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Russian bow hold

Teaching and Pedagogy: question between the benefits of different bow holds.

From Shawn Boucke
Posted January 31, 2012 at 05:13 PM

When I started playing my teacher told me about the "Russian bow hold" with the bow hitting the index finger higher up, and the wrist a little more bent. I would switch between that bow hold, and a more flat wrist depending on the music/style I was playing. Every teacher I have had after that has yelled at me for holding my bow that way. I worked to stop that habit, but recently watched a video where Itzhak Perlman mentions the "Russian bow hold."

Does anyone else know/use this bow hold?

What would be some benefits/difficulties with using this as opposed to a more flat wrist?

From Adrian Heath
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Teachers almost come to blows over this one!!

Hands are as similar, and as different, as faces.
In my case, I touch the stick near the root of the index, but my hand is flattish, with four curled fingers and a curled thumb. Russian? Franco-Belgian? Hard to say!

A high wrist usually entails a staightish thumb, which has to grip the bow constantly: a permanent tension which has to be partially undone for certain strokes. If this also entails a high elbow, we are complicating life even more!

I like to say that my thumb doesn't "hold " my bow, it just "holds it up." The fingers guide and balance it, and the elbow swing provides the energy. But I observe my students closely before advising any changes. Let's say that I found staccato, spiccato , saltellato etc. easier after adopting this bow hold, with an active thumb and flexible fingers. Maximum control with maximum ease..

The so-called Russian school offers great power in forte, with a rather "flautando" pianissimo.
With a lower wrist we can get a more colourful piano with a slower stroke. So I quite agree that we can adapt our bow-hold to the music we are playing.

The many (faintly illegal) videos on YouTube show that there is no one answer. Perhaps teachers should watch these a little more often!!

From Gene Wie
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 10:24 PM
A teacher once said to me, "if you want to produce a thousand different tone colors, you need to discover a thousand different ways to hold your bow."

It's quite an idea!

From Landon Yanez
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 10:36 PM
I know that Jascha Heifetz used a Russian bow hold, whereas Itzahk Perlam uses a Fanco-Belgian bow hold. Neither of these are incorrect; I suppose that your teachers simply had a certain preference on which one was better, which most professionals tend to develop after so many years. As for me, I use the Fanco-Belgian. I find that it makes colle far easier, as well as strokes which require more motion from the fingers, such as sautille, spiccato, colle (obviously) etc. Also, I feel that the Belgian bow grip gives, extensively, more control when it comes to sautille. I attempted to do sautille with a Russian bow grip to no avail. I am sure though, that if you talked with a professional who did use the Russian bow grip, they could show you how to manage all of the strokes. I suppose that as far as choosing, it simply depends on your style and what you're most comfortable using, and which helps bring out your best tone. It even helps if you become familiar with both, because you might find that one day, you are studying under someone who prefers the use of the Russian grip.
From oliviu dorian constantinescu
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Many overlook the fact that all bow-holds have their own strengths and weaknesses, allowing greater clarity and precision (franco-belgian) but restricting raw power and aggressiveness or the reversed viscerality at the cost of sharpness (rusian).

I second Gene Wie when he quotes that if a musician wants to extend his sound effect repertoire, he must also extend his right-hand technique to more than one bow-hold. I must also add that you can also vary your left hand technique by altering the distance between your knuckles and the fingerboard. Bring them closer for more tonal accuracy and slower articulation/vibrato or farther for a stronger, faster articulation and an intense vibrato.

I often use the franco-belgian set-up when playing Bach and Mozart and switch to russian when going up to Brahms and Ceaicovski.

From David Beck
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 02:14 PM
The previous posts seem to have pretty much "said it all".
My student days are long gone, but a recent thread made me look at how I use the bow - I decided I'm Branco-Felgian !
But I offer just one serious suggestion. If I'm trying to play stuff with big double-stopped chords, e.g. Bach S & Ps or the opening of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata I like to let the first finger ride up the stick, which makes my hold then more like "Galamian" I suspect.
From Nate Robinson
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I hold the bow in the manner of Heifetz, Elman, and others of the Russian School. Erick Friedman said that I held the bow exactly like Heifetz did, at a lesson. My other teacher Sidney Harth (former Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony) also held the bow the same way I do. You can see some examples of his bow grip from the pictures in Samuel Applebaum's 'The Way They Play'. Some of the teachers I've played for over the years (mainly Galamian students), object to this hold claiming that it 'limits' the player (without any real hard evidence). The fact that some great players have used this bow hold is evidence in itself that it has worked! There are some players who use the Franco Belgian hold to great success as well. The Galamian bow grip is a modified bow hold with the hyperextended index finger (kind of in its own school). I think it's best to study the mechanics of a great player (whether it be someone who uses the Russian or FB) instead of someone who never did any performing.
From Shen-Han Lin
Posted on May 23, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Although I've used Russian bow hold for years, none of my teachers use Russian bow hold. I have to figure out ways to solve the problems I encountered by myself, but I feel like I hit some limitation for a while due to Russian bow hold... I guess it doesn't really go anywhere unless I got a teacher who also uses Russian bow hold! So I recently switch to FB hold and start from scratch, I already see some improvements...

Here are some problems that I find with Russian bow hold... Maybe players who use Russian hold could enlightened me a bit.

1. Because of the high wrist, I have to raise my arm more than FB. This will create tension because I will need to use muscle on shoulder to support the weight of the arm, so I feel less secure when playing at frog. Is there a way to have high wrist and still play with less tension? My solution was to use no force at all on finger so the tension won't "transfer" to the bow, but then it will be hard to control the "bite" of the string when playing pp...

2. From the speed and cleanness Heifetz and Milstein demonstrated, Russian bow hold should be very good at playing at high speed on one note upbow next one downbow like Detache and Spiccato. However, I feel like whenever I speed things up my arm is very tense, and because of the tension I feel like there is a delay in sound and makes it not clean. I could play same passage with more cleaner sound with FB than Russian even though I spent most of my time with Russian hold... Should I tense up when I play fast with Russian hold? Heifetz and Milstein looks very tense when they play fast but maybe it's just the "look" because it doesn't "sound" tense at all...

3. Playing Forte with Russian bow hold is a problem... Naturally Russian bow hold will have more vertical force on string, so it sounds "louder", but the sound doesn't go far... With FB hold my sound does go further...

Maybe because I have to be more cautious with Russian hold, it also kills my left hand... With FB I felt the same piece is easier... And I'm sorry to say this, Heifetz and Milstein fan... I have to say although their technique are flawless and sound great, but their appearance in playing doesn't look technically flawless in compare with soloist who uses FB hold... I don't mind the appearance. But unlike Heifetz/Milstein or any professional who uses Russian hold and still great, the technical difficulty does transfer from my appearance to my sound.

I also find a few problems with FB hold which I never had before with Russian hold like ricochet, chord, and continuous bow change. But since my teacher is using FB hold I feel like my problem can be addressed by someone other than myself.

From Marie Corr
Posted on May 23, 2013 at 07:09 PM
I don't know if any of you have heard of a fiddle player called John McCusker? He plays with Ali Bain (if that means anything). Anyway, I have watched John McCusker play in many concerts (Celtic Connections) and he seems to throw out every rule in the book on how to hold a bow. Now I know he is a fiddler and therefore may do something different with the bow in comparison to say a classical violinist. Nevertheless, this guy grips the bow like you might grip a tennis ball.It looks very awkward and clumsy and yet he produces the most beautiful sound. It certainly doesn't have any negative impact on his playing as he is a top class violin/fiddle player. I wonder therefore,just how much of the classic bow hold we are taught,really matters. I play a lot of jigs and my teacher always reminds me to hold the bow in the conventional manner, even though it feels at times quite unnatural for me. But then at 18 months of playing, who am I to question this technique!!
From Geoff Caplan
Posted on May 23, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Marie

I think there are things that are at least as important than the hold itself - particularly a fluid and relaxed bow arm.

But I've decide to learn a conventional hold, even though it's a longer road. The reason is that either the Russian or Galamian style hold is a lot more versatile than the somewhat agricultural holds you often see in sessions. It's simply easier to play the full range of strokes. Everything else being equal, I think the player with the more conventional hold will be a lot more versatile.

The same with a conventional violin hold (I played the other night with a guy who holds it on his chest) and the conventional left-hand.

There's a lot of scope for personal variation with all of these, but within quite tight parameters, I think. The classical technique evolved in response to the challenges of virtuoso compositions, and if you stick to it you'll be more versatile in the long run.

As for the specific hold you choose, best to stick to what your teacher recommends for you! The different holds have different pros and cons: you can't say that one is unambiguously better than the other. So despite the religious wars the topic inspires I suspect it doesn't make a whole lot of difference which one you choose.

From John Cadd
Posted on May 23, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Shawn I want to hear about these teachers that yelled at you .Tell us about the yelling. Are they also football coaches ? Do you ever tell them not to yell?
From Shawn Boucke
Posted on May 24, 2013 at 01:03 AM
John,
They all had megaphones! I would tell them to stop but it just seemed to anger them more. Oh it was horrible!
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Like a good comedian, I'm going to recycle some old but relevant material of mine:

Holding and using the bow has long been a controversial subject with many details, such as, finger placement, finger distance, 1st finger remaining wrapped on the stick or coming off and how much, thumb bent or straight, hand choked up or down, contact or not with end of frog, use of wrist and fingers, bow at 90 degrees with hair flat or tilted and how much, bow drawn straight or rounded near the tip or figure 8, linear or circular technique, etc. etc.

Eventually, if the thread hasn't finished when I have more time, I'd like to comment on some differing approaches of some of my teachers and various major players. For now I'll note that my own approach is somewhat different from any one of my teachers, while somewhat beholden to all of them. It is my own synthesis of aspects of the Russian, Franco-Belgian and Dounis approaches. If anybody would like details, please visti my website - http://rkviolin.com . Go to "writings" then "fundamentals", then "the bow". If anyone would like to see it in action please visit my youtube performance at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ul2QUc5Gqc

And...

Obviously, Heifetz, Elman, Milstein, Seidel, etc., etc., all knew what they were doing. Auer had loads of less stellar, but still highly competent pupils who carried on his approach to about a gazillian students. I was one. My first two teachers, Harry Fratkin and Vladimir Graffman, had both been Auer pupils. On top of that, Carl Flesch, no minor influence, also advocated the "Russian" method of holding the bow. In the pyramidal scheme of things, the violin playing world ought to be just inundated with close variations on the Auer approach to holding the bow. Yet it isn't. In just one generation or so, with exceptions to be sure, it all but died out. What happened?

What happened, I feel, is that in the competing marketplace of ideas, and with the world shrinking, and more and more cross-fertilization taking place, more of an international approach emerged - one much closer to the Franco-Belgian approach than to the Russian. For many, it seems, the Franco-Belgians had built a better mouse trap. Some, like Gingold, were more influenced by the great Belgian master, Ysaye. Others, like Galamian, by the French pedagogue, Capet. I, myself, consciously came to respectfully repudiate the Russian approach as too awkward for the lower half of the bow, and too slanted, generally. It also lent itself to a wrist position that was too high. And yet, not everyone was entirely happy with the Franco-Belgian, either. Many developed their own synthesis. One of my grandmaster teachers, Aaron Rosand, did this in his own way. In his latest video he talks about it and demonstrates. I felt a need to evolve my own synthesis. Influenced to some extent by Dounis, I came to dislike the Franco-Belgian tendency to have the wrist sink down at the point. "How do you manage so well at the frog?" asked Efrem Zimbalist, the noted Auer alumnus, of his gifted pupil, John Dalley. "I don't know", he replied, "how do you manage so well at the tip?" This exchange succinctly and significantly epitomized for me the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. I resolved to combine what I felt to be the best of both, equalizing and balancing the stroke from one end of the bow to the other with a pivoting technique based on the Dounis "paintbrush stroke". Exactly how I do it is described in my website, in my "fundamentals of the bow" section. http://rkviolin.com
One thing I'll mention here is that unlike this or that classic approach, which is partially recognized by where the 1st finger is set, there IS no "set" in my approach - except when beginning a down bow, especially at the frog. But nothing remains static. The hand and fingers change angles - especially in the down-bow - subtly and fluidly, as the bow makes its way from end to end.

BTW, words aren't deeds, but can sometimes influence them. I highly recommend coming away from the word "grip" in regard to holding the bow. An average violin bow weighs about 60 grams or about 2 oz. And it basically rests on the string as we move it. If we need to grip it - with ANY style of bowing - there's something wrong.


And...

I'd kind of assumed – probably incorrectly – that almost everyone knew what is meant by the Russian and Franco-Belgian approaches to holding the bow. The following are some typical characteristics of each, without being exhaustive, and keeping in mind that each player may have a somewhat different individual take on this or that general approach.

In the Franco-Belgian approach the 1st finger generally contacts the stick between the 1st and 2nd joints. The 2nd finger and thumb are pretty opposite one another and form a ring, and the emphasis of the balance comes from there. The fingers are pretty much at a right angle to the stick throughout the down bow, and the thumb is and tends to remain pretty curved. If the 4th finger is long enough, it usually stays on the stick.

The Auer approach came to be called the “Russian” approach, even though not every Russian used it by any means. The 1st finger contacts the stick at the 2nd joint and even in the down-bow, the fingers are at a slanted angle to the stick. The emphasis of the balance comes from the 1st finger.


BTW, I completely agree with Geoff:
I think there are things that are at least as important than the hold itself - particularly a fluid and relaxed bow arm.

From Gareth THOMAS
Posted on May 27, 2013 at 08:41 PM
So what about Adolf Busch & Jeno Hubay?

Were they just freaks that did things differently, such as that rare thing called "common sense"?

What about all the great "gypsy" fiddlers from Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine, who just couldn't care less and just played as they felt it sounded best?

From Sacha Standen
Posted on July 21, 2013 at 11:24 AM
Just discovered this thread as I've been revising a few of my long established violin techniques with the help of Flesch's 'The Art of Violin Playing'.

The first thing I tried was the 'Russian' bow hold, having always been an unknowing adherent of the 'Franco-Belgian'. Flesch reckons that for a player already in the habit of using a certain bow hold, it can take three months of daily practice to feel comfortable with the Russian hold. I took to it instantly like a fish to water. I found that it increased my ability to keep the bow parallel (always one of my greatest faults), produced a far bigger sound due to the bow hair being flat on the strings and improved the articulation and scratchiness in fast spiccato passages (Czardas, the scherzo from the Beethoven Spring Sonata etc.).

In fact, the same day that I started trying the Russian bow hold, my pianist came over and remarked, without being told that I'd changed anything, that whereas she would often use the soft pedal in order not to drown out the violin, for once she had no need to do so.

So personally I'm a convert to the Russian bow hold, but can appreciate that everyone has a hold that feels right for them.

From Joe F.
Posted on July 22, 2013 at 05:57 AM
Sorry to hijack this thread a little bit, but I've never been sure what kind of bow hold I use. On my down stroke, it seems like a Franco-Belgian hold but at the bottom of my stroke it looks a lot like a Russian bow hold. What do you guys think I'm using?
http://imgur.com/RkBtfSZ,t4t6DZT#0
http://imgur.com/RkBtfSZ,t4t6DZT#1
Anyways, I think I'm possibly using something in between. My teacher always encouraged me to use the Franco-Belgian hold, but I prefer to grasp the stick a bit deeper in my hand. The Franco-Belgian method, which I believe involves a light grasp, didn't really feel perfect for me. I always felt like I couldn't express crescendos and fortes enough. The Russian hold, which I've tried a couple times, gives a smooth and rich tone. But with that hold, I find spiccato and other right hand techniques to be really hard. I suspect that a hold somewhere between the two styles might be the best choice in many cases.
From Bruce Berg
Posted on July 22, 2013 at 12:47 PM
I never understood all of this stuff about different bow holds. In my opinion if you have Heifetz's technique for your up bows and Oistrakh's for your down bows, you will be in pretty good shape. Because of the tremendous pronation of Heifetz you have great power in the upper part of the bow. Since Oistrakh balances the weight of the bow at the frog evenly, with the pinky supporting the weight of the bow, this takes care of your off the string bow strokes and gives an open uncrushed sound up until the middle of the bow.
From Nate Robinson
Posted on July 22, 2013 at 01:01 PM
Heifetz's downbows were also pretty good I think..
From Bruce Berg
Posted on July 22, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Nate, you are correct. Heifetz makes do despite his inferior technique:)
Nadien has a pretty good concept of bowing, don't you think? His Tchaikovsky concerto (with NY)is spectacular, equal to any other.
From Laura McDermott
Posted on July 22, 2013 at 08:54 PM
My main concern with bow holds is ergonomics and tension. Is moving the bow and thus the muscles, tendons, ligaments etc millions of times that way going to give you injuries?

Are you aware of how your back muscles are used in your bow stroke? It is amazing the volume and control of sound you can get when you focus on how you are using your back muscles.

From Ryan Fox
Posted on July 25, 2013 at 04:03 PM
I had a Russian violin teacher who escaped the iron curtain. Studied 11 years with him. He taught me a very pronated wrist and high up index finger like you described.

I find I can get a lot of power and range of colors, controlled spiccatto was difficult to get natural though. Tension was an issue for a while as well. Can do very sharp attacks and colorful piano/flautando. I don't think about at all when I'm playing, it's just natural and how I play after 18 years.

From Mike Laird
Posted on July 26, 2013 at 03:48 PM
for Laura McDermott,
Our hands (and entire bodies, for that matter) are built to move. The millions of small movements in the bow hand, while playing. are a small fraction of the more millions of small movements the hands make throughout the rest of the day.

The thing that causes injury is muscle tension. Any bow hold will result in injury, if that hold involves muscle tension. The opposite is true. Any bow hold will not create injury if the muscles are fluid and loose. (Now some imaginary bow holds won't produce good sound, but that's not part of the issue here.)


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