The Highland Fiddle

     One of the most commonly asked questions at the ceilidhs is the difference between the fiddle and a violin.  The instrument is identical and it is only the music that is different, with fiddle music being the folk music from the given country and violin music referring to the classical music style.

     Although fiddle music is played throughout Scotland, there is a wide variety of styles, and the style in the West of Scotland and the islands is distinct from that in the North East, the Northern Isles and the South of Scotland.  The Scottish fiddle style is generally regarded as originating in the North East, where exponents include the famous Scott Skinner and Niel Gow, but there is evidence of very early playing in the Highlands.  A school of fiddlers was recorded in Torrin in Skye in the seventeenth century and many travellers observed the quality of this music in the area.

     The style in the Highlands is closely related to the bagpipes, with similar ornamentation and the use of many pipe marches, jigs and reels in the most popular repertoire.  It is regarded as a less aggressive style compared with the strathspeys of the north east.  The Gaelic language contributes greatly to the style with many of the old songs being converted to airs on the fiddle.

     The fiddle is a very versatile instrument which can be used for the wide variety of dancing that takes place in Scotland.  A fiddler is an important member of the band for ceilidh dances along with the accordion, and plays alone for step dancing, a traditional dance style in Cape Breton, Canada, which has had a revival in Scotland, after having left along with the emigrants in the last century. The fiddle can also be played as a solo instrument at ceilidhs, and Strathspey and Reel Societies provide enjoyable opportunities for fiddlers to perform together.

Fiona Beaton.
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