Tips for improving tone

Improving tone on the fiddle

Tips for improving tone

We started tonight talking about various things we can do to improve our tone when playing the fiddle.

Bow hold

We looked at our bow holds – it’s important to be able to keep the hand, arm and shoulders really relaxed when playing, right throughout the bow stroke.

We also looked at the role of the first finger and the pinkie. We can increase the volume by ‘digging in’ to the bow with the joint of the first finger, or play more quietly by using a little pressure on the pinkie, on the end of the bow, to take some of the weight of the bow from the strings. We tried both of these options out while playing a long drone on the A string,

We tried playing a D scale, with alternate people in the class playing an open D drone. We all paid attention to our tone while doing this. The fiddlers playing the scale also focused on tuning, listening to the D drone either side of them for reference. Then we switched round, so those who had been playing the scale played a drone, while the others moved to playing the scale.

Tone and the bowing arm

We also talked about transferring the weight of the bowing arm into the bow. We can use pressure on the forefinger to dig the bow into the fiddle. If we have the weight of the arm behind this, it adds a lot more impact, and allows us to really round out the tone of the instrument, making a much fuller sound. We put down our fiddles and split into pairs again. The first person acted as the ‘player’, and held their bowing arm out. They were aiming to get the feel of letting the full weight of their arm fall on their bow. The second person supported the player’s bowing arm at the elbow. The player let their shoulders fully relax, and allowed the full weight of their arm to be supported by their partner. It’s surprising how heavy an arm is! Once this felt natural, the person supporting the arm moved their supporting hand to the player’s wrist. The player then relaxed to allow the weight of the arm to transfer down to the wrist. Once this had happened, the 2nd person moved their support to the player’s fingers, so they could transfer the weight of their arm to there. Then we tried to use the weight of the arm through the bow, while playing an open A string.

Rolling the bow slightly away from you, so the hairs are not lying flat on the strings, will help create a slightly purer tone, as less of the bow hair is in contact with the fiddle strings. The bow should be rolled so the the stick is pushed slightly away from you, with the hairs slightly towards you.


To help with tuning, we played different notes from the D arpeggio. Alternate people in the circle droned on an open D, while others found a note from the arpeggio, and paid attention to getting it in tune with the drone either side of them. Then we played through a D scale, with alternate people playing a harmony a third below.

We also learnt the first part of the jig Professor Delbert’s Birthday – we’ll learn the B part next week. We tried playing the tune as a slow jig, with slurred down bows over the bar lines, which makes it sound very laid back. The music for the tune is on the written music page.