I remember watching an episode of “Little House on The Prairie” on television many years ago. Commonly during the show, the Ingalls family was struggling for money and Pa Ingalls was trying to sell his beloved instrument for cash. During the haggling process, the storekeeper declared that the instrument was a country item called a “fiddle”. While on the other hand Mr. Ingalls insisted that the instrument was a “fine violin”. The distinction between the two has been a topic of many a shade tree conversion and most still today struggle to understand the difference between the two, if any.
Just like most, I grew up hearing all the stories that describe the difference between the two. I was told that the difference was in the strings. A violin is played with “strings” and a fiddle has “strangs’. I was also instructed that a violin was carried in a case and a fiddle was carried in a sack. I guess we could go forever with the stories and jokes that have been told over centuries about the beloved violin or fiddle. So, what is the difference? Does it depend on a certain musical style or is there a physical difference between the two instruments?
Over the years I have grown to love this instrument. Even though my playing skill still suffers greatly today I love to hear its warm tones and the soft touch of someone who can play it well. One of the best in my area is a good friend of mine, Mr. Ben Probus. He amazes me every time I hear him play. His skill on this instrument is a testimony to the beauty that can be found in this complex little instrument. When Ben plays along with other great players in their field I believe that the instrument becomes both the violin and the fiddle because of their skill, gentle touch, and style. In fact, there is little or no physical difference between the two instruments that I can find.
Both the fiddle and the violin have the same main components: a body, neck, and peghead with scroll work. The scroll work may differ from one maker to another. You will find anything from human faces to animals carved in the peghead to replace the scroll work but the construction of the two is still the same. Both have their strings supported by a bone or wooden nut at the top of the neck and a wooden bridge between the two F shaped sound holes. You will find that both use a sound post inside the instrument to carry the vibration of the strings from the bridge and out of the sound holes. The tuning pegs may differ from the more original ones, just basic friction pegs to more modern ones with bearings or gears. The chin rest and the tail pieces can be replaced with more modern and fancy ones but they still serve the same purpose. So, we now know it's not the components that differ. It must be something else.
I have found over the years with a lot of reading and research that the only difference between a violin and a fiddle is in the setup and the style of music that is played on them. The setup is definitely different depending on the style of music played. A classical violinist often plays a musical piece written by another composer. Therefore their playing will be very precise and accurate with very little or no freestyle playing and usually playing only one string at a time. So the bridge of a violin used for classical music will have more arch to the top or angle than its close relative the fiddle. Fiddle players like myself often change the angle at the top of a bridge to flatten it down so we can easily play double strings or notes called double stops and drones.
The bowing styles between a fiddler and a violinist may also differ as well as fingering techniques. A fiddler may play very fast but never leaving what is known as the first position. A violinist is more likely to utilize the instrument’s entire range of sound playing in all positions of the neck. Another definite difference between the two might be the position it is held. A trained violinist will always hold the violin under the chin in a proper playing position while a fiddler player may also hold it against their chest area or free from resting it at all. None of these differences can be considered better than the other. All of these setups and techniques are just distinct ways to perform on the instrument.
Call it what you may, violin, fiddle, or even the devils box; this wonderful instrument has touched our lives and has helped form music into what it is today. No matter what style is played or how it’s played the violin or fiddle has and always will contribute to the musical worlds rich diversity and wonderful sound.
Taking Local Music to The World.
In 2011, an Irish guitarist, Dave Browne set a new world record for the longest guitar session ever. The talented guitarist played non stop for 114 hours, 6 minutes, and 30 seconds between the 12th and the 17th of June. Back in 1985, the guitar player for the Reynolds Family Bluegrass Band played non stop (other than mandatory bathroom breaks) from 6:00 pm on that Friday until the following Sunday morning to win a new guitar. That I know to be a fact.
In 2001 a British musician, Chris Black, fell so madly in love with his red beloved Fender Stratocaster that he married it after 35 years of dating. He named his new wife, Brenda the Fenda. The ceremony was held in a church in London and was officiated by his friend. Now I do love my Fender guitars but…
The first ever Stratocaster which actually came with the serial number #00100 was sold by a good friend of mine Mr. George Gruhn of Gruhn’s Vintage Guitars in Nashville Tennessee for staggering $250,000. In 2014, George sold the 1954 sunburst-finished Strat. The current owner remains anonymous and all George would reveal was the new owner lives in the US and is not a professional musician.
BB King famously named his guitar Lucille. The reason? One evening while playing a dance in Arkansas, two men began fighting over a woman. The result of the fight was a barrel of kerosene was knocked over causing a huge fire. Once outside, Mr. King realized he had left his prized Gibson inside, so he darted into the fire to save it. The following morning, he christened his guitar Lucille which was the name of the woman whom the fight was over.
Most people know that Bill Monroe is a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee but did you know he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Mr. Monroe was a true mandolin master and kept a rattlesnake tail inside of his mandolin to keep the mice out of it and absorb excess moisture. He taught me this trick himself and I keep three tails inside my mandolin today.
In order to increase the interest in buying mandolins, manufacturers hired salesmen who established mandolin orchestras in small towns that encouraged people to buy them. Some of these early musical groups still exist today.
The first stringed instrument that Orville Gibson (founder of Gibson Guitars) built was actually a mandolin, finished in 1894. He also invented the archtop guitar, based on a violin design.
Mandolins evolved from the lute family in Italy between the 17th and 18th centuries. The deep bowled mandolin was produced particularly in Naples and became common in the 19th century.
The banjo originally came from Africa as a folk instrument. Joel Walker Sweeney (1810-1860) was the first professional musician to play a banjo while performing in minstrel shows. Also I think his playing was a huge influence on the great Earl Scruggs.
Willian Boucher (1822-1899) was the earliest commercial manufacturer of banjos. The Smithsonian Institution has three of his banjos from the years 1845 to 1847. Boucher won several awards for his violins, drums, and banjos in the 1850’s.
The banjo had been referred to in 19 different spellings, from “banza” to “bonjoe” in the early 19th century. Around here we just call them banjers.
After the 1850’s the banjo was increasingly used in the US and England as a genteel parlor instrument for popular music performances.
The Jazz Age created a new society craze for the four string version of the banjo. Around the 1940’s the four string banjo was replaced by the guitar.
Some things you might now know about the violin
The most expensive instrument in the world is the Lady Blunt Stradivarius violin. It sold in 2011 for $15.9 million.
Most people consider playing the violin an intellectual pursuit. However, a violinist can burn around 170 calories per hour. That’s equivalent to about one soft drink!
The word “violin” comes from the medieval Latin word “vitula”. What makes this one of the funniest violin facts is that oddly enough, the modern Latin translation of vitula also means “female cow.”
The main body of the modern violin contains 70 different parts. In high quality instruments, these parts are all made from a variety of woods.
Even though Mozart was a prominent pianist and composer, he also played the violin. In fact, Mozart’s father began his son’s musical training on the violin.
The violin and fiddle are the same instrument. Even though the term “violin” is more often used in connection with classical music and the “fiddle” with Irish or folk music, they are in fact the same.
ral music fun facts
There is a very unusual orchestra in Vienna, Austria which uses instruments made from vegetables. They have been playing their bizarre music program for almost two decades and at the end of each concert the produce is used to cook soup which the group serves to the audience. Boy, talk about “Will work for food”.
Scientists have discovered that different frequencies in sound have an effect on how we taste foods. Now hold on; this one gets better. The theory has proved to ring true so much that the well known ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s even produced a line of ice creams with QR codes on the cartons that would allow consumers to access flavor- enhancing music. Ben and Jerry’s weren’t the only ones to test out this music theory. Researchers at Berne University of Arts found that cheeses aged to various types of music can bring out various types of favors. Cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor than cheese that was not. I found this very interesting. The study also found that cheese that was exposed to Hip-Hop music had a much stronger odor and flavor, making it the favorite of all cheeses tested.
Leo Fender is known to all of us as the genius inventor of the legendary electric guitar. His models from the Stratocaster to the Telecaster were and are played by the most famous string musicians in the world. Fender has written music history with these instruments. The ironic fact is he himself could not play guitar.
Music greatly impacts and boosts our capabilities. Listening to music while reading or learning something could trigger the learning. Research has shown that you memorize things in a better way with music playing, as compared to complete silence.
Just as we suspected, according to a French study, music stimulates drinking. While a man needs an average of 15 minutes for a beer while listening to soft music, he only needs 12 minutes with loud music. Well then, Cheers!
Rock n Roll meets wildlife. Termites love rock music. Say what??? According to Australian researchers, they eat wood twice as fast when they are exposed to heavy metal music. The vibrations in the wood encourage them to nibble at high speeds. Try this one with your lunch when you’re in a hurry. Just don’t blame me for the stomach ache!
For every $1000 of music sold, the average musician only makes about $23. Now you know why musicians work such long hours.
A 2001 study found that cows produce more milk when listening to relaxing moo-sic. Sorry I couldn’t resist that one.
The first and only band to play on all seven continents is the heavy metal band Metallica.
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have been putting it together. If you know any music facts we haven’t heard yet feel free to leave a comment on our website. We all would love reading about them.
Taking Local Music to The World.
I remember years ago when I first started playing a guitar we would venture to our local Western Auto store a few times a year. Now for you younger children of the music world a Western Auto store back then wasn’t just a place to buy auto parts. For a small child like myself…it was a wonderland. Not only did they carry auto parts but also toys, guns, bikes, tools, and yes, musical instruments. Back then we didn’t change strings as often as we should have due to the cost and the travel into town to get them but when we did it was special. And for those of you that can remember the so called good ole days, yes I did play Black Diamond strings back then.
As a teacher I get asked all kinds of questions every day about strings. So in this blog we will take a close look at the most talked about and most neglected part of a guitar--the strings.
Many years ago guitar strings were made either from wire or gut, often called catgut. Now I never understood why these strings constructed of animal parts were referred to catgut when they almost always were made with the intestines from sheep not cats. Today strings are divided into two basic types, steel or nylon. Steel strings are used for electric and acoustic guitars while the nylon strings are mainly used for classical or flamenco style instruments. We will be spending most of our time on the steel string and how it’s constructed.
The steel guitar string is manufactured in three different types. Most of us will not recognize a couple of these but to us grey haired musicians we have probably used all three in our day. Because it is impractical to make thick plain strings, the top three strings on the guitar, E, A, and the D string are wound and sometime the G may also be wound. The central core may be either round or hexagonal. With the steel strings, the core is made of steel and with nylon strings, the core is made of nylon. The material used by string manufacturers to wind this type of string varies. This material, known as the winding, can be yellow, white, or silver metals ranging from stainless steel,nickel, gold, or silver. Either white or yellow strings can be used on acoustic guitars although most pickers like myself prefer yellow bronze or brass wound strings. Only certain strings can be used on the electric guitars with magnetic pickups. These are the magnetically responsive white metal wound strings. Neither yellow metal strings or nylon strings will work on an electric with magnetic pickups. The shape or profile which the winding gives the wound string will vary according to whether the string is roundwound, flatwound or groundwound. Roundwound strings are what we most commonly use in today’s world of music but the others are still available if you’re willing to put some research into finding them.
These are the most common strings on the market today as I noted above. To produce the three and sometimes four strings, the steel or nylon core is wrapped round with a long continuous length of round wire. The winding is done automatically by a machine that spins the center core. Roundwound strings produce a good tone and volume and, when new, give a clear ring that is suitable for both acoustic and electric guitars.