How to create a full tone on the fiddle
There are a number of things to consider in creating a full tone when playing the fiddle.
- Playing without tension in the bowing arm, shoulders and neck is important. Keep a relaxed bow hold. It’s particularly important to make sure that the thumb stays bent and relaxed, and doesn’t ‘lock’ in a tense position. (If the thumb does tense up, then you’ll feel muscles up your forearm tense as well, which will affect the bowing action, and the tone)
- Keep the bow close to the bridge throughout the bow stroke. There is a ‘sweet spot’ where you’ll get the best sound from your fiddle. Try playing around with exactly where on the strings you have your bow, and listen to the quality of the note you produce in different positions. The best sound is usually when the bow is around a 1/3rd to 1/2 of the way down the gap between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard.
- Keep the bow at right angles to the fiddle’s strings throughout the bow stroke. To be able to do this, you need to have a flexible wrist. Playing with a rigid wrist will tend to make the the bow skew on the strings at the start and finish of the bow stroke. It can be very hard to tell if your own bow is straight when you’re playing. If you look straight down on it, it will appear to be perpendicular to the strings when it’s not. If you can, get someone else to watch you and give you feedback about where your bow needs to be throughout the length of a full bow stroke, it’s helpful. Or you can watch yourself in a mirror (trying to correct a squint bow stroke while watching your bowing action in the mirror is tricky, though!)
- The amount of weight we apply to the bow as we play. We can add weight to the bow via the index finger resting on the back of the stick of the bow. If we’re playing long bow strokes, from the frog end to the tip of the bow, the sound will become ‘thinner’ as we progress towards the tip, unless we gradually add increasing weight to the bow as it draws towards the tip end.
- When playing on the E string keep a slightly lighter touch with the bow. Experiment with using different pressures on the string as you draw the bow. The amount of weight you use in the bow stroke will have a big effect on the quality of the sound you make.
- The part of the bow we use to play the note. When using the frog end of the bow it’s possible to create a louder sound, with a sightly ‘rasping’ quality. The closer to the tip the bow moves, the easier it becomes to create a gentle, more subtle tone.
- Work on your tuning – when the instrument is played in tune, it will resonate. Here’s a link to an interesting discussion thread
- Work on controlling how the strings reverberate. Try playing an open G string. If you watch the string as you do this, you’ll see it vibrating as you draw the bow across it. Play single long down bows, and lift the bow between strokes, placing it back on the string at the heel, ready for the next down bow. Work on getting the string to continue to vibrate for as long as possible after the bow has left the string. Here’s a link to exercises that will help you work on your tone.
- The speed of the bow – the faster the bow moves, the bigger the sound it will create
If you’re struggling to create the tone you want on your fiddle, it’s also well worth getting it checked over to make sure it is set up properly. Changing to different strings can make a big difference to the tone of the instrument – here’s a useful article about different makes of strings and their effect on tone.