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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Hi Ben,

Thanks for your comments!  Nicely balanced perspective.  And what you say makes a lot of sense to me - depends on the situation.  Maybe on the tune, too.  I like playing airs and laments so maybe that's why I am sensitive to the idea of having as good a tone as I can manage.

I agree with Ben (again,...from another discussion). I've played in sessions where the tone of some violinists (and that's not mentioning whether they were in tune or not) would be like fingernails across a blackboard (SCREEEEEECH!!!!!!!). But, to me, it's all about the Craic,....good times with good people,......the enthusiasm of the folk,....what they bring to the session,....etc. After all, isn't that what a session is about????

Thanks, Dhomhnaill.  It is about the fun and the friends of course.  Even though each of us has to satisfy ourselves to some degree with our playing.  I admit that I hate it when I play poorly even if I am just playing for myself.

Hey there, Mary!!! It's also about encouragement to continue the Tradition of this kind of playing. I especially love the "newbies" (hey,...I was there once,...and sometimes I still am!!!!) I get a kick out of seeing someone taking that deep breath to steady themselves and playing for the session group,....whether they're 9 or 10 years old to oldsters (like me). While the session mates sit and listen (sometimes endure), the SMILE of that individual when they're done (maybe shaking a little with uncertainty), and receive encouraging words and praise, makes it all worthwhile.

Now playing with an advanced group is another story.............

I was in a session last Thursday evening.  The organiser had emailed copies of three Welsh tunes in honour of St David's day.  Men of Harlech was ok.  Next up was All Through the Night.  A guy who has been learning the clarinet and has been improving steadily set off at a cracking pace and playing very staccato.  I tried to slow them down while playing but to no avail.  When they finished (uneasy looks on others faces) I started it again at a much slower pace and phrasing it much more.   Afterwards, my friend come over and apologised for doing it too fast.  So we had a good and positive discussion about how to play and the difference between playing for a dance and playing slow airs and the like.  Next time, I'll try to get them to play it again, but his time have adiscussion about how we will play it, rather than just reading the dots.  It's the same problem that Prof Moriarty referred to of playing everything too fast with no real sensitivity to the music.  I'm going to try and get them to sing all the tunes as well as playing them. Back to the tradition!

Excellent  points it seems to me.  I play with some folks who want to go careening through slow airs and it sort of breaks me heart.  Lament for Limerick - is - you know - a lament.  I lament when it's played pell mell! Well, as Dhomhnaill said above - it's all part of the package and we all can learn something important if we keep our ears and minds open.

Tone is extremely important; what type of tone is what is particularly up for debate here. Usually when people say, 'Tone isn't important to Irish fiddling' - what they generally mean is 'classical violin' or a 'pure' tone isn't really important to musicality. I think this is a concept I read in a Tomás Ó Cainann book, or maybe he just old me in person. It's a blur, but I certainly agree.

If tone wasn't important at all, I'd be way more confident in my own fiddle playing. Traditional players naturally aim for some type of tone, but it is defined differently than how classical violinists might conceptualize 'good tone.' I do try to aim for a sweet, gentle, lonesome tone, whereas other fiddlers may enjoy an scratchier tone.  

I agree with Jessie and Lawrie. There are times when all members of a session are in sync,....even the fiddler. But a "screeching sound", although not bringing everything to a "screeching halt", can take some of the sweetness away. Some people play stiffly, just going through the motions. Others play with abandon, casting everything to the wind. But stiff or carefree, tone can make a big difference in how something is heard and accepted.

You are right to bring this up, Peter. Even though "Tone" is the object of this discussion, it IS only part of an equation. Individually or as part of a group, any player (or singer) is the sum of many attributes that make up their being who & what they are. Cheers,


That's really funny, Peter. I'm sure she had alot of ego tied up with her "classical training". And Mr. Kelly & Mr. Casey were right to do so. Carry on, Peter!!! Cheers.

I took my wife to Ireland for the first time on the weekend of the Good Friday Agreement.  We were in Wexford and if we played The Boys of Wexford once we played it.....  We were sent by our landlady's daughter to a session in a pub at the crossroads.  Really good fun.  I played a slow air and there were murmurings of approval from the company.  One of them said, "I bet he plays classical."  My good lady burst out, "No he doesn't!"  I had to explain that it was just their way of paying a compliment!  Peter Kennedy of the English Folk  Dance and Song Society once described the difference between a violin and a fiddle as the violinist trying to make it sing and the fiddler to make it dance.  With slow airs and laments, singing is the thing to aim for, but we don't need to aim for a full blown Wagnerian Brunnhilde!

Good tone is always important. The quality of it may be lost to those on the dance floor, but for those near the fiddle it is important! If you play well you will never sacrifice tone, no matter what the volume requirements are. No excuses!

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