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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Thanks, Jim.   I feel the same way!

There was an article in The Strad magazine  recently about the quality of recordings and how the tone of a violin can really be appreciated best when the sound has got away from the instrument and develops a life of its own.  The violin hero in question insisted on the microphone being very close to the fiddle.  The engineers wanted to put it about 20 feet away.  Your man insisted that that wasn't the sound that he was producing and that it was distorted in some way by the failure of the mike to pick it up.  So we don't have any recordings of him that reflect the experience of an audience in a concert hall. What we do have, is recordings of  what the violinist heard.  I sometimes invite other players to play my fiddle.  That really is the only way to hear it and always gives me pleasure.  

When I bought my first guitar (second-hand) at age 15, I bought Bert Weedon's Guitar Tutor to go with it.  One thing that has stayed with me for over 50 years is the simple advice to concentrate first on producing good tone, not speed and not volume.  'Tone carries' was the advice.  

I agree with you, David. Listening to yourself as you play, striving for the sweetness of the sound, touching the very soul of the instrument,...these things will help one to achieve satisfaction with producing good tone. I usually bend over my guitar or bouzouki to hear what I'm doing and strive to play in balance with the other players. I've been in sessions where folks are banging away at their instrument, stumbling at "breakneck speeds" or playing so loudly that there's no balance of rhythm or volume with the group of other players. Some people feel it's important for themselves to be heard (above the rest). There's individual tone, and then there's group tone. With a mic-ed session/performance the engineer is responsible for sound balance,....yet most of us play in acoustic sessions. It's great when the group feels a sense of "balance-well-done" at the end of a song. And "Tone does carry". Cheers, Danny

There was a letter recently in Strad magazine recalling a visit to the Festival Hall to hear Casals play.  The writer said that they expected a large Cello with a big sound that would fill the hall.  Instead, there was a little man with a small cello.  He didn't try to fill the hall.  Instead, the whole audience focussed on what he played.  I think that sometimes we are so concentrated on filling a room with the sound of amplified instruments that we forget how intimate music can be.  If you can persuade the others in a session to stop playing and listen, the audience will focus in as well.  I play in a session in the Newport Inn in Braishfield in Hampshire.  It is generally full on and we play everything from Rock to Reels and lots of fun songs.  The pub is full every session night.   If one of us starts playing something like Summertime, most players butt out and leave it to the melodic players (Fiddle, Harmonica, Flute, Recorder etc) accompanied by a guitar and bass. The audience stops chattering and chaffing and listens with intensity.  The tune or song is performed in attentive silence until the explosion of applause at the end.  Then it's back to Elvis or the Big Bopper.  

A few years back, I had the honor of doing a shoot with Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble for broadcast television here in the States (NYC). As this was a closed studio set, and being  a member of the crew, I was able to meet and talk with the legendary cellist. What a nice , down-to-earth guy!!! His cello was an old one (obvious from its' "used" condition). When we did a sound check, his ability to make that instrument sing so sweetly and remain in balance with the Ensemble, proved his mastery as a "one-of-a-kind" musician. Granted, the set was mic-ed and the sound was going through an audio board, but being in the studio and hearing the ambient (unaltered) sound demanded the attention of everyone on the set. Now we're talking tone here. The intensity of concentration by Yo Yo Ma was obvious in his facial expressions and body language as he played. He and the instrument were "one"!!! Talk about Intimate???? Now I'm no "Yo Yo Ma" but that experience motivated me to always try for that intensity and intimacy whenever I play,.....either practicing or in a session/performance, matter the venue.

My teacher did me the greatest favor when he "insisted" the best thing I could do for myself was to record myself practicing tunes.  It's still painful but - it helps SO much.  And every now and then, I'm happy with the result.  Never happy when learning a new tune, though. Those recordings could make you cry.

The same thing has been said about traditional English fiddlers, some even going as far to say roughness of tone is a characteristic of the music!  Personally, whatever the style of music it's hard to believe anyone would deliberately play badly.  I strive for a good tone, not sure I always accomplish it, and have often been advised to play a tune slowly and in good tone and rhythm first, then strive for speed.

I think it's important, first of all, to detach from the environment that you're playing in, and home in on what  you actually sound like. A lot of poor tone is simply down to poor technique, and it can happen regardless of the style of music you play. I know it can be a contentious issue, and no-one likes to be told they are doing it wrong! ... but as a teacher I come across this all the time. Assuming that your fiddle and bow are decent, and everything else being equal, here are the  most common things I have come across, that contribute to poor tone :


Bowing with not enough bow pressure, producing a weak and scratchy sound. If you don't produce enough tone volume from the strings, the predominant sound is bow noise. Some players forget that the sound they hear is not what listeners hear, and yes producing a good tone can make the fiddle sound rough under your ears. That's normal!


Bowing without being parallel to the bridge. Not so much of a problem during the actual bow travel, but if you skew on the direction change, you miss the bite on that first note, and on the first note of the next direction change. Makes for an overall sloppy and nebulous sound.


Poor coordination between bowing and fingering.


Hope that helps :)

I agree entirely.  My lessons have always been in classical music, where tone exercises are a constant!  I found the Simon Fischer tone production dvd as an ajunct to my lessons extremely helpful though in improving this aspect of my playing.

Yes, I have that DVD too. It's very good.

Interestingly, someone once asked on his discussion board whether his tone production dvd would be any good for playing fiddle music, which he replied:


"I have been trying to think of how any degree of deeper understanding in any field can be a drawback. I am no expert in playing your type of music, but surely for any type of string player there are only the three factors of speed of bow, pressure and distance from the bridge at play in producing the sound. Surely the sort of sound you want can only be the result of certain balances of these three factors (and the special way you use your left hand), just as the purity and sweetness of tone that you want in playing, say, Schubert, is also the result of certain balances of speed, pressure and soundpoint.

So no, I don't think the exercises in the Secrets of Tone DVD will make you sound like a classical player as such - unless you want to sound like that, in which case they would give you a greater understanding of how to get it.

If anything the exercises would increase your understanding of how to play in the style that you want, and to make the sound you are wanting to make.   Maybe I am wrong (I have never worked on these exercises with a non-classical player), but I would think it would be more likely that the exercises and information on the Tone DVD would make you into a sort of super-deluxe version of the player you already are, rather than make you lose the type of sound you desire."


Martin, thank you for posting that. He gave a very good answer. Actually, I had read that before, and I was thinking about where that link was when I posted my comments on tone earlier. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the "classical" vs fiddling thing - good tone and technique are essential to both. I don't believe in comprosmising tone for anything else :)

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