Picture of a Fiddle
Picture of a Fiddle. Aaron Graubart / Getty Images

Fiddle Basics:

The violin and the fiddle are the same instrument. When a violin is strung up slightly differently and used to play ethnic or folk music, it is generally referred to as a fiddle. The fiddle has four strings, which, in standard tuning, are tuned GDAE and which are played with a bow, generally made of horsehair.

Read more: What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin?

The Popularity of the Fiddle:

Because fiddles are small and therefore readily portable, they long ago became the instrument of choice for many ethnic communities throughout the world. Fiddles travel easily, and therefore were a popular instrument for immigrants for centuries. The fiddle is also a quite loud instrument, considering its size, and therefore worked well as a dance music instrument before electric amplification became possible.


In many folk and ethnic music forms, the fiddle is commonly cross-tuned or played in an open tuning, much like a guitar or banjo might be. Open tunings allow a fiddler to play chords while also playing the melody, and therefore get more sound out of the instrument.

Oh, Fiddlesticks!:

Ever wonder where the expression "fiddlesticks" came from? It's actually a style of fiddling where the fiddler cross-tunes his or her fiddle and a companion literally drums on the neck of the fiddle with a pair of thin wooden dowels while the fiddler is still playing.

This creates a percussive, droning sound above the melody, and was once a common way to get a lot of sound out of one instrument.

Some Genres of Music that Frequently Feature Fiddling:

Cajun Music
Irish Music
Classical Indian Music (particularly Carnatic Music)
Eastern European Folk
Appalachian Old-Time Music
Canadian Folk (including Quebecois and Cape Breton)