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Fiddler

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Fiddler

For the Indian film, see Fiddle (film).
"Fiddler" redirects here. For other uses, see Fiddler (disambiguation).
Fiddle
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322-71
(Composite chordophone sounded by a bow)
Developed Early 16th century
Playing range

Related instruments

Musicians

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A fiddle is any bowed string musical instrument, most often the violin.[1] It is also a colloquial term for the instrument used by players in all genres, including classical music. Fiddle playing, or fiddling, refers to various styles of music.

Common distinctions between violins and fiddles reflect the differences in the instruments used to play folk and classical music. However, it is not uncommon for classically trained violinists to play folk music, and today many fiddle players have classical training. Many traditional (folk) styles are aural traditions, so are taught 'by ear' rather than with written music.

History

The medieval fiddle emerged in 10th-century Europe, deriving from the Byzantine lira (Greek:λύρα, Latin:lira, English:lyre), a bowed string instrument of the Byzantine Empire and ancestor of most European bowed instruments.[2][3] The first recorded reference to the bowed lira was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments he cited the lira (lūrā) as a typical instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the rabāb played in the Islamic Empires.[4] Lira spread widely westward to Europe; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009).

Over the centuries, Europe continued to have two distinct types of fiddles: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, became known as the lira da braccio (arm viol) family and evolved into the violin; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, was the lira da gamba (leg viol) group. During the Renaissance the gambas were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) lira da braccio family.[5]

Etymology

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.[6] The name seems however to be related to Icelandic Fiðla and also Old English fiðele.[7] A native Germanic ancestor of fiddle may even be the ancestor of the early Romance form of violin.[8] 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 that contributed to the development of the modern fiddle are the viols, which are held between the legs and played vertically, and have fretted fingerboards.

Ensembles

In performance, a solo fiddler, or one fiddler or two with a group of other instrumentalists, is the norm, though twin fiddling is represented in some North American, Scandinavian, Scottish 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 where violins were played required more instruments, before electronic amplification, than did more intimate dance halls and houses that fiddlers 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 that 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 have different values, as detailed below. These explanations present the differences between fiddle music and other violin music.)

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 Calgary Fiddlers, and Swedish Spelmanslag folk-musician clubs, and the worldwide[9] phenomenon of Irish sessions.

Scottish fiddle with cello

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 Iain Fraser and Christine Hanson, Amelia Kaminski and Christine Hanson's Bonnie Lasses[10] and Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas' Fire and Grace.[11]

Balkan fiddle with kontra

Hungarian, Slovenian, and Romanian fiddle players are often accompanied by a three-stringed variant of the viola—known as the kontra—and by double bass, with cimbalom and clarinet being less standard yet still common additions to a band. In Hungary, a three stringed viola variant with a flat bridge, called the kontra or háromhúros brácsa makes up part of a traditional rhythm section in Hungarian folk music. The flat bridge allows for three string chords to be played. A three stringed double bass variant is also used.

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.

Europe

Great Britain

Ireland

  • Irish Folk music fiddling including:
    • Donegal fiddling from the northwest in Ulster, which features mazurkas and a Scottish-influenced repertoire including Strathspey and Highland Fling dances. Fiddlers tend to play fast and make heavy use of staccato bowing and may from time to time "play the bass," meaning a second fiddler may play a melody an octave below where a first fiddler is playing it.
    • Sligo fiddling from northern Connacht, which like Donegal fiddling tends to be fast, but with a bouncier feel to the bowing.
    • Galway fiddling southern Connacht, which is slower than Sligo or Donegal traditions, with a heavier emphasis on ornamentation. Additionally, tunes are occasionally played in Eb or Bb to match the tonality of flat pipes.
    • Clare fiddling from northern Munster, which tends to be played near the slower Galway tempo yet with a greater emphasis on the melody itself rather than ornamentaiton.
    • Sliabh Luachra fiddling from the southwest in Munster, characterized by a unique repertoire of polkas and slides, as well as the use of double stops and drones as well as playing the melody in two octaves as in Donegal.[13]

Scandinavia

Continental Europe

Americas

North America

American fiddling, a broad category including traditional and modern styles.

Traditional

  • Blues fiddling
  • Cajun and Zydeco fiddling
  • Old-time fiddling, including:
    • Fiddling from Appalachia, the most well-known style today, featuring heavy use of droning and double-stops as well as syncopated bowing patterns.
    • Midwestern fiddling, highly influenced by Scandinavian music.
    • Ozarks fiddling, faster and crisper bowing than Appalachia.
    • Texas fiddling, with influences from Mexican fiddling and an emphasis on competitive playing.
    • New England fiddling, with strong influences from Québécois and British repertoires.
    • Northwest fiddling, with influences from both Ozark and Midwestern fiddle styles, though with a strong emphasis on competitive playing like Texas fiddling.
  • Tohono O'odham fiddling, a Native American style heavily influenced by Mexican fiddling[17] and featuring irregular counts and harmonies in thirds, fourths, and sixths.

Modern

Canadian fiddling, including Newfoundland fiddle player Patrick Moran

Latin America

Other Areas

Relations

Variants

Near Relations

Distant Relations

See also

References

Bibliography

External links

  • Faroese fiddle
  • Fiddle and Alternative Strings Forum
  • Fiddle Fork
  • Fiddle Hangout
  • Kimberley Fraser's Fiddle Blog - Cape Breton Fiddler Kimberley Fraser discusses issues relevant to traditional fiddle music.
  • Voyager Records' catalog,organized by region, has clips of many North American styles.
  • A French Violin fiddle method website - video, text, and forum with explanation (with tablatures).
  • The Fiddler's Companion, an encyclopedia of historical notes on tunes from British, Celtic, and American traditions.
  • Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Fiddling
  • Traditional Irish fiddle Players

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