Like many other instruments of classical music, the violin descends from remote ancestors, cruder in form, that were used for folk music. Following a stage of intensive development in the late Renaissance, largely in Italy, the violin had improved (in volume, tone, and agility), to the point that it not only became a very important instrument in art music, but proved highly appealing to folk musicians as well. As a folk instrument, the violin ultimately spread very widely, sometimes displacing earlier bowed instruments, and ethnomusicologists have observed its use in many locations throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
When played as a folk instrument, the violin is ordinarily referred to in English as a fiddle.
Differences between “fiddles” and ordinary violins include the bridge is often shaved down so that it is less curved. This makes it easier to play double stops, and often makes triple stops possible, allowing one to play chords.
One difference between “fiddles” and ordinary violins may be seen in American (e.g., bluegrass and old-time music) fiddling: in these styles, the bridge is sometimes shaved down so that it is slightly less curved. This reduces the range of motion needed for shuffle bowing.
There is quite often only a single fiddle playing in any given venue, although twin fiddling is represented in some styles. By contrast, violins often play in sections, since sound reinforcement (before electronic amplification) was only possible by adding instruments. The Italian ripieno may be translated as “filling” (or “stuffing” in the culinary sense) since many instruments “fill out” the sound.