The commonest eruption styles of basaltic volcanoes involve Hawaiian lava fountaining or intermittent Strombolian explosions. We investigate the ways in which magma rise speed at depth, magma volatile content and magma viscosity control which of these eruption styles takes place. We develop a model of the degree of coalescence between gas bubbles in the magma which allows us to simulate the transition between the two extreme styles of activity. We find that magma rise speed is the most important factor causing the transition, with gas content and viscosity also influencing the rise speed at which the transition occurs. Counter to intuitive expectations, a decrease in gas content does not cause a transition from Hawaiian to Strombolian activity, but instead causes a transition to passive effusion of vesicular lava. Rather, a change from Hawaiian to Strombolian style requires a significant reduction in magma rise speed.