VIOLIN OR FIDDLE ? Interview with Raphael Maillet

VIOLIN OR FIDDLE? Interview with Raphael Maillet


In this article and through three videos, the violinist RAPHAEL MAILLET will explain to us the history of FIDDLE, what is the difference between the words VIOLIN and FIDDLE, by giving us beautiful demonstrations of his knowledge in traditional music.

He shares about his experience, how he started playing the violin, and how he saw music…

In this interview, Raphael takes us through multiple ways of using a violin to make people dance. He will show you how you can use a single musical instrument to please crowds, by reproducing the sounds of various musical instruments. The violin can be several musical instruments in one!

Here are some important elements transcribed from Raphael’s interview:

What’s the fiddle?


The FIDDLE is an Anglo-Saxon term used to designate the violin, but the violin of the fiddler…

In French, “violin” is a bit of a pejorative word, although it is not a pejorative word in all languages.

Indeed, the fiddler is the one who makes people dance with their violin, which is rather a good thing in itself.

A fiddler may not be able to read or write musical notes, but use his violin to make people dance.

The fiddle may therefore know nothing of the music to be read, but uses the violin in an optimal way to transmit a danceable rhythm orally, and even pass on this heritage of generations in generations…

So the term FIDDLE was chosen to talk about the popular violin without having to use the word “violineux” which sounds pejorative in French. We will therefore speak of the fiddle or the violin to designate exactly the same musical instrument. 


Raphael, what were your first steps in the traditional violin?


“Personally, in my beginnings in the art of the violin, I was particularly attracted by Irish music. I bought scores of Irish music, but when I playing it, it didn’t sound Irish at all…

“One ​​thing I couldn’t understand at that time was that I was learning the wrong way. I did not understand that one should not learn with scores, but rather in the people, with the Irish themselves, and the people who dance in front of the music. It was really later that I understood it.

“This is still the case with most learners today. Many people think of it as learning to play sheet music. However, it is by immersing yourself in Irish music that you easily learn to play the fiddle the right way. The score is important, but only in the sense that it allows you to learn and master the notes, to have a good repertoire, etc., but it really does not allow you to “live” this music in your veins. To live this music, you have to leave your home, you have to travel to meet people, you have to see landscapes, smell perfumes and dance, dance…

“And there it gave all the flavor to the music, but that I understood long after.

“I also went through ‘old time’ music, which is the music of white settlers in North America.”


Violin ornaments


To make ornaments in traditional music, we hit the string with our fingers… We try to imitate the bagpipes in fact, which makes the sound squeal and overload. The bow plays straight, normally, and we have the left hand which disturbs the sound.

One can use all the fingers at the same time, three or even the four fingers to make the ornament and strike the string. The intention should not be to play an ornamental note, but to disturb the string.

The dance and the violin

What you need to know is that in Ireland, not all styles are the same. Some styles will use more glissando, others with an embellishment from the bow, etc…

Just like in France, each region has its musical specificities, just like its landscapes, its local dialect…

In France, we also play fiddle, for example bourrées in 3 beats.

The fiddle, or the violin in France, is a very dancing musical instrument. This is the reason why with only this instrument, we make crowds dance. No need to accompany it with another musical instrument, maybe just your voice, which is the first musical instrument in the world!

In traditional music, in popular music, in dance music, the rhythm takes priority, it’s the feeling of the dance that takes priority… That’s why there will be a lot of double stops, because we want to sound very loud, it’s going to be the rhythm of the bow that’s going to be essential.

At the limit, the melody—even if it is very important—will be secondary.

It’s the same for jazz, to learn swing… if you play lots of notes and the rhythm isn’t in the right place, it won’t work, so that if you play few notes with a good swing, it works. When we talk about swing, we are talking about relationships to dance.

It is true that jazz, now it is a letter of nobility and we listen to it in an intellectual way without dancing, but originally it was dance music, so if we doesn’t have the connection with this relationship to dance, you lose something if you want to learn to play jazz. We can talk about inner dance.

Which can be outside in jazz too, since there are Lindy Hop dancers.

Then once we have it in the body, we will feel it in the bow, and the two, the two are linked…

Besides, holding a violin is a bit like holding a dance partner….

The violin chop

The chop is a particular technique that comes from the music of North America, a very virtuoso music, but which originally was really not. In the early days of this “chop” rhythm, musicians played all the instruments (guitar, violin, mandolin, etc.).

It should be noted that the mandolin is very percussive and very important in dance music. At some point, a violinist who also played the mandolin might find himself wanting to do the same thing with his mandolin using his fiddle.

With the bow, the violinists reproduced the sound of the “snare drum” to imitate the percussion of the mandolin.

Very often, the drums play on the downbeat, on the offbeat, etc.

What is even more beautiful with the violin is that thanks to the double-strings you can add a harmony that will give the impression of playing 3 instruments at the same time, that is say the bass, the snare, and the harmony itself…

Open strings are used a lot to enhance the instrument.

The concept of the fiddle originally was to play the violin alone and make people dance, producing all kinds of sounds. This is how techniques were developed to take up as much space as possible on the violin, and reproduce the sounds of different instruments, and even the voice.

The spirit of FIDDLE is to ask the question of what can really be done with just a violin.

You will understand why this instrument is truly extraordinary. You can therefore use the violin like a guitar, like a mandolin, etc., and have all the chords, or even add the effects at will.

You can also see lots of chop tutorials on Raphael’s YouTube channel.




Singing and violin-playing

You suspected very well that the FIDDLE is not only used to produce different sounds and to imitate the sounds of other instruments, using just a violin. A good violinist is also a very good singer, the voice being the very first melodic musical instrument there is.

If you can use a violin like a guitar, for example, you can also sing over it. With your violin, you can even imitate the sound of your voice.

Sometimes with your violin, the idea when what you sing is to add a third string with your voice. For this, you will have to work on double stops, play as quickly as possible, and sing. Sometimes you can have the impression that two violinists are playing at the same time… It would be like a one-man orchestra, all alone and never getting tired of making music…

Just with a violin you can play any song. That’s what makes this musical instrument so fascinating!


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