How high and how much pressing the bowing index finger (Franco Belgian)

Edited: November 12, 2017, 3:30 PM · Hi,

I have seen that violinists can either have high or low index finger on their bowing hand.

Interestingly, among the top-notch violinists, usually the male players seem to favor low index finger, while the females tend to have their index finger high.

What's your thoughts on this?

As a beginner I find high index finger can help stabilize bow direction but at the same time make it harder for smooth bow changes.

I want to follow the high index finger way but don't know how else I would need to consider before getting this into my habits.

Also, when the index finger is high enough, how much should I press it (together with its bottom knuckle) against the bow?

Here is some images:

1. High index finger

bow hold 1

2. Low index finger

bow hold 2

3. Index finger does not press against bow


4. Index finger and bottom knuckle presses strongly against bow


Replies (28)

November 12, 2017, 3:27 PM · It's impossible to answer your question because context is everything. My bow hand position and index finger weight adjust depending on the stroke I am using, how much volume I want to produce, etc. Similarly I would caution against drawing too many conclusions from a snapshot of a violinist when you don't know what they were playing at the time.
November 12, 2017, 3:43 PM · Thank you Mary Ellen! I could see that for Sarah Chang and Midori, their index finger is always high (maybe that's why Sarah Chang plays loud, since this could mean higher pressure on the bow).

I watched Sarah Chang on two videos on YouTube, Sibelius Concerto and Salut D Amour, and I can see that her index finger is high on both (though they may be different in style).

Other female violinists, like Janine Jansen, index finger is generally high, but its height varies during the performance.

For male violinists, I seldom see a high bowing index finger. For example, I have never seen Vengerov doing it.

If what I observed is true, I came up with a theory. Could it because male violinists have a larger body frame and therefore arm length? could it because their muscle has more power so index finger pressure is unnecessary?

Also, Vengerov is a Russian violinist, so even though his bow hold is Franco B, he may be affected just a tiny little bit with the Russian bow hold (which keeps index finger really low).

So is it safe to say that it depends on the context (like you said) and also a personal thing as well?

November 12, 2017, 6:25 PM · A few years ago I did a detailed study of bow holds of professional players. I wouldn't call it a scientific study by any measure. I just tried to collect pictures of violinists actually playing (not posed for album covers), which is difficult because the bow is moving when you play so it's hard to get a clear picture. But with famous violinists in the digital-photography era, there are a lot of pictures available using Google Images. As Mary Ellen said, context is everything and it's hard to draw really clear generalization, because with just an image you don't have any idea what they were doing.

But one observation that I did make was that female players tend to have their index fingers higher on the stick. You can see this in pictures especially of Sarah Chang, Midori, Hilary Hahn, and Anne-Sophie Mutter. Some famous pedagogue, maybe Gingold, said that he noticed players extend their index finger less as they get older.

November 12, 2017, 8:54 PM · I'm pretty sure many change the index position all the time, from high to low, constantly. Also, your example pictures are amazingly obvious:

It's precisely when you're playing at the tip when you have low index, and when you're playing at the frog area it's when you have it high. I don't think this has anything to do with the sex of the violinist.

Hahaha, surprise, the woman is playing at the frog, the man at the tip, hence their index position. Also your bow hold influences this, Russian is almost always low index, as I remember the Russian bow hold explained by Perlman.

November 12, 2017, 9:04 PM · @Paul, it's interesting we have the same observation as regards gender and high/low index finger. Great (or otherwise :-) ) minds think alike!
Edited: November 12, 2017, 9:17 PM · Tim, it's easy to just say it depends on the context (of course, to some extent, it does). But I was also trying to find out whether it is something personal (i.e. depends on the violinist's style as well), and as beginner what factor we would need to consider before adopting a high or low bowing index finger.

If you see the two videos from which two images are cut and posted, you will see that the woman (her name is Sarah Chang BTW) always keeps her index finger high no matter whether it's upbow or downbow (there are lots of her other videos on YouTube). And the man's name is Vengerov and the photo is taken from one of his Beethoven concerto performances. As far as I can see it, he does not change his index finger position throughout the performance.

Edited: November 13, 2017, 2:38 AM · Like Paul, I recently studied the bow holds of famous violinists, but only those whose sound I liked most. I noticed the same pattern of women placing their index finger higher up, and I do think it has to do with the differences in muscle mass in the arms and torso between male and female.
Having more muscles possibly gives you the ability to draw sound from your whole body, whereas with less muscle mass you need to use more pressure because the natural weight of your arm is not as important, therefore the higher index position.

I myself tried the high index finger position, and while the sound was good, it led to extreme degrees of first finger pressure, which I really didn’t enjoy.

Since then, I’ve found that what works best for me is rather than focus on the index finger placement, I focus on the thumb placement.
Putting the thumb a little bit to the right of the rig finger gives balance to the hand, as you now have 2 fingers on each side of the bow. Also, the further away the thumb is from the index finger, the greater the effect of index finger pressure, as the thumb has to counterbalance more.
All the info is from Fischer’s Basics.

That might actually be the explanation:
Because women have less natural arm weight, they must use more pressure to make the same sound as a man would, and therefore place their index fingers higher up, which maximizes the effect of the first finger pressure through greater thumb counterbalance and allows them to have a sound as big as their male counterparts.

November 13, 2017, 7:04 AM · A search of will reveal many great discussions on bow hold.

As a general observation, not all hands are proportioned identically. The relation of the finger lengths to each other will have a profound affect on being able to bow comfortably with different holds.

The two bottom joints of the thumb, called the MCP and CMC joints, can have quite a difference in range and direction of motion among people. Some can easily place the tip of the thumb into the slot between the frog and leather, while others would experience chronic pain with this position.

Edited: November 13, 2017, 10:41 AM · In addition to what I consider excellent observations about context by Mary Ellen and body differences by Carmen I would like to add that differences in instruments and bows can also account for fundamental restrictions on how a particular player might hold and use the bow.

In addition, the ubiquity of computer use has actually changed the muscle behavior of many people (including violinists here who obviously use computers) and this can impose limitations on bow use. Use of a non-ergonomic computer mouse (fortunately becoming passé ) can have devastating effects on all regions of the arm.

As far as how hard to "press," the sound should tell you everything.

Edited: November 13, 2017, 11:41 AM · Muscle mass / size really has very little relationship to quantity of sound produced - watch some of the menuhin junior competition, for example. I suspect variations in bow hold are more due to 1. who the people studied with and what they learned and 2. ratio of finger length to hand width.
Bow hands are in fact very personal - everyone's hands are shaped differently. For beginners, I would advise against specifically deciding to try a high or low index finger because that's what x does, but instead work with your teacher toward whatever gives your own hand maximum flexibility and control (and my guess is that that's not going to be your photo no. 4 - that looks quite tense).
Edited: November 13, 2017, 12:28 PM · The physics is pretty simple.
The higher the index finger on the bow, the more control you have. However, the higher it is the straighter it will be, and straightened, locked joints are never good.

So you have to strike a balance between controlling the mass of the bow while retaining flexibility (and thus, finesse). That means a small bit of extension from the other fingers, maybe enough room to put a cigarillo.

Whatever, you do, I'd suggest avoiding the extremes. It's really the same thing with the pinky: extended enough for control, yet with some flexibility in the joint.

Edited: November 13, 2017, 1:36 PM · Violinists whose names we remember down through the decades did - all of the above. For example, David Oistrakh switched from FB to Russian and back on different successive bow strokes, in order to get different sound quality and articulation. It is said his father did the same, though there are fewer videos to watch. But watch David for the very quick bow hand changes (stoke by stroke) he makes on some Mozart pieces.

Students are frequently taught to spread fingers in FB because it quickly helps a beginner stabilize the bow. Few teachers will change that hold as the student gains skill because competitions and seating focus on being a "left hand violinist". It is only a few teachers and students who seriously train to become professional soloists who really care about tone quality (from measure to measure) enough to practice and master multiple bowing styles. It has nothing to do with muscle mass, and only a little to do with context. The result we see in bowing styles is mainly driven by standardized teaching and the measures used for successful student advancement.

November 13, 2017, 3:26 PM · Female players, especially of asian descent, often have narrower hands than thier male counterparts. To achieve the same "leverage" either side of the thumb, they may well spread the fingers more, whatever the bow-hold.
November 13, 2017, 7:07 PM · Interesting observation!
November 14, 2017, 11:09 AM · I thought the high index finger thing was an affection of Dorothy Delay students.
November 14, 2017, 1:17 PM · @Christian this is an interesting observation. I just checked Dorothy Delay's students I know, and most of them maintain high index finger, even her male student Gil Shaham (he is actually the first male soloist I know of doing it - not particularly high, but still). Mr. Izhak Perlman is an exception though.
November 14, 2017, 1:56 PM · Perlman was initially Galamian-taught.

I find that for my short arms, a Russian grip is easier.

November 14, 2017, 6:13 PM · If this thread is trying to "prove" or claim that because of female anatomy / bone structure / muscle structure / (whatever), women use a different bow hold than men, then I find it beyond absurd.

The sex of the player has nothing to do with its bow hold or any other thing about playing the violin, other facts or factors such as teacher, school, size and proportions of the individual player, player's experience and thoughts, etc... are definitely what makes the player play the way it does.

November 14, 2017, 7:22 PM · @Lydia thank you for the info on Perlman :)

@Tim Ripond My main intention is to find out the pros and cons of a high index finger, so, as a largely self-taught beginner, I could try and think before incorporating this habit into my practice (expert opinion should always be considered besides what you feel is right for you).

The higher female index finger is purely one of my observations which has been shared shared by some other members here. Though I am not trying to prove anything, I would like to find out the reasons behind this.

Even I myself did attribute this phenomenon to the 'size and proportion of the individual player' as size and body anatomy are obviously different between the sexes. So we are in furious agreement here I guess.

Edited: November 14, 2017, 8:46 PM · The entire issue with this whole obsession with index finger placement is that it misses something critically important: the amount of force exerted upon the bow by each finger.
November 14, 2017, 8:47 PM · But then sex is not the reason, but hand size, plus many other things. If your current teacher teaches you to use high index, that's what you will do, no matter if you're female or male.

Men and women come in all sizes. Yes, I know men are normally bigger and higher than women, but thinking that this subtle difference is what makes most women use higher index is ridiculous.

November 14, 2017, 9:10 PM · I am female and I have never played with a high index finger.
November 14, 2017, 9:32 PM · Not to belabor the obvious, I want to think that sex, in itself, is not the reason.

@Tim, I am not sorry that you find my thread absurd or ridiculous. But let me confirm that I am not trying to prove anything outright. It is an observation that not only I myself have observed, and we have come up with a variety of theories to explain the reasons behind that (e.g. to prove that sex itself may actually has NOTHING to do with a high female index finger - exactly what you believe), from schooling (Dorothy Delay), gender-wise physical dichotomy, and the Russian bow hold (which I did mentioned before you).

In my opinion it is far too easy to attribute everything to how one is educated and taught. After all it's the question of nature vs nurture which has been widely debated far outside the community.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 6:32 AM · "As a beginner I find high index finger can help stabilize bow direction but at the same time make it harder for smooth bow changes."

You can try finding a middle ground, or switching it up for different contexts. To me both your holds look tense. In 3. it looks like you're forcing the bend in the thumb, and in both 3. and 4., pressing finger against the thumb through the stick, creating a static hold. There should never be static holding in bowing. When forces are applied the bow pivots and moves against or away from the string.

It's true three very high profile soloists who use a permanent 'high' index finger happen to be women (Chang, Goto, Chung) but it's not related to gender or size, or anything other than the way they learned (not only how they were taught as others have said, but how they adapted technique to their individual playing.) Check out Chin Kim, Young Uck Kim, Stefan Jackiw (who extends when playing forcefully.) Ray Chen doesn't separate his forefinger, but his fingers are quite spaced out even with his permanent lean (quasi-"Russian") because he has long, skinny fingers. Janine Jansen frequently uses a high index, yet she is a large person. Szeryng had large hands but frequently split away his index for leverage.

I have read anecdotally that the high index was something Galamian once taught (I think Steinhardt may have stated that somewhere) and it can be seen in some of his students, male and female, but not all. DeLay was assistant to Galamian for Perlman, Chung and Zukerman, but not Young Uck Kim, for instance, who studied at Curtis (where DeLay did not teach.) As far as I've read, she never promoted the extended finger as a general technique, teaching each student according to individual skills and needs (I think Oliver Steiner wrote that on somewhere.) DeLay was ahead of her time pedagogically.

Her teaching methods were unconventional. She was not old-school and authoritarian, thrusting the same style on to all comers. Her secret was to treat each student as an individual and to play to their strengths, encouraging each to do better and establishing great self-esteem in her charges; they delivered on her promises that they could excel, and were able to grow in confidence and maturity.

The main reason for spacing out fingers (whether evenly or not) is for leverage. You want the index to fall at least somewhere in the middle of the lapping, and a bit beyond for more forceful playing. Many, if not most, will adjust spacing for various strokes, 'widening the stance' so to speak, when playing loudly or more vigorously. Some apply force through the index, others through the middle finger, and yet others distribute among all fingers. Some change the lean for up and down, others don't. The Franco-Belgian vs. Russian dichotomy is simplistic and misleading because bowing is so complex. There are no pros and cons really, only action/reaction. Where the index makes contact with the stick is only one factor and only determines range of motion of the index finger, and hence the fingers in general. Similarly, spreading the index so that it's base knuckle remains extended just means you have to compensate elsewhere down the arm (wrist and shoulder) further along the kinetic chain.
Edited: November 14, 2017, 11:30 PM · Thank you for the input, Jeewon! Specifically, I think I should follow your advice about making the bowing hand flexible.

I think a high index finger is something a bit of context, a bit personal, a bit taught, and a bit dependent on physical-wise traits (hence some gender difference).

From the comments on this thread I also see that different people can believe one factor to be more influential than the other. It may just come down to each individual case by case.

Thank you again for all of your inputs :-))

November 15, 2017, 6:35 AM · Here's that old thread with Oliver Steiner's entry near the bottom:
November 15, 2017, 7:55 AM · "I think a high index finger is something a bit of context, a bit personal, a bit taught, and a bit dependent on physical-wise traits (hence some gender difference)."

And also style of playing. You might've heard of the "New York" or "American" sound, a preference for projection and volume. Here's a quote from a book which seems interesting:

The aesthetic ideal regarding a big, even sound may have been the most important driving force behind it [a more uniform style of bowing which developed from the 1950s to 80s].
Both DeLay and Galamian placed special emphasis on tone production and projection. ...According to Arnold Steinhardt [Galamian gave two basic principles]... "'More bow' and... 'Play so that the last person in the last row of the hall can hear you.'" ...James Buswell state: "Galamian had a revolutionary technique for the bow arm [...] the ability to project the violin sound at a time when halls are getting bigger..." DeLay agreed that Galamian's "students had good sound. Big healthy sounds." DeLay seemed to have shared this principle with Galamian as her training routine focused a lot on developing sound, including vibrato. ...
Where they differed was their pedagogy.
Although sharing a similar aesthetic and technical outlook, the American DeLay was the complete opposite of Galamian when it came to pedagogy. She was motherly and had a holistic approach to developing not just technique but the musician and the personality as well.

A Musicology of Performance: Theory and Method Based on Bach's Solos for Violin, 3.2 Violin Schools

So, especially in the beginning, you shouldn't worry too much about projection or power, but rather getting comfortable handling the bow which includes hand flexibility and coordination with the arm.

It goes back and forth, but after you develop a rudimentary bow hold without excess tension and without pressing into the stick, I think it's important to take a look at how the arm coordinates to move the bow. Once that's sorted you go back to the hand to make sure it allows the proper trajectory of the bow. As Geminiani said, "The Bow must always be drawn parallel with the Bridge, (which can't be done if it is held stiff)..." a few years back, in 1751. :)

November 17, 2017, 3:52 AM · Mary Ellen, in another discussion, you said you had relatively large hands!

My suggestion was not about male vs female; it was just about the simple mechanics of getting sufficient leverage with narrow hands...

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