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What is the Difference Between a Fiddle and a Violin?

Updated on November 14, 2014

Here are some answers I have seen to this question:

  • "Same animal, different genre of music."
  • "...on a fiddle, the contour of the bridge is made to match the contour of the fingerboard. Basically, you buy a violin and then have the bridge reworked to match the shape of the fingerboard."
  • "A fiddle is any bowed string instrument..."
  • "...cross-tunings may be used [with the fiddle]...

None of these answers are right. None of these answers are wrong. It's actually a little more complicated that.

Let's try to make this as simple as possible, even though it's not really that simple at all. Be sure to read the captions.

This is a violin.
This is a violin. | Source
This is a fiddle.
This is a fiddle. | Source

But wait...

If it's really that easy, why doesn't everyone know the answer? They don't know because it's not really that easy.

On the left, we have a violin. On the right, we have a viola.
On the left, we have a violin. On the right, we have a viola. | Source

What's wrong with this picture? Hint: count the strings.

This is a violin. Or viola. Or something like that.
This is a violin. Or viola. Or something like that. | Source

You can learn more about all of that here. Meanwhile, we are going make things a little more interesting.

These are also fiddles...

Horsehair Fiddles
Horsehair Fiddles | Source
Rebec, a Medieval fiddle
Rebec, a Medieval fiddle | Source
Bass viol or viola da gamba
Bass viol or viola da gamba | Source

Are you thoroughly confused yet?

Good. Now that you understand why this isn't so simple, we can throw out our preconceptions and answer the question. The word "fiddle" has different meanings in music. It can mean the genre of music. It can be another name for a violin. It can refer to a five-string violin or viola. It can be a violin that has been altered by lowering or filing the bridge. It can refer to a box fiddle like this one:

Box Fiddle

or this one:

Another Box Fiddle

It can even be used loosely to refer to other violin family instruments or even to other bowed instruments like the viola da gamba:

or even this saw:

However, most people think of this...

...which is really just a violin. As you can see, the meaning of the word "fiddle" really depends on who is using it, but it always refers to something that can be played with a bow. Now for the sad part about all this confusion: many classical violinists hate the term "fiddle," believing it refers to music that is less complicated and sophisticated than the stuff they play in the symphony. As ridiculously arrogant and untrue as that is, I would seriously advise you against associating the word with these musicians. Likewise, don't ask a Bluegrass fiddler about his violin. He probably doesn't like violinists since he believes they all look down their noses at him.

I hope that settles things for you. Have a beautiful and blessed day!


Miss Courtney

Courtney is part owner of Treble Strings. She teaches lessons both online and in her studio in Smithville, MO. To contact her, please email:

A markerTreble Strings -
107 East Main Street, Smithville, MO 64089, USA
get directions

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