Banjo Vs. Fiddle: Which Should You Learn First?

Pro Music Vault Home Comparisons String Comparisons Banjo Vs. Fiddle: Which Should You Learn First?

There are tons of instruments of all different kinds out there – choosing one to start playing can be a little difficult. Knowing which instrument is right for you is key to making the right choice and eventually mastering that instrument.

The main difference between the banjo and the fiddle is that the fiddle is played using a fiddle stick, while the banjo is played using a pick or finger (like a guitar).

If you’re still having trouble deciding between a banjo or a fiddle, you’ll be interested in reading the rest of this article!

Table of Contents

Differences Between The Banjo and The Fiddle

The first thing we should know about both the banjo and the fiddle is to which group of string instruments each belong.

The banjo belongs to the group of pulsed or dotted string instruments. These instruments produce a sound by vibrating the strings in coordination with pressing them or “pinching.” This is done either with the fingers or with a plectrum or pick (accessories).

[PRO TIP: Find a high-quality set of thumb and finger picks, and you’ll rarely have to replace them (until you lose them, that is). This set brings that kind of quality.]

In this group, we also find the guitar, the harp, the lyre, and the zither.

In the case of the fiddle, this instrument operates via a group of rubbed strings. The string is vibrated with the friction of an arc that slides over it. Sometimes rubbed string instruments can also be pinched with your fingers.

This group is completed by the cello, the viola, and the double bass.

Banjos

There are many different types of banjos, but overall it is a stringed instrument reminiscent of the guitar; they can have four, five, six, or ten strings. Learn more.

Banjos have a circular structure, which is their main aesthetic feature, and a mast that is usually long. They also have a patch that covers an opening. The latter gives the instrument special acoustic qualities.

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PMV Top PickThis banjo earns our top pick thanks to the beautiful black and red finish on its back, plus the complete starter kit that it loads you up with.

Pyle Banjo Kit with Remo Head and Sapele Resonator, 39″ Full Size Traditional Open or Closed Back 5 String Instrument with 24 Brackets, Geared 5th Tuner, Premium Accessory Kit (Red Burst)
  • ATTACHABLE SAPELE WOOD RESONATOR – Amplify and enrich your banjo’s sound by attaching the Sapele Wood Resonator. Easily affixed for heightened resonance and projection, the resonator enhances the instrument’s acoustics for a fuller, richer tone

Banjos are generally used to play country music. However, if the strings are increased, then the banjo can become more versatile and play more advanced music such as Jazz or Blues.

Playing the banjo involves using your fingers to pluck the strings, which produces a unique and dynamic sound. This is called fingerpicking, and it allows you to control the volume, rhythm, and phrasing of your music in a very precise way.

[See our list of the best banjos for beginners.]

The most popular tuning for the banjo is called open G tuning, or CGDA GDAE. This tuning gives the banjo a bright and ringing tone that’s perfect for playing traditional styles of music like bluegrass, folk, and old-time. In this tuning, the strings are tuned to the notes C, G, D, A, and E, starting with the highest pitched string and going down to the lowest.

[PRO TIP: Find a solid clip-on tuner with lots of adjustability, and your tuning frustrations will be way less. This tuner is one of our favorites for the banjo.]

Compared to learning other instruments, the banjo presents a medium-high difficulty, but with virtually no effort you can at least start getting some sound out of it. In that aspect, it is more straightforward to start from complete scratch than some other instruments (we’re looking at you, brass).

With a little discipline and dedication, you can start churning out some melodies in a reasonable amount of time.

Fiddles

All fiddles are made entirely of wood. The fiddle has a fretless fretboard. Their strings are hooked to tuning pegs and to a tailpiece that passes through a bridge supported by the pressure of the strings.

[See our list of the 5 best fiddles for beginners]

The vibrations of the strings produced on the bridge are sent to the soundboard, and this amplifies the sound.

Inside the instrument, under the string bridge, and embedded between the fiddle’s belly and the back (which is made of maple), is the sound post. This is a thin pine stick that transmits the vibrations of the strings to the end of the instrument, contributing to the tonal characteristics of the fiddle.

PMV Top PickThis sleek acoustic-electric fiddle earns our top pick for its versatility to fit any playing style, plus its clean metallic black look.

Sale
Cecilio 4/4 CVNAE-Black+SR Ebony Fitted Acoustic/Electric Violin in Metallic Black
  • 4/4 (Full Size) Acoustic & Electric Violin
  • Hand-carved solid spruce top, solid maple back & sides with volume and tone control
  • Ebony pegs, chin rest and fingerboard, tailpiece with 4 nickel plated fine tuners
  • Includes: Brazilwood bow with unbleached genuine Mongolian horsehair, Lightweight foam fitting hard case, Adjustable shoulder rest with soft foam padding with soft rubber feet, Violin bridge, High quality rosin, and an AUX cable

One thing that makes this instrument special is that the fiddle has four strings and is the smallest member of the string family. Thanks to this, it can make the most acute musical notes.

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The fiddle has strings which are made of gut or metal, wrapped with aluminum, silver, or steel (the most popular being steel). In all fiddles the string “Mi” is directly made of steel wire, producing a louder sound.

[PRO TIP: Some fiddle string sets are better suited for students than others. This fiddle string set earned an “Educators Choice” recognition for the best strings for students.]

Another relevant characteristic is the tuning of the strings in intervals of fifths. In general, each string has a particular sound, which gives each musician a unique style when playing the individual strings of this instrument in his or her preferred way.

The fiddle is one of the most difficult instruments to learn to play. Nailing the right tone with a fiddle can be quite a process. Looking at it from the positive side, this allows us to be in constant growth and development as a musician.

This instrument has long had a reputation of being a bear to learn, with significant progress unlikely in a short timeframe, since it requires: musical training, ability to read notes, reading a score, and other skillsets.

Which One Is Harder To Learn: Banjo or Fiddle?

So what’s the verdict? Overall, learning to play the banjo is less complicated than learning to play the fiddle. When it comes to the banjo, you’ve got countless videos and manuals on the web that tell you essentially how to self-teach yourself and learn this instrument.

On the other hand, the fiddle is much, much harder to learn to play by yourself (at least in the correct way).

You can definitely learn to play some songs and maybe even make some serious progression, but you will not achieve the fiddle-playing results that a teacher can enable for you.

If you want to start with either the banjo or the fiddle, one of the first steps will be picking up a good instructional book to get you on the right track.

Banjo Instructional Books

SaleBestseller No. 1
First 50 Songs You Should Play on Banjo
  • Series: First 50 Format: Softcover – TAB Arrangers: Michael J. Miles, Greg Cahill Inventory #HL 00153311 ISBN: 9781495051258 UPC: 888680095826 Width: 9.0″ Length: 12.0″ 112 pages
  • If you’re new to the 5-string banjo, you’re probably eager to learn some songs
  • This book provides easy-to-read banjo tab, chord symbols and lyrics for the most popular songs beginning banjo players like to play
SaleBestseller No. 2
The Earl Scruggs Banjo Songbook: Selected Banjo Tab Accurately Transcribed for Over 80 Tunes with Foreword by Jim Mills
  • Instrumentation: Banjo
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages – 02/01/2021 (Publication Date) – Hal Leonard (Publisher)

Fiddle Instructional Books

SaleBestseller No. 1
Fiddle & Song, Bk 1: A Sequenced Guide to American Fiddling (Violin), Book & Online Audio/Software (Fiddle & Song, 1)
  • Wiegman, Crystal Plohman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 48 Pages – 09/01/2017 (Publication Date) – Alfred Music (Publisher)
SaleBestseller No. 2
Hot Licks for Bluegrass Fiddle – Book with Online Audio
  • Book/CD Pack
  • Pages: 128
  • Instrumentation: Fiddle
  • English (Publication Language)
Bestseller No. 3
300 Fiddle Tunes
  • The 300 Fiddle Tunes music book gives you a comprehensive collection of fabulous fiddle tunes that include reels, hornpipes, strathspeys, jigs, waltzes, and slow airs
  • Various (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages – 07/01/1998 (Publication Date) – Centerstream Publications (Publisher)

Conclusion

Hopefully now you have a better feel for the differences between the banjo and the fiddle, as well as which one you might want to learn first.

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The fiddle is an extremely difficult instrument to learn, while the banjo (despite the fact that it can still be tough) is generally way easier.

FAQs

What is the difference between a banjo and a fiddle?

A banjo is a stringed musical instrument that is played with a long neck and drum-like body, while a fiddle is a type of violin that is typically used to play folk or country music.

What is the typical cost of a banjo?

The cost of a banjo can vary greatly depending on the brand, materials, and quality of the instrument. Entry-level banjos can cost as little as $100, while high-end models can cost several thousand dollars.

What is the typical cost of a fiddle?

The cost of a fiddle can also vary greatly, with entry-level models starting at around $200 and professional-grade instruments costing several thousand dollars.

What are the benefits of learning to play a banjo?

Learning to play the banjo can improve hand-eye coordination, increase finger dexterity, and provide a fun and engaging hobby. Banjo playing can also enhance memory and cognitive function.

What are the benefits of learning to play a fiddle?

Playing the fiddle offers similar benefits to playing the banjo, including improved hand-eye coordination, increased finger dexterity, and a fun and engaging hobby. It can also boost memory and cognitive function.

Which instrument is easier to learn, a banjo or a fiddle?

The answer to this question depends on the individual and their prior musical experience. Some people may find the banjo easier to learn due to its simpler chord structure, while others may find the fiddle easier due to its smaller size and lighter weight.

What is the best way to learn how to play a banjo?

The best way to learn how to play the banjo is to take lessons from a professional instructor and practice regularly. Learning with online tutorials and instructional videos can also be effective, but it is important to have access to a physical instrument for hands-on practice.

What is the best way to learn how to play a fiddle?

Similar to learning the banjo, taking lessons from a professional instructor and practicing regularly is the best way to learn how to play the fiddle. Online tutorials and instructional videos can also be helpful, but having access to a physical instrument for hands-on practice is important.

Do I need to have prior musical experience to learn to play a banjo or fiddle?

No prior musical experience is necessary to learn to play either the banjo or the fiddle, although having some experience with other musical instruments can be beneficial.

Can I learn to play the banjo or fiddle as an adult?

Yes, it is possible for adults to learn to play the banjo or fiddle. With dedication and regular practice, anyone can learn to play a musical instrument, regardless of age.

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