AskDefine | Define fiddle

Dictionary Definition

fiddle n : bowed stringed instrument that is the highest member of the violin family; this instrument has four strings and a hollow body and an unfretted fingerboard and is played with a bow [syn: violin]


1 avoid (one's assigned duties); "The derelict soldier shirked his duties" [syn: shirk, shrink from, goldbrick]
2 commit fraud and steal from one's employer; "We found out that she had been fiddling for years"
3 play the violin or fiddle
4 play on a violin; "Zuckerman fiddled that song very nicely"
5 manipulate manually or in one's mind or imagination; "She played nervously with her wedding ring"; "Don't fiddle with the screws"; "He played with the idea of running for the Senate" [syn: toy, diddle, play]
6 play around with or alter or falsify, usually secretively or dishonestly; "Someone tampered with the documents on my desk"; "The reporter fiddle with the facts" [syn: tamper, monkey]
7 try to fix or mend; "Can you tinker with the T.V. set--it's not working right"; "She always fiddles with her van on the weekend" [syn: tinker]

User Contributed Dictionary






From Middle English fithele, from fiðele. Cognate with Old High German fidula (German Fiedel), Old Norse fiðla (Icelandic fiðla, Danish fiddel, Norwegian fela), Middle Dutch vedele (Dutch veel, vedel).
The ultimate source of the word is unknown. Some argue that the similarity in Germanic variations can be explained by adoption and subsequent corruption of a contemporary Latin word, vitula or vidula. This is known to have occurred with the Romance languages eg. viol or viola in French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. Others argue that the Germanic words have a uniquely Teutonic origin, but no earlier forms have been found.


  1. In the context of "music": The violin when played in any of various traditional styles, as opposed to classical violin.
    When I play it like this, it's a fiddle; when I play it like that, it's a violin.
  2. An adjustment intended to cover up a basic flaw.
    That parameter setting is just a fiddle to make the lighting look right.
  3. fraud
  4. In the context of "nautical": On board a ship or boat, a rail or batten around the edge of a table or stove to prevent objects falling off at sea. (Also fiddle rail)



See also


  1. To play aimlessly.
    You're fiddling your life away.
  2. To adjust in order to cover a basic flaw or fraud etc.
    I needed to fiddle the lighting parameters to get the image to look right.
    Fred was sacked when the auditors caught him fiddling the books.
  3. In the context of "music": To play traditional tunes on a violin using the aforementioned styles.


Extensive Definition

The term fiddle refers to a violin; it is a colloquial term for the instrument used by players in all genres, including classical music. Fiddle playing, or fiddling, is a style of music.

Violin vs. fiddle

Any violin may be informally called a fiddle, regardless of the kind of music being played with it. 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. A native Germanic ancestor of fiddle may even be the ancestor of the early Romance form of violin. 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 which contributed to the development of the modern fiddle are the viols, which are held between the legs and played vertically, and have fretted fingerboards.
Common distinctions between violins and fiddles reflect the differences in the instruments used to play classical and folk music. However, it is not uncommon for classically trained violinists to play fiddle music, and today many fiddle players have some classical training. As might be expected from the differences between the classical and folk music cultures, more musicians with no formal training play fiddle music than play classical music.
Some (folk) fiddle traditions fit the instrument with a flatter bridge than classical violinists use. The difference between "round" and "flat" is not great —about a quarter or half a millimeter variation in the height of one or two strings— but this is enough to noticeably reduce the range of right-arm motion required for the rapid string-crossings found in some styles, and those who use flatter bridges say it makes playing double stops and shuffles (bariolage) easier. It can also make triple stops possible, allowing one to play chords. In bluegrass and old-time music, for example, the top of the bridge is sometimes cut so that it is very slightly less curved; the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle uses an even flatter bridge, and the bridge of the kontra or bracsa (a three-string viola used in Hungarian and Transylvanian folk music) is flat enough that all three strings can easily be played simultaneously.
Most fiddles are, however, fitted with a standard classical bridge, regardless of the style of music played on the instrument. Indeed, one bridge can be exchanged for another with relative ease. Most classical violinists prefer a more rounded curve to the top of the bridge, feeling that this allows them to articulate each note more easily and clearly, but many fiddle players do as well.
Fiddle is more likely to be used than violin if the instrument's strings are steel rather than gut or synthetic, as fiddle players are more likely to favor the sound of steel strings than are classical violinists. Instruments with fine tuners on all four strings are more likely to be played by fiddle players, and so are more likely to be called fiddle than violin; it is very uncommon to see four fine tuners on instruments played by classical musicians. (Fine tuners are small screw mechanisms attached or built into the tailpiece which make small tuning adjustments easier.) But strings and tailpieces are easily changed so, like flattened bridges, these differences do not permanently distinguish violins and fiddles.
In construction, fiddles and violins are exactly the same (with the Hardanger fiddle excepted as a special case).
Various clichés describe the difference between fiddle and violin: "When you are buying it, it's a fiddle. When you are selling it, it's a violin." "The violin sings, the fiddle dances." "A fiddle is a violin with attitude." "No one cries when they spill beer on a fiddle." According to the performer Shoji Tabuchi, the difference lies "in how you fiddle around with it."


In performance, solo fiddling is the norm, though twin fiddling is represented in some North American, Scandinavian, 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 in which violins were played required more instruments, before electronic amplification, than did more intimate dance halls and houses fiddles were 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 which 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 had different values, as detailed below; these explanations are meant to present the differences between fiddle music and violin music generally.)
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 Swedish Spelmanslag folk-musician clubs, and the world-wide phenomenon of Irish sessions.
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 Amelia Kaminski and Christine Hanson's Bonnie Lasses and Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas' Fire and Grace.

Bows used in fiddling

Most fiddling styles that use the standard violin also use the standard violin bow, the same as classical players. However, there are a few styles which use other bows. One notable example is the folk music from Hungary and Transylvania used in the táncház tradition. While the violinist uses a standard bow, both the kontra (3-string viola) and bass are played with heavy and crude "folk bows", consisting of a stout stick, usually hand-hewn, with the hank of horsehair attached at the tip and tied around the frog. The player tensions the hair by squeezing it when playing.
Violin bows used by fiddlers are usually made from wood, but bows made from fiberglass and other materials are becoming more common.
Scottish fiddlers emulating 18th century playing styles sometimes use a replica of the type of bow used in that period, which is a few inches shorter, and weighs significantly more.

Fiddling styles

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, including, but not limited to:



  • 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.

External links

fiddle in German: Fiddle
fiddle in French: Fiddle
fiddle in Italian: Fiddle
fiddle in Dutch: Fiddle
fiddle in Japanese: フィドル
fiddle in Simple English: Fiddle

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

A string, Amati, Cremona, D string, E string, G string, Strad, Stradivari, Stradivarius, alter, bass, bass viol, bow, bridge, bull fiddle, cello, cheat, contrabass, cook, coquet, crowd, dabble, dally, doodle, double bass, falsify, feel, fiddle with, fiddle-faddle, fiddlebow, fiddlestick, fidget, fidget with, finagle, finger with, fingerboard, fix, flimflam, flirt, fool, fool around, fool with, fraud, fribble, frivol, handle, horse around, idle, interfere with, jerk off, kid around, kit, kit fiddle, kit violin, loiter, meddle with, mess, mess around, monkey, monkey around, monkey business, piddle, play, play around, play violin, play with, potter, puddle, putter, racket, saw, scrape, scroll, skin game, smatter, soundboard, string, swindle, tamper with, tenor violin, thimblerig, tinker, touch, toy, toy with, trifle, tuning peg, twiddle, viol, viola, violin, violinette, violoncello, violoncello piccolo, violone, violotta
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