V.com weekend vote: Franco-Belgian, Russian or other bow hold?

December 7, 2018, 10:22 PM · How do you hold your bow? And are you aware of the history behind that bow hold?

There are two bow holds that are the most common: the Franco-Belgian bow hold and the Russian bow hold. (Incidentally, I call it a bow "hold," not a "grip," because none of us should be "gripping" the bow, as that implies holding it very tightly!)

Franco-Belgian and Russian bow holds
Left, a Franco-Belgian bow hold (Pinchas Zukerman) and right, a Russian bow hold (Nathan Milstein)

A quick and by no means encyclopedic explanation: The Franco-Belgian bow hold was taught be some of the 20th century's most important teachers, including Josef Gingold, Ivan Galamian and Shinichi Suzuki -- and that means that many of today's most accomplished violinists have this bow hold: Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman are just a few. The Franco-Belgian hold involves a bent/flexible thumb, a pinkie that is curved and active, two middle fingers draped around the stick, and the pointer touching the bow stick between the middle two joints.

The Russian bow hold was very famously used by Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. It involves a bow hand that is very pronated, leaning toward the pointer finger, with a straight pinkie.

Being sort of a Galamian/Gingold "grand-student," I definitely use a Franco-Belgian bow hold. There are other kinds of bow holds -- I've heard of German and French, but I have not found a definitive description of these. Please share, if you know!

What kind of bow hold do you use? Please participate in the vote, and if your bow hold is not listed, please describe for us your bow hold.

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Replies

December 8, 2018 at 11:42 AM · Carl Flesch touches on and illustrates what he calls “older” German, as well as the “newer” Franco-Belgian and “newest” Russian bow holds in his book The Art of Violin Playing. This book gives an interesting historical perspective as he recognized the advances of the Russian hold and seemed to think it was the way of the future.

December 8, 2018 at 11:42 AM · Carl Flesch touches on and illustrates what he calls “older” German, as well as the “newer” Franco-Belgian and “newest” Russian bow holds in his book The Art of Violin Playing. This book gives an interesting historical perspective as he recognized the advances of the Russian hold and seemed to think it was the way of the future.

December 8, 2018 at 01:30 PM · Definitely Franco-Belgian here. The left photo shows the finger placements on the bow that my teacher taught me.

As a kid, I started playing on a half-sized fiddle before I had my first lessons. Not sure now how I managed to pull this off back then, but somehow I did. I don't remember how I held the bow before lessons, but I have a faint recollection of it being more "grip" than "hold." It took a few weeks to get used to the Franco-Belgian hold that my teacher showed me. Now, years later, it feels so natural and logical.

December 8, 2018 at 03:36 PM · The only thing that counts for most people is flexibility. Straight joints are NEVER a good thing in any physical activity. The pinkie and thumb must be relaxed and bent. Sure, people have gotten away with locked joints, but inevitably most are limited at the highest levels. Imitate Heifetz at your own risk...

December 8, 2018 at 05:26 PM · I never even knew the Russian bow hold or any other bow hold existed until I started reading about violin issues online. According to research I'm almost positive that I'm using a Franco-Belgian bow hold.

December 8, 2018 at 06:08 PM · I ws raised with and use the Franco-Belgian bow hold. But Either bow hold will be working well....great violinists have proven, and keep proving that. Haifetz, Bell and others. I think the result of a good tone lies more in the quality of instruction and adaptation of instruction and practice. As well as anatomy. Some players simply play better with a russian bow hold, others with a franco-belgian one. Let's also look at the repertoire: these two bow holds are instructed for classical repertoire. Folk music/fiddle has no rule for either or another bow hold. lot of top Fiddlers learned to play on mom or pop's lap, and copied what their elders were doing. watch videos of Martin Hayes, Liz Carrol..... what i noticed though is that the franco belgian and russian bow holds produce a fuller, more nuanced tone than another (fiddle style) bow hold. and that does serve the purpose of the musical style.

December 8, 2018 at 06:09 PM · I don't know how to answer this poll because my current teachers want me to use the Franco-Belgian hold but I keep defaulting to a more Russian-like hold (it's somewhere between the two at the moment). I was taught a Russian hold as a kid.

Have been trying to change my bow hold (to Franco-Belgian) for a year and a half and keep defaulting to this not quite Russian not quite Franco-Belgian hold - to the consternation of my teachers. For me, I tend to like the power and drive of the Russian style hold, and I also like the flexibility and lightness of the Franco-Belgian. I don't think there is any one right answer.

While I'm obviously not an expert, just a lowly amateur, I have decided to pay attention to my sound and note how I am holding the bow (it changes!) - and go with what consistently works sound-wise - vs worrying about pedagogical points of view.

December 8, 2018 at 06:10 PM · I don't know how to answer this poll because my current teachers want me to use the Franco-Belgian hold but I keep defaulting to a more Russian-like hold (it's somewhere between the two at the moment). I was taught a Russian hold as a kid.

Have been trying to change my bow hold (to Franco-Belgian) for a year and a half and keep defaulting to this not quite Russian not quite Franco-Belgian hold - to the consternation of my teachers. For me, I tend to like the power and drive of the Russian style hold, and I also like the flexibility and lightness of the Franco-Belgian. I don't think there is any one right answer.

While I'm obviously not an expert, just a lowly amateur, I have decided to pay attention to my sound and note how I am holding the bow (it changes!) - and go with what consistently works sound-wise - vs worrying about pedagogical points of view.

December 8, 2018 at 06:41 PM · I generally think of myself as a Franco-Belgian player, but I've noticed two things.

1) I occasionally switch to Russian, sometimes even in the middle of a piece, if the technical needs of the piece call for it.

2) I'm almost exclusively a violist, but this week my viola has been in the shop, so I've been mostly practicing violin. I noticed this week that, oddly, my hand seems to gravitate towards a Russian bow hold when playing violin and a Franco-Belgian bow hold when playing viola.

Note: I've only been taught the Franco-Belgian bow hold, and that was only after 16 years of self-teaching. Before my first lessons, I used something that looked like Franco-Belgian but tended to push the bow rather than pull it. The Russian bow hold is something I've experimented with relatively recently.

December 8, 2018 at 07:24 PM · There are so many variants of the Russian bow hold. Maestro Heifetz held the bow quite differently from Maestro Milstein. I hold it kind of in that style I guess? Erick Friedman held the bow more in the Franco Belgian style. If you look at Oscar Shumsky, one of the great Auer and Zimbalist protégés, and a exponent of the ‘Russian School’, he had his own unique bow hold. Elmar Oliveira uses a version of the Russian bow hold as well. He ‘chokes up’ on the stick and holds the bow a bit higher up than most.

There are actually many Josef Gingold students who use the Russian bow hold. The most well known of them is Leonidas Kavakos. According to my friend who studied with Mr. Gingold and Mr. Galamian, Gingold did not teach a certain bow hold like Galamian did. Galamian had a more cookie cutter, one size fits all approach to teaching in general. Mr. Gingold encouraged his students to find their own approach.

December 9, 2018 at 03:10 PM · Pianists have a similar debate: How much should the fingers should be curled? In that case also, the "Russian school" favors a flatter hand. But not locked joints. Nobody advocates that. And if you look closely at the photo of Milstein's hand above, you'll see his fingers are not perfectly straight. My suspicion in both cases -- violin and piano -- is that when the players are in the thick of things, playing demanding passages, the difference between the two "camps" will be greatly diminished.

December 10, 2018 at 06:06 AM · I am using Franco-Belgian and my wife, as a student of public official schools for children or folk-school by meaning people, not music style (I really don't want to explain this school format specific in my country here). And our history with Russia. Socialistic "friendships" and occupation. She is playing more Russian style by old-school teachers. But it is not quite a clear style. It is something in between

December 10, 2018 at 01:52 PM · I'll never understand how Heifetz did V-V-V staccato with that 'hold'..seems Milstein had more problemd with it. Heifetz seems to adopt an even flatter hand position for his V-V-V...to wit, videos of his Hora Stacc.

December 11, 2018 at 02:26 AM · I generally use FB, with a bit of Russian balance and minimalist thumb/finger action — the fingers are always flexibly curved to varying degrees.

It is all about balance, flexibility, ratio of finger spacing, moved by the draw of the arm.

I teach both, depending on the natural tendencies of the student for comfort and ease of motion. Being tall with relatively long fingers, FB is more appropriate for me. With a student that is particularly small of stature and/or with shorter arm length, I would strongly advocate the Russian hold — there is no more powerful bow hold and, when done correctly, it is every bit as flexible.

It helps to think of the hand as belonging to the bow and all moved by the arm. The flexing of the thumb (primary) and fingers is a finishing action of the bow stroke. Along the plane of the bow stroke, try catching up the thumb/fingers at the end of your up-bow and throw/release them at the end of the down bow. This is linear to the bow's plain, not at all vertical.

December 11, 2018 at 06:58 PM · The F.-B. vs. Russian hold debate continues. Anyone playing that good, like the famous names mentioned, cannot possibly be wrong. The length of the fingers is probably a big part of the decision. What is is not mentioned very often is that those two ways change the angle that the bow leaves the hand, and that angle should match the horizontal angle of the violin. A fiddler or early music specialist that holds the violin almost to the front would not want to use the Russian hold. A soloist specializing in 19th cent. concertos would have the violin much farther to the left, almost in line with the shoulder, and would prefer the Russian hold. I have gone through maybe 4 ways using the bow, and experienced the technical breakdowns when switching. For me, the Russian tracks better, sounds a little better. But it is easier to control the spiccato bounce with the F.B. I have settled on a personal compromise; The bow pivots inside the hand, the wrist doesn't bend much, the stick is almost on the knuckle. It looks Russian when at the tip, F.B. at the frog. I think the Russian hold is a little dangerous for beginners and students because the little finger is straight,easily gets locked, which reduces control, volume and quality.

December 14, 2018 at 09:39 AM · Living just at a hundred miles from France, I'm obviously being taught a Franco-Belgian bowhold. But my teacher says that I have long fingers and that I naturally tend to lift my right arm, extend my right hand fingers and bend the wrist in a Russian way. He only corrects me when he sees that my hold is not firm enough, doesn't let me play at the frog or when I'm just not bowing straight.

So I would say I'm somewhere in between both styles... with a poor technique for each of them! Even though my natural inclination is slightly "Russian", I prefer to force myself to learn the Franco-Belgian hold with proper traditional technique, since there are very few Russian teachers who could correctly teach me their style.

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