, and watching, others. I already played other instruments a bit (self-taught) which helped; once I'd got through the cat-on-barbed-wire phase in private, I'd take the fiddle to sessions and just join in with it discreetly on a few tunes I knew; gradually, as you get better at it and more confortable, you can play more. You learn just as much, if not more, though, from not playing and just listening; and watching exactly what the experienced players are doing. That will help you with a lot of things, including bowing patterns. A lot of beginners seem to want to lead tunes before they're ready for it; I'd advise against that. Following will teach you more, and at less risk of embarrassment!

I wouldn't actually recommend self-teaching from scratch, though. You'll learn more quickly, and probably acquire fewer "bad" habits which you'll later have to un-learn, if you have guidance from an experienced player or teacher. Many "classical" style teachers, though, will want you to learn in a way that may not be appropriate for the music you want to play, so try to find a teacher who either specialises in traditional styles or who is sympathetic toward them. I'd be a technically better player if I had done that. The same goes for reading music; wish I'd learned when I was a lad; no chance at my school, though, which was heavily classically-oriented and just assumed that we all knew the basic principles (I didn't) so I laid off music until I could go my own way. Pity, really.

Now, I realise that many people live in places where decent teachers are thin on the ground and opportunities for playing with others are very limited. Play along with records if you have to; I've done it myself, and it helps; listen carefully and you can often tell where the bow changes direction, for instance. Sessions are the best bet, though, where you can really learn (though not everyone does, alas) about group dynamics and how to listen to what everybody else is doing. You may not find a session that plays the kind of music you're most interested in (most round my way are Irish-style, so my playing still sounds a bit like that) but it's all grist to the mill.

Not a thing to be undertaken lightly, as the early stages can be very discouraging. You really have to want it, and put in a great deal of practice; it's worth it, though. Don't even think about alternate tunings (which you may never need) until you're comfortable with the standard tuning; bear in mind, too, that many fiddles dislike being re-tuned all the time, and may sulk for days. Some can be damaged by too-high string tension. Oh, and get the best bow you can afford; it's as important as the fiddle. I played for years with cheap bows and have only just got a really well-balanced one. It makes life so much easier.

28 Jul 02 - 11:54 AM (#755917)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: katlaughing

Speaking of sessions and playing along, this has been posted before, but this seems a good place to intro it, again, the BBC Online Session play-along.

28 Jul 02 - 12:12 PM (#755924)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: GUEST,Al

Full agreement on getting a good bow and a practice buddy, preferably one a little more accomplished than you are. Also setup of instrument is very important. Al

28 Jul 02 - 01:03 PM (#755943)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: NicoleC


No, my wrist is fine... one of the few things I never seemed to have trouble with :) Rather, I can't get any dexerity or enough force to press the string down (which ain't much), unless the ball of left index finger (on the palm) is exerting some pressure on the side of the neck. It has nothing to do with holding the fiddle up either; I have no idea where it comes from; my hand just doesn't seem to work otherwise. My teacher is ignoring it as a personal quirk, but I'm worried about how it might affect me down the road and I'd like to break the habit.

I'm the biggest performance chicken in the world. When I was 5, I used to fake illness the day of a piano recital so I wouldn't have to go. I get major performnace anxiety playing in front of my teacher, who has heard much, much worse (some of it from me). I'll probably NEVER play fiddle in front of an audience ;)

28 Jul 02 - 02:29 PM (#755982)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Malcolm Douglas

I don't think you need to worry about it unduly; all your hand is doing is falling into a natural position. Mine does exactly the same; I don't know how common that is -never really thought about it- but I'd think very common indeed among players in traditional as opposed to orchestral styles. If you want to play the "classical" repertoire, or play easily in high positions, you'll perhaps have to develop that unnatural hand position in which the hand doesn't touch the neck in that way, but it can put a lot of strain on the wrist. There is more than one way of getting vibrato, and I manage well enough with the same sort of hold you're using; in any case, you usually don't need much vibrato for traditional music. Over-use of it (as also in singing) identifies the classically-trained musician who just can't shake the habit, so to speak.

28 Jul 02 - 02:39 PM (#755983)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: katlaughing

LOL..shake that habit indeed!*bg*

I wouldn't worry about it, either, as Malcolm says. Even we classically trained, at least in my case, use our left forefinger that way. You need the stability to slide up and down the neck and also, I am not sure how one would press down hard enough to get a note without some kind of grip like that. Even in the upper positions, that "nook" seems to be a good guide an stabilising force for the fingers.

Now that my curiosity is up, I shall have to watch a few PBS concerts and see what the rest of them do! (Vvvvviiiibbbrrraaattttoooo is not all it's cracked up to be, either, unless you are playing classical and then it's used mostly to sustain a note or two.:-)

No knee-knocking to worry about if you won't play fer an audience, so you have it made, Nicole! Just have fun and enjoy!


28 Jul 02 - 03:52 PM (#756000)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Sorcha

If you will go to Google Image Search and ask for violinist you'll get lots of pics of "proper" hand positions. Then go back and ask for fiddler and look at the difference. I am classically trained and the inside/base of my index knuckle is nearly always glued to the neck--keeps my intonation right and gives me an anchor. The only time I use the "extreme arched left hand" is if I am going to shift into a higher position, do a long slide (like up to the ocatve harmonic), or if the song has a lot of 4th fingerings.

I tend to agree about classicists not sounding like fiddlers--took me about 6-8 years to overcome my classical training and I still do a LOT of things that "fiddlers" don't do--staccato, spitzacatto, bouncing, etc.

28 Jul 02 - 04:24 PM (#756012)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: Sorcha

Oh yea--somewhere around here I have some videos of me. I could dig them out and see if they would be any help to learners. Been a long time since I watched them so I just don't remember what is on them.

28 Jul 02 - 07:54 PM (#756085)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: John O'L

On the little label in the soundbox of my instrument the manufacturers refer to it as a violin, so I guess that's what it is.
But I don't care what it is, I call it a fiddle.

BTW, I see there is considerable thread creep already, not that I criticize, I have picked up some brilliantly useful info and I haven't even finished it yet.
Where was I? Oh yeah, on my brand label it says the fiddle was "Made in Canton, China". On my daughter's it says "Made in The Republic of China". Does this mean mine pre-dates the revolution, and if so, is that good or bad? Does anybody know? They are both Skylarks.

28 Jul 02 - 09:53 PM (#756139)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: death by whisky

Dear Laura.My classical training (grade three),helped me find the notes on a non fretted instrument.i ts all part and parcel of that big gift of music.

29 Jul 02 - 06:32 AM (#756275)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: English Jon

Classical training will help a lot with bowing technique, which will be usefull once he gets on to flashy stuff. Short answer, is get him a fiddle teacher with some sort of classical background. It's better to learn proper technique at the beginning, otherwise you just have to take a year out further down the line to re-learn the instrument from scratch.

Cheers, EJ

29 Jul 02 - 11:19 AM (#756395)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: NicoleC

LOL! Manyh thanks for the input. Most players I've seen don't hold the neck that way, but it's nice to hear I'm not the only one by a long shot :)

30 Jul 02 - 07:36 AM (#756849)
Subject: RE: Help - violin or fiddle?
From: The Nfkfiddler

I was taught to play a VIOLIN at school and nobody noted that my marks for anything folky where considerably higher than the classics. Forty years later I picked it up again as a FIDDLE. I do believe that a more flexible teacher at an early age may have keep my instrument out of the cupboard all those years.