The Fiddle

A Fiddle - puamelia - cc
A Fiddle - puamelia - cc

The Fiddle is a violin frequently used in traditional Irish music. Very difficult to practice, it is an instrument used in pieces with a high melancholic content, or rather playful that make you want to dance! But beware, a fiddle has very little in common with a classical violin: don’t make this blunder, where you could annoy an informed player in no time!

Presentation of the fiddle

Difference between a fiddle and a violin

Fiddles - Joseph Brent - cc

Fiddles – Joseph Brent – cc

The fiddle is a violin, set up and played differently than a traditional violin. Breandan Breathnach, a great Irish fiddler used to say:

A violinist is not a fiddle player, just as a fiddle player is not a violinist. (1971)

In other words, the two instruments are in no way comparable! Whether it’s playing techniques, hand position or bow position: everything changes when you switch from one to the other!

The bridge of a fiddle is indeed slightly flatter, which makes it possible to pass from one string to the other more quickly. The archer is taken higher than a classical violinist, which allows even better control in fast tunes.

The most commonly used effects are bending, bearings, triplets, notches, drones and slur ropes. More rare is the use of vibrato, unlike the classical violin.

Playing technique

Fiddle playing is a complex art form that combines melody, ornament, line pattern variation and swing. One of the most important ingredients in the Irish game is the sentimental touch in the melody called the “nyah”. The nyah in expresses both sadness and loneliness.

The ideal way to learn a tune according to some is by ear. It’s up to you to memorize the tune and make sure it stays in your memory for a long time. Tunes played only by written music would be easily forgotten.

Traditional music is like a spoken language. You have to practice it to learn it. Its learning should not be limited to simply learning scores.

Once you have mastered a certain basic violin technique, it is advisable to have a few fiddle lessons from a specialist. There is a big difference between the sound of the playing of a classical violinist reading a score and the music of a good player who has listened and grasped all the musical subtleties of Irish music.

Great Fiddle Players

Among the great figures of fiddle who have marked their time are John Doherty, Neillidh Boyle, Cassidy Franc and Francie Byrne.

However, here are some more recent fiddle players:

  • Bríd Harper
  • Cíarán Tourish
  • Dermot McLaughlin
  • James Byrne
  • Kevin Glackin
  • Máiread Ní Mhaonaigh
  • Martin McGinley
  • Paddy Séamus
  • Paul O’Shaughnessy
  • Seth Lakeman
  • Vincent Campbell

So much more to discover...