Another forum I was reading had a post that said good tone isn't all that important in Irish traditional fiddling and I am wondering what the fiddlers here think about that statement.  The poster said that since Irish trad "is dance music as is Old Time American music" that tone just didn't matter all that much as compared to rhythm.  I disagree but am looking for others' thoughts on this idea.


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Martin Hayes never fails to do it for me. 

I should perhaps clarify what I meant by 'strive for speed' in the context of my original post. I meant that when learning a tune I have always been taught to play the piece slower than intended but correctly, with the right rhythm and in good tone, then when this has been achieved to strive to play at the proper speed. That is to say not to sacrifice tone and rhythm for speed.

As regards bow pressure, I was always taught that the first rule of good tone is to use speed of bow rather than weight, although pressure obviously has to alter in relation to the distance of the bow from the bridge and the position being played in.

Ben, I agree about bow pressure. With consistent bow speed and the same distance from the bridge, more bow pressure calls up the law of diminishing returns of volume. It doesn't give the extra volume one thinks it does (meaning, what you hear is a lot different from what your listeners hear).


Peter above, suggests that rhythm and phrasing come before all else. That's a matter of opinion, and it's not mine! Again, I think this thinking is the result of getting steeped in the music, rather than the instrument, and it's what I referred to in my earlier post.  Rhythm and phrasing can be learned if your playing sounds "pedestrian" or "lifeless", but correcting a poor scratchy tone after years of playing is much harder to achieve. I've seen it too often.


As we all know, Martin Hayes is a respected player. I remember listening to his first CD (years ago, I can't remember it's name). My friend was there too, and I asked him what he thought. He replied, "he needs the Amazing Speeder Upper!"  Fair comment, in a sense ... well, you can't please them all :)


For anyone who didn't get his joke and doesn't know : there's software called "The Amazing Slow Downer", to help learn tunes at slower speeds, from audio recordings.

I'm not sure it necessarily has to be an either or thing, good rhythm and phrasing isn't mutually exclusive to players of poor tone! Surely the key in whatever sort of playing is to be the best you can and as well rounded as possible?

Peter, you have a valid point, and I've already explained mine.

Again, it's of limited value discussing the importance of fiddle tone, when the focus is not on the instrument but on the tradition in which the instrument sits.

Jim effectively dismisses their music when stating he wouldn't compromise on tone (but it seems he'd consider doing so on the rest of the package).

@Peter, I didn't dismiss anyone's music. I happen to think that the ability to produce a good tone is very important, regardless of what music you play. You have a different viewpoint. The original poster asked a question about the importance of tone vs rhythm, and people have given their answers.  Why don't we just leave it at that? :)

Well, it is a discussion forum, nothing wrong with bringing an informed point of view to the table when there's something one doesn't agree with, or is there?

Of course not. I just sensed that the discussion was tending towards one of these circular arguments that go nowhere, that's all :)


I'll have plenty more to say on related matters.

Again, for the sake of the discussion it would be beneficial to define what you all consider 'good tone' here.

"Good tone" to me would be a sound that was pleasant to listen to. It may be soft, mellow, quiet or loud - even with a bit of extraneous bow noise at very close range. "Bad" tone to me would be unpleasant to listen to, overly scratchy even when heard from a distance - you know the skewed-bow thing I described earlier where the bite is missing from the note at each bow direction change. I guess my test would be, would I like to sit next to that in a session?

Untechnical as this sounds, scratchy and twangy I find unpleasant.  I'm not speaking here of the crunchy triplets of course.   Keeping one's bow straight and mid-way between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge (more or less) is about all it takes for me to be happy with what I hear.  Assuming bow pressure is - again - more or less right for the tune.   

That's all I meant when I posed this topic in the first place!   Seems to me that some folks (mostly those who don't play traditional Irish music on fiddle) believe it's just fine to sacrifice a decent tone in favor of rhythm.  

Good pics, Peter. Maybe you could add the players' names for the benefit of those who don't know them?

Well, it's obvious now you mention it! Cheers :)

Brenda Stubbart once taught me that "now you know the tune, but you got to put the 'Dirt' in it" I think in fiddle music it is always  a mix of fine technic and putting some good dirt in it, if every one played with perfect tone and technic we would sound like an orchestra trying to be celtic. For myself I make sure that I can practice with good tone and technic then when I go out and play with people I put some extra passion into or "Dirt"

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