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.

Thanks.

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I'm still interested in hearing an example of good rhythm, good phrasing, and poor tone. I've a hard job aurally visualising that combination :)

Peter, it's an open discussion, and full of subjectivity.

Sometimes it's good to have some concrete example of the things of which we speak, instead of dealing only with abstracts. Poor tone to some may be acceptable tone to others, and vice versa.

The sharing of opinions is healthy, or it should be.

We can choose to continue to talk in abstract terms, or we can enlighten each other.

I do not envisage anyone being put in an awkward position.

A polite question : do you play fiddle too?

I think tone is one of those things that you can just learn as you play. Its not something that I personally work on - if you know what I mean, and at the end of the day, I would guess that you would probably think I am a little sloppy, my bow is a bit sloppy - its not parallel etc etc. But overall I doubt my tone is awful or anything - just not perfect. And I think that is ok to be honest. Whereas a person who plays with bad rhythm, phrasing, timing or tuning can be awful. Do you know what I mean? It probably isn't coming out right at all.

I guess that would be the minimum requirement.

Peter, I know what you mean. When I said "minimum requirement", that's really what I meant, and I'll try to quantify it.

I play and teach fiddle, and have done for many years, and what does become apparent as my students learn, is that there is a lot more to good playing than just playing the notes. Probably stating the obvious now, but the intonation needs to be spot-on, and a decent listenable tone needs to be brought out too, and the timing needs to be accurate.

After that, how does it sound? Well, probably dry and and a bit lifeless, with something missing.

Next come the dynamics, or 'lilt' - brought about by changes in bow speed, bow pressure and distance from the bridge. It's sounding better now, but how could you make it sound better still?

Pushing and pulling the timing, just by a fraction - playing some notes slightly ahead of the beat, and other notes slightly behind.

All these things in isolation are  not obvious to the ear when listening, but if you consider them all together, that's what "brings out the tune", as you described it.

We happen to be on an Irish Trad forum, but those elements I described are the building blocks of good fiddle playing, regardless of whether you play trad, classical, bluegrass, jazz or snazz. The methods of teaching and learning differ of course, but all those aforementioned elements are there.

 

I think tone is one of those things that you can just learn as you play. Its not something that I personally work on - if you know what I mean, and at the end of the day, I would guess that you would probably think I am a little sloppy, my bow is a bit sloppy - its not parallel etc etc. But overall I doubt my tone is awful or anything - just not perfect. And I think that is ok to be honest. Whereas a person who plays with bad rhythm, phrasing, timing or tuning can be awful. Do you know what I mean? It probably isn't coming out right at all.

 

@Brid - I understand exactly what you meant in your post. I've found that my students don't improve their tone just by playing more. They can learn more tunes by playing more, but if there's a tone problem (or any other problem), all that happens is that unless the issue is addressed, it simply gets propagated to the other 1849 tunes in the book :) Ok, a slight exaggeration there, but you can see what I mean. I've expressed a general view in this thread, and in other threads too. It's really not for me to criticise someone's tone or playing unless it's called for, at an individual level - so the decision about what you do and how you sound is entirely a matter for you, and I mean that in the nicest possible way :)

 

OK Peter, I thought I had expanded on what you meant, but it seems I was on the wrong track. I asked you earlier if you played fiddle, thinking that if you did then we might communicate on the same level and come to a better understanding.

I do my best to communicate ideas and thoughts, often at length, but if there's something you think is indefinable, or that can't be explained in words, we should just leave it at that.

Cheers :)

Its interesting that you say that Jim, in the beginning when I was learning - I had many different teachers and took many master classes, with some of the best fiddlers around - and not one of them mentioned tone. Not one. Why do you think that is? Could it be because at the end of the day it just comes way down the list compared with the other things mentioned? Lets face it - any classical musician with can play a trad tune with perfect tone- it doesn't mean its any good. 

Hi Brid - my teacher - on the other hand! - does mention "tone" to me when mine starts getting lousy.  Just as he makes a point of complimenting me on a good tone (esp. in airs) when I manage that.   

He likewise cautions me on all aspects of playing Irish Trad in as authentic a manner as possible.  I've also taken some "group" classes that he taught and things like "tone" just don't come up when there are 15 people in the class.  

He has never ever once mentioned "bowing pattern" though!

He's been playing this music since he was a child and he's in his 30's now.  

Peter, I understand what you are saying.  The only reason I keep going back to fiddle technique is because - that is something I know a lot about, and - this thread is about the importance of fiddle tone in Irish fiddling.

Any aspect outside of this can easily be the made subject of another thread.

So your teacher says the word tone and my 5 teachers plus numerous maters classes haven't ever mentioned the word tone. Do you think that tone just comes down the line for some- or do you think maybe some teachers are teaching tone without actually saying the word?? I noticed (having all those different teachers) that they each have things that they really focus on, for example Liz Doherty was all about the bowing, and Kevin Glackin was a real stickler for intonation.

Brid - YES!  I think you've hit it on the head exactly!  That is, I suspect what you said is true - good teachers/fiddlers are teaching us to strive for a good tone without necessarily saying that very word.  Very perceptive of you - thanks!  For my teacher - fiddling is all of a piece, you know.  Everything comes into play including a pleasant tone -along with good intonation, bow control, the lift and lilt - all of it.  

I get along really well with him so I guess his style of teaching works for me.  I've heard lousy fiddlers (not necessarily Irish fiddlers) and I am embarrassed for them frankly.  It takes me forever to learn a tune decently before I even consider playing it up to speed.  


Anyway - great post and thanks again.

Its great to have a teacher you connect with, and not everyone can be a good teacher  - they are few and far between I reckon - there are way more good musicians than good musicians who can teach you know? 

At the end of the day - if someone has lift and all the stuff you need to sound trad, then I think it would be kind of impossible to have terrible tone wouldn't it? It takes years to make the fiddle sound anywhere near decent anyway and by the time it does, then perhaps we have all learnt tone through osmosis or something? 

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