By: Courtney Gayle Morgan, Originally Published on HubPages.com
This is a violin:
This is a fiddle:
From that, you might conclude that "violin" and "fiddle" are just two names for the same instrument, and the way the word is most commonly used, you would be right. However, that is really only part of the story.
This is a traditional Icelandic instrument known as the langspil. It is also a fiddle.
This is a tayaw from Burma. It is also a fiddle.
This is a gaohu. The gaohu is a fiddle. It is also a huquin, which is a family of spiked fiddles used in traditional Chinese music, and there are very similar traditional instruments found in other Asian cultures, as well. Wikipedia has an extensive list of huquin instruments.
These are all fiddles:
And so are these:
Ok, maybe fiddle is just a general term for anything that is played with a bow.
Double basses are played with bows.
Except for when they aren't played with bows.
And they are plucked quite often, across many different types of music, and often enough you could almost call the bow an optional accessory. So is it a fiddle when you do use a bow and not a fiddle when you don't?
The problem with that explanation is that string players in an orchestra bow more often than they pluck, and some of them are irritated if not offended when their instruments are called "fiddles."
Gordon Swift writes in Strings Magazine that he once believed "violin" to be the proper term when the instrument was used in classical or jazz music, while "fiddle" was more appropriate for "folk, country, and bluegrass." The problem with that definition is it is way too narrow. There are musicians who play styles in both of those arbitrary categories who still favor one term over the other, and there are so many violinists who play other genres of music that are omitted by those categories. However, although Swift no longer uses the term that way, there are still many who do.
The reason the term "fiddle" is so confusing is because there is no international agreement among English speakers concerning the word's definition. Depending on where you live and the musical traditions to which you have been exposed, and also how you were trained if you happen to be a musician, the word "fiddle" may have any of the following meanings (some of which are in conflict with how others might use the same word):