This instrument is universal and there is no difference between the instrument now used for playing Bach and that for playing traditional music. Apart from the labels of violin and fiddle, the core differences lie in the player’s approach.

The range of traditional music falls within two octaves. In many styles there is no need for the player to move out of first position, so there is no need for a classical left hand position. However in Donegal (and Scotland), playing in the second and third positions is not uncommon. In some cases, traditional players might often prefer to let the neck rest on the palm of the hand, although this is by no means universal. This position will limit vibrato, but here again, vibrato is not always perceived as essential to traditional playing.

The bow grip also varies considerably. Some players will use the full bow, others grip the stick at differing levels. Some players are very economical in their use of bow (drawing full sound from remarkably little bow), whereas others string-cross and double-stop and display virtuoso traits. Bow hair tension also varies a good deal.

In times past, the fiddle would often have rested at differing points on the body - not necessarily under the chin and on the neck, but also on the upper chest and even upper arm. Most players now approach the instrument conventionally.

Styles vary of course, likewise repertoire. For example in Donegal, one is more likely to find short articulated bow strokes making most of the decoration, with the left hand perhaps doing less than in the typical smoother style say of East Clare or Galway. In Donegal though, imitation of pipe drones is achieved through intricate left-hand finger patterns; often a fiddle will be retuned to gain this effect too (‘scordatura’). 'Reversing', where two fiddle players play a tune an octave apart, is another characteristic of Donegal fiddle playing. We would also find dance music such as highlands or schottisches in Donegal, whereas polkas or slides would be a mainstay in Kerry. However regions display and share many characteristics and there is much common ground.


Michael Coleman, James Morrison, John Doherty, Denis Murphy, Sean McGuire, Séan Keane, James Byrne, Paddy Glackin, Frankie Gavin, Dermot McLoughlin, Gerry O’Connor, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Martin Hayes, Julia Clifford, Ciarán Tourish and Eileen Ivers


  • Michael Coleman

    The Job of Journeywork

  • Paddy Glackin

    Ri na bPiobairi

  • Denis Murphy & Julia Clifford

    Muckross Abbey | Mulvihill's

  • Vincent Campbell

    King George V Highland

  • Gerry O'Connor

    Jig in A | Dancing | Up and About in the Morning