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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How to Tell the Difference Between a Violin and an Accordion

It's one of those awkward moments that happens to everyone. You see someone playing an instrument and go to complement them.

"I didn't know you could play the accordion!"
"It's a violin, you thtoopud!"

Awkward. Very awkward. After a recent incident involving a spatula and a very irate accordion purist, we decided that a public service announcement was in order. What follows is a concise but complete 2-step guide to determining which instrument you're looking at. We like to call it the FCN Accordion/Violin Method, or simply the FAV Method.

Step 1) Avoid making a total fool of yourself.

There are many different kinds of instruments, including bassoons. If the instrument in question is neither a violin nor an accordion, you should avoid using this method. Here are a few red flags:

A big flaring end. This is for sound to come out of when you blow into it. Any instrument with such a device is definitely not a violin or an accordion, and may possibly be a bagpipe.

Frets. These usually come on stringed instruments, which make them hard to spot because violins also have strings (more on this later). Look for metal lines running perpendicular to the strings. If you see them, the instrument is not a violin or accordion. There's an important exception to this rule, however. If the frets are made of paper tape, you can be absolutely certain the instrument belongs to a beginning violinist.

A mouthpiece. Mouthpieces are for blowing into. Violins and accordions are NOT for blowing into. Even a violinist with taped paper frets will not blog into her instrument.

Bigness. Anything requiring wheels, multiple decks of keys, a hand crank, or trade tariffs is probably not what you're looking for.

Safety devices. Instruments are designed to be safe to use (except for harmonicas of course). If you have to buckle yourself into it, it's probably not a violin or accordion.

A trigger. The only musical instruments that come with triggers are custom-made mandolins, the players of which are not to be trifled with. You should never come close enough to an object with a trigger to determine whether or not it is an accordion.

2) Look closely.

This is a violin. Note the bow, strings (without frets), bridge, unique box shape, and tuners.

This is an accordion. Note the keys, levers, handles, contracting accordion bag, and general frenchiness.

And that's all there is to it! Remember that the key to the FAV Method is practice. Don't beat yourself up if you get it wrong a few times. Keep practicing. It's okay to print out these pictures and take them with you for quick reference. Observe a few violins/accordions close up and personal. Note what they have in common and what sets them apart. With time you'll get it and you'll be able to join the ranks of the FAV Masters.


Anonymous said...

phew... thanks guys, I get this wrong all the time! but I will no more...

you can call me batman said...

got it. I was always getting evil glares whenever I talked to the musicians at fancy restaurants about their instruments. thanks for the pointers!

Matthew said...

Wow, thanks. This guide is so handy, I'd love to see one that distinguishes all the blaring-ended instruments from each other.

guitarbob said...

also, "danger" signs are a good hint. Anything along the lines of "Peligro!!" "Danger!" "EXPLOSIVE"...yeah, those aren't instruments...

Jesse said...

couple notes for clarification for all. accordions have more than one set of keys.

On the trigger issue violin bows have a little "trigger" that is used to tighten the bow hairs a little different but same basic principle.

For any violin players looking at that picture the bow angle is REALLY BAD. Also the bow is too tight. Also the shot does not give you a good look at the tuners which was one of the ways you advised to tell the difference.

Also your advice does nothing to tell the difference between a violin and a viola.

But I know you guys know that and put it in there to be funny. There is a nice sort of safety in that. :)

Someone whose seen Jesse's Expos said...

Now if only you'd explain the difference between a violin and fiddle...

big mo said...

thanks guys. now my friend who plays the *checks post for reference* violin will stop hitting me over the head with it.

spadoodles said...

The violin sings and the fiddle dances :-)

matthew said...

Regarding Fiddle Vs. Violin:
If the person playing the indefinite instrument is wearing anything you'd wear to church if you wore what your mother wished you'd wear to church, it's a Violin.
If they have a straw hat and/or boots and/or a blade of grass or wheat and/or there is a banjo (the only common instrument in America with only 5 strings, just count them to tell) nearby, it's a fiddle.

Also, with a fiddle, people nearby are usually laughing, not because it sounds funny but because they're having fun.

While people nearby a violinist are usually sitting solemnly in nearly as good of clothes as the violist, not because they're sycophantic or bored, but because such beauty must be enjoyed without too much life.

Jesse said...

"Matthew" you are getting closer. Violin players focus on Tone and Pitch while fiddlers focus on Rhythm and are free to improvise. And those stereotypes often hold true (thats the idea of one I guess)

DTH Rocket said...

So the player defines whether it is a fiddle or a violin? I mean, is there any technical difference between the two instruments themselves?

Jesse said...

no its the style that you play it with. To wit the difference between jazz piano and classical. The stereotypes are based on the fact that...the difference started when one the instrument went to places with musical infrastructure (as it were) where there was sheet music and a more organized system violin came out of that. Fiddle comes from areas where the fiddler didn't have a teacher or music and played everything by ear. So the main differences that come out of that are

Violin: Tone, pitch focus
Fiddle: Rhythm improvisation