A good fiddle part elevates a song: It can take a ballad from mediocre to weepy and a bluegrass jig from ho-hum to barn-burning. It's one of the most prominent instruments in country music, and it's a huge part of the genre's sound.
From traditional instrumental songs to modern hits, the fiddle is a key part of a number of fan-favorite country songs. This list of the Top 10 Fiddle Songs in Country Music includes everything from a folk-inspired instrumental to a classic ballad to a song featuring ... Irish step dancing? You'll have to read on to see all of our picks.
A song like “Where the Green Grass Grows” -- one that celebrates easy living and simple pleasures such as “supper from a sack” and watching “corn pop up in rows” -- needs a fiddle line. It simply doesn’t make sense without one. Thankfully, McGraw’s 1997 hit gives listeners exactly what they need: It’s a simple fiddle line, not as fast or as flashy as some on this list, but that's exactly what this song needs.
“Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)” is a strange song: It lives somewhere in the land of “Cotton Eyed Joe”-inspired dance music, with some spoken word, house beats and Irish step dancing thrown in for good measure. But it’s impossible to ignore the fiddle work in this song -- in part because, at least in the song's music video, it’s not just one fiddle, it’s several, and they’re all being played by children. Say what you want about the wild, uncategorizable song that is “Don’t Be Stupid," but the kids make the fiddles work.
The fiddle in “Amarillo By Morning” is neither fast nor furious. It’s a solid, mid-tempo line that sets the tone for the rest of the song: simple and powerful, with occasional emotional flourishes. It’s one of those fiddle lines that, while completely separate from the melody, still explains what the listener should expect from the song. It’s hard to imagine this classic song without its accompanying fiddle part.
If you don’t think of Bentley when you think of bluegrass, then you may have missed his 2010 album, Up on the Ridge. The disc is rich in bluegrass- and Americana-influenced songs, and Bentley enlisted superstars including the Punch Brothers and Alison Krauss to help him out. “Fiddlin’ Around” is a vehicle to showcase fiddle work: The mid-tempo line powers through the song. “Come on down, we’re gonna do a little fiddlin’ around,” Bentley sings ... and then does just that.
The fiddle line in “Callin’ Baton Rouge” announces itself right away, as the song opens. Then, as with so many good fiddle lines, it weaves itself quietly through the verses, then explodes again. You may have lines including “I spent last night in the arms of a girl from Louisiana” in your head after listening to this song, but it’s almost certain that you’ll have the lilting fiddle stuck there, too.
Krauss is a master fiddler, so it’s nearly impossible to choose her best fiddling performance. However, “Cluck Old Hen” is as strong as any. It's one of the few purely instrumental songs on this list, too: a traditional bluegrass song that pits the fiddle against the banjo. Krauss’ version, played with her band Union Station, is an indisputable great: It earned the 1992 Grammys trophy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Listen to Krauss’ fiddle, and you’ll understand why.
Some songs feature musical "battles." “Who Knows” makes that battle a war, between Zac Brown’s guitar and Jimmy De Martini’s fiddle. The two trade off lines, their instruments clashing, bursting apart and coming together again. We don’t want to give away too much, but the winner of this battle is … everyone listening.
Martie Maguire’s fiddle work is a powerful presence in nearly every Dixie Chicks song; it’s hard to imagine the band without it. So while it’s hard to choose her strongest work, “Cowboy, Take Me Away” is always going to be near the top of the list. The simple and sad fiddle line (four notes, then five, then seven) she plays to open the song, and between choruses and verses, cement the song as a ballad to remember. Her playing is at least partially responsible for helping send the song to No. 1 on the charts.
As a solo artist, Carolina Chocolate Drops founding member Rhiannon Giddens gets to show off her fiddle-playing chops. But rarely are those chops as prominent as they are on the Chocolate Drops’ “Snowden’s Jig (Genuine Negro Jig).” The fully instrumental song is rich with the talents of all three band members, but it’s Giddens’ lilting, minor-keyed fiddle that's the absolute star through every note.
There’s no such thing as a list of best fiddle lines without “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The breakneck speed of the fiddle in the iconic track barely pauses to give the listener time to breathe; it’s so intense, you might feel like you need to take a deep breath before the song even starts. The classic Charlie Daniels Band song is formed around the power of the fiddle line; in fact, before Daniels added words to it, it was an instrumental track called “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.”