Bow Hold

September 2, 2007 at 09:07 PM · Hi, for technical reasons I am attempting to completely redo my bow hold (last year i worked on my left hand). At this point I think it would be best for me to try to learn the Galamian hold but eventually I'd like to be able to adjust depending on the tone and stroke I want to bring out. I've been experimenting a little to figure out what is working best but since there are so many variables I'm having trouble comparing the slight adjustments of my fingers. Does anyone have any advice/exercises for deciding which bow holds are better? Also I am concerned about developing bad habits that will eventually cause problems. I think my hand is pretty relaxed but I'm concerned with the issue of flexibility and how much is actually needed. If a new bow hold feels awkward but not painful now is there any way to tell if it's uncomfortable because it's unfamiliar or if it's because it's unergonomic?

Replies (32)

September 2, 2007 at 10:56 PM · Greetings,

I wish we could if not get rid of, at least dilute the myth of the `galamian Bow hold.` His method of holding the bow was a kind of hybrid of the Franco Belgian, Russian, and his own stuff. The only feature of it which was distinctly his was the very high forefinger which he was distinctly less enthusiastic about later in his life. Many Palyers who learnt to do this also switched back to a more conventional distance. Arnold Steinhart wa sa cas ein point.

But, Galamian was noit a rigid teacher and there is a plethora of holds among his students because he understood perfectly well that the hold is up to the individula and it is always a case of @what works` not a specific kind of hold defined to the nth degree. Where I think one really can say `yep that is a galamian student` is teh very distinct use of the bow with incredible discpline , power and attack.

One of the best models of bowing available is the films of Perlma playign on YouTube. II push these at my Japanes estudnets all the time because ther eis an epidemic her eof a horrible way of holding the bow and forcing the sound which is somewhat a fatocr of the size of hand perhaps. That is irrespective of where they are in the bow so many players, even to quite a high level tilt the hand right over, keep the pinkie straight and press like hell. Perlman keeps his hand beautifully un probated for quite a lot of the time, letting the natural weight of the arm sink through all the fingers. SSometiems he looks more like a cellist than a violinist! Anyway, take a look if you haveN@t seen it.



and yes, the summer vacation has improved my spelling

September 3, 2007 at 03:05 AM · Perhaps you should focus not so much on HOW you hold your bow but WHY. It's difficult to explain in print, but I believe that once you have a clear idea of how the bow is intended to behave on the string then you can adjust your hand for better control of the bow.

For example, viewing the bow as a First Class lever, the thumb is seen as the fulcrum; the small/pinkie finger is the effort; and the length of the bow is the load. The crucial forefinger is used to shift the "load" laterally, as well as to somewhat counterbalance the force of the pinkie (the "effort").

Using the above approach, finding a good bowhold therefore becomes a matter of positioning your hand to achieve the best balance between load, fulcrum, and effort, plus forefinger lateral control.

September 3, 2007 at 04:01 AM · Hi, sorry let me clarify: I did not mean that I want to learn a specific model but I thought the Galamanian(ish)/Franco-Belgian outline would be a good place to start...

September 3, 2007 at 05:58 AM · Re-read Buri's remarks Daniel--'they' are your answer, as well as Timothy's remarks about balance.

Perlman's hold, particularly as Buri described I've worked on for over a year now--letting the weight sink (I say flow) through the fingers via the forearm. Moreover, this lightness does not begin at your hand but at your right shoulder.

A couple more points. Oliver Steiner tweaked my elbow in relation to this, in a Clayton Haslop spirit--"another small machine of 'complete, complete' fluidity", paraphrased. If you'd like the exercises shared by Oliver email me. Clayton's notion is a completely fluid elbow that knows no tension. One can get here in spirit simply by focusing on this fluidity, but Oliver's exercises hammer it home, and further allow one to find the ranges of vertical motion mentioned.

But the 'real' reason I'm responding is that, I studied this in reverse using an abstract image somehow related to Perlman---light as holding a baby bird. Living in the country, that image had muscle memory connections in place. The bow, is lightly 'balanced' in the hold I think, and I think very stable yet flexible, as Timothy mentioned.

I started with the light hand, then worked on the forearm feeding weight, then worked on the elbow, and then worked on the right shoulder and ranges of motion after watching Hilary Hahn live.

Finally, in more detail and worth repeating is finding the smallest effective range of motion as your right elbow crosses the 7 planes across the strings(4 strings, 3 doubles stops) as mentioned. And minimize jumpiness in front of a mirror; and, of course while you are at it teach your right shoulder to stay neutral while you are admiring yourself in front of the mirror..

Timothy's remarks seem pertinent as well. He's described the balance portion in detail. Related, also focus on your thumb and f2 forming a circle for sounding point control, not letting them really touch, but checking for form as you go along by touching lightly then retracting the touch.

Sorry this is jumping around, but I worked late.

September 3, 2007 at 12:13 PM · In a response to what Buri said, in the Galamian hold, the size and shape of the hand should definitely be taken into account. For example, my hands are very small, and not so heavy. So for me, I have a very large gap (for the most part--a bow grip should ALWAYS be variable depending on what's being played in addition to other factors) between my first and second fingers, and this is because it allows me to distribute the weight that's being transferred from my arm more evenly across the bow. But for a larger, heavier hand, this may not need to be the case.

However, you must also take into account that by extending the first finger outward from the base joint, much of this joint's motion becomes limited, creating a very very stable bow hold. It feels extremely clumsy at first, but once you learn how to work with it, you'll find that you have much greater control on certain techniques, most notably slurred staccatos, tension staccatos, and ricochet.

Remember, though, don't try to do anything that causes you pain. Overextension of this particular joint and excess tension in this area can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome (always be careful when working with the first finger!)

September 3, 2007 at 02:54 PM · Do you have a teacher? How the bowhold feels and what is produced is what is important, Absent a teacher who keeps asking you questions and observes by ear AND eye what you are doing, you might be going with how a bowhold looks. Sue

September 3, 2007 at 04:15 PM · My teacher mostly just focuses on my right elbow and forearm height. I think he (like many people) would say my bowhold is fine if it works for me but I still think I can tweak it to make it better. Right now we're working on all the different strokes but I think it would be more effective if I also worked on my bow hold(s). Agreements/Disagreements?

September 3, 2007 at 07:52 PM · "Agreements/Disagreements?"

That, depends entirely on the quality of your teacher, where you actually are as judged by your teacher, and those kinds of things.

Any instrument is at least some measure of discovery and ferreting ways to improve through literature, classes, masterclasses, and so forth. Some students are lead, some take the lead.

Just be careful not to have too many directions, and have ways to make sure they are good directions.

I remain,

'the discoverer', unfortunately

September 3, 2007 at 08:25 PM · One thing that was driven home to me recently by the renowned violinist and teacher Hu Kun was to relax the hand and the arm as much as you possibly can. "Make it a meditation", he said. To me, that made a huge difference.

Good luck!

September 3, 2007 at 09:15 PM · You seem to feel a true need for improvement, so it is worth asking your teacher straight out. Or ask for outright approval of what you're doing, but I don't think that will settle the cogitations you have going. :) Sue

September 5, 2007 at 05:41 PM · Almost everything has been told about different schools and bow grips but curiously nobody refered to The Master ,I mean Nicolo Paganini. His advices are parcimonious enough to be mentionned.The main fingers to direct the bow are the index finger and the pinky so he advised the player to let the major and ring take off the stick so that the index and pinky are automatically in best position and shape

September 5, 2007 at 05:49 PM · Alain! Sheesh. I've worked forever getting my middle finger to cohort with my sounding point!. I'm still going to try this--I smell fine tuning all over the place.

September 6, 2007 at 11:01 AM · All fingers have naturally a role and must rest on the stick.Playing with index finger and pinky is only for a test to fix up the right position and shape of the whole hand.

September 6, 2007 at 11:56 AM · Hi,

A lot of things have been said... All that said, there are some simple rules that most people apply to any bow hold.

First, for most people, the thumb will contact the frog at about a 45o angle, making the thumb half against the frog, half on the stick.

A simple way to achieve a Franco-Belgian hold is that the thumb and middle finger make a ring (so, the middle finger goes in front of the thumb). The third finger (or ring finger) goes next to it and should be down (with the first joint sitting well on the stick). Szeryng, a great exponent of the FB hold, believed that this finger transfered or bore a lot if not most of the weight on the bow. True enough, it helps to feel the weight there in a détaché and it helps to "take it off" during off-the-string strokes. The pinky should go next to it, on top of the stick, on top of the pearl dot or right next to it. The index finger should contact the stick between the two joints. I find with my students that using the juncture point between leather and lapping on a bow helps to find a good place not too far from the other fingers. So in one's mind, you can think "in front-low-on top-in between" to place the fingers in the right place.

If one wishes to have a "Russian" hold, then the same as above apply except that the index will contact the stick at the second joint. Because of the greater pronation, some may find it easier to balance the weight by bringing the middle two fingers back and having the thumb located between the index and middle finger.

The so-called Galamian hold is something that is oddly defined, and like Buri said is an amalgam of different elements. Most people think of this hold as the one having the index sort of clawed seperately and way in front of the other fingers. I don't think this comes from Galamian, but based on the impression some have gathered from some of Dorothy Delay's prominent students like Sarah Chang, Midori and Shlomo Mintz. From what I can gather, Ms. Delay did not use this hold herself, and I don't think she taught it per say. I think that perhaps the one distinctive feature of the original Galamian students was that in the weight transfer at the frog, the index finger becomes extended as the suppination to the pinky is prominent and the wrist is kept flat (aligned with the hand and forearm).


September 6, 2007 at 09:31 PM · I think there are "gross" and "fine" aspects of one's violin-bow hold. I converted my bow hold some 35 years ago after a conductor remarked that I played fine but had an odd-looking bow hold. I had been raised on a bowing concept (if I remeber correctly) that would work even if you tucked a book into your right armpit.

Well, after that conductors remark I gave some thought to myh situation and realized that aspects of my cello-bow hold (which is a good cello-bow hold - kind of like Rosty's was) had crept into my violin-bow hold. Not good!

Why, I wondered were the wonderful things I could do with a cello bow, so difficult for my on violin. I came to realize that the cello bow works so well because so much of the cellist's arm and body are above the bow, and gravity can be used to aid in bowing many of the strokes. In contrast, a violinist has to work pretty hard to keep much of the right hand and arm above the bow and it takes more energy to do additional violinist's work on the weight of the arm and hand.

So, the first "gross" aspect of a good violin-bow hold is to get above the bow enough to control it from above. Aspects of the Russian and Galamian holds can help. When I made my bowing conversion in the early 1970s, I very carefully read Galamian's book, Berkeley's book, and whatever else i could get my hands on (Havas, Menuhin, and so on).

As soon as started to make the change, I vowed to stick with it no matter what, and I must say that for a month I found it very difficult to play much of the music I was responsible for - fortunately, there were only rehearsals during that time, no concerts.

The "fine" aspects of the bow hold come as you realize the "incredible lightness of bowing," how little work you really have to do if you pronate your arm appropriately, and use your fingers only to apply forces (as torques around the thumb) toward the strings, never to create counter forces to the index finger or pinky - whichever is doing the useful work at that instant.

Also, you need to learn how to work with your particular bow(s) to let the bow do as much of the needed work as possible. A good bow, with the hair at the proper tightness will do almost all the difficult work if the fingers do their "fine" work properly.

I think the "best" bowhold for a particular player depends on a number of factors including their relevent body dimensions (fingers, hands, joints, arms, shoulders, back muscles, and even some personal nerve-communication links) the characteristics of the bow they are using and the responsiveness characteristics of their instrument

September 7, 2007 at 05:13 AM · I pulled out THE WAY THEY PLAY, Book I. There's a chapter on Galamian. He talks about the bow hold. I quote from page 344:

"Improper spacing of the fingers when holding the bow is disturbing to the player; I can best answer your question by showing that there should be a little space separating the first, second and third fingers, of about the same distance..."

Regarding bow changes here's the interaction between the author and Galamian. (Maybe this is off topic, but some of you out there might find it interesting.)

APPLEBAUM: "I understand that you believe it is possible to make a smooth bow change with the arm, and without the wrist?"

GALAMIAN: "Oh yes certainly! As the pupil brings his bow toward the frog, and also nears the tip, I suggest retarding the movement very slightly. In this manner I have found it possible to eliminate a jerky bow change by overcoming the tendency to make the change rapidly--and I find that it works very well."

APPLEBAUM: "Would you recommend that an arm bow change should be a permanent practice?"

GALAMIAN: "In some cases I would say yes. However, in time a pupil will generally develop a slight wrist or finger motion which is not of much importance. I use the fingers generally in making the bow change, but that is not the point. What is important is not how we make the change of the stroke, but the speed at which the bow moves as it is done." He demonstrated, with a very smooth bow change at the frog.

GALAMIAN: "You see, I did not use any wrist at all."

APPLEBAUM: "Let us start at the tip and play an upbow."

GALAMIAN: "As the bow moves up-bow at the tip it starts with the lower arm. Slightly below the middle, the upper arm, and as it gets very close to the frog, it is the wrist and then a very little finger motion"

APPLEBAUM: "Then you do not believe in sending the fingers ahead?"

GALAMIAN: "No. You see, there are various speeds. There is the speed of the lower arm, upper arm, of the fingers--the coordination of these various speeds makes a good bow stroke. Yet if I had a pupil who could make a successful bow change without the finger action, I would leave him alone."

APPLEBAUM: "Now about the amount of hair used in drawing the bow. Do you advocate about three quarters of the bow hair at the frog?"

GALAMIAN: "Yes, that is so."

APPLEBAUM: "Would you advise using the full hair for practice purposes?"

GALAMIAN: "Definitely not. Taking into consideration that the frog has a natural weight, the amount of hair should be less than at the point, to compensate for the lessening of the weight as we approach the tip. As we pass the middle of the bow, gradually flatten the bow hair so that practically all of the hair is used at the point."

September 7, 2007 at 06:00 AM · In THE WAY THEY PLAY, Volume III (please don't ask me why I have these books...), there's a chapter on Dorothy Delay. In it are several photos of her "in action." Her index finger is indeed extended further up, much like some of her illustrious students. It's certainly not the grip that Galamian advocates in the quote above.

September 7, 2007 at 05:58 AM · Greetings,

Joey, I wonder when Galamians interview was? Arnold Stenihart said he favored this high finger approach for a time and later moved away from it.



PS Why do you have those books?

September 7, 2007 at 06:15 AM · Hi, Buri,

The interview was done in 1971, according to the caption to one of the photos.

As you know, teachers change their minds all the time about pretty much everything; bow grips, fingerings, bow arm mechanics, etc. (I am certainly among them.) It's possible that at the time of the interview Mr. G thought that the non-hyper extended index finger was the way to go.



PS - I'm not saying!

September 7, 2007 at 09:01 AM · Greetings,

thanks Joey. BTW i forget where it is but you can get a series of interviews with older players including Ysaye, Maud powell et el on the Internet- you`ve probably seen it. If you read the one with Heifetz it is word for word what Applebaum says in the firts book. Since it predates it by sme time and is by a differnet author one might tentatively raise the possibility of a touch of er, plaigarism...



September 7, 2007 at 12:05 PM · Buri,

The book you describe seems to be VIOLIN MASTERY by Frederick Martens.

(It can be found online here:

I checked the Heifetz chapter and it bears no resemblance to the one in THE WAY THEY PLAY. Perhaps it's a different book?



September 7, 2007 at 02:51 PM · "Does anyone have any advice/exercises for deciding which bow holds are better?"


There is no way to know which bow grip will work for you eventually. In the course of a violinist's life the bow grip will undergo changes. Sometimes they're tiny adjustments, but sometimes the change has to be made to a completely different grip.

I hope you have a teacher who is giving you guidance. I think the best thing to do is to learn one bow grip properly, stay with it for a while (at least a couple of years), develop a good right hand technique and try to understand how that grip functions. Establish good habits, not just in the hand, but in the entire arm. If you decide to change to another grip in the future all the work you've done will not have been for nought. Be assured that it will carry over. Again, try not to embark on this enterprise on your own. A good teacher is a must.

I wish you well.


September 8, 2007 at 11:53 AM · Andrew's post brings forth another discussion:the position of wrist.French schools of early 20th century considered low wrist at the tip as faulty ,the wrist should be in line with forearm (rising the elbow), another school advocate the lateral flexion of the wrist (turned to the right at the frog ,turned to the left at tip); some cellist steer their bow that way . Another school kept the wrist slightly proeminent from the hand and from the forearm for tip to frog like angels on primitive italian paintings.

So what is really faulty?

September 8, 2007 at 01:12 PM · Alain wrote:

"So what is really faulty?"

When it sounds bad, impedes dexterity with strokes or hurts.

September 8, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Well said ! However many teachers are still dogmatic and we encounter teacher that say,for example) that the stick must never reach the second joint (from the nail) of the index.Does it really impede bowing?

September 8, 2007 at 06:06 PM · You can make a case that it does. When you hold the bow higher up, you have to be much more flexible in the base knuckle joint to have the same finesse in bow changes and the same subtlety in weight distribution. If you can do all this there anyway, then the bow hold isn't causing a problem.

September 8, 2007 at 10:39 PM · Buri,

I am looking at a copy of WITH THE ARTISTS, also by the Applebaums. (Don't ask me why I own these books.) It was published in 1955 and has the exact same interview with Galamian. (The photos in THE WAY THEY PLAY vol. 1 were taken in 1971 and added to the older text.) So the interview was probably done in the late 40's or early 50's. If Mr. G advocated a higher right index finger it must have been shortly after the interview, because Steinhardt, Laredo et al studied with him in the 50's, and they all had that high index.



September 9, 2007 at 10:47 PM · Greetings,

thanks Joey. As I was doing my warm up this morning I realized the cause of the coyness re books. Like me, you have a crush on Erica Morini, right?



September 10, 2007 at 12:50 AM · Buri,

How did you know? Yeah, she was a hot one...



September 14, 2007 at 09:39 PM · "In the course of a violinist's life the bow grip will undergo changes"

Oh Hallelujah! I was just down in the dumps about this and the stick slithering out of my grip like some slimy snake, after one year of playing, thinking why oh why haven't I got it yet?

Though I determined I WOULD NOT under any circumstances give up for at least five years (to get me through the hardest times) I really would struggle at times without this site.

I got my teacher to work with me on this for at least half the lesson (I would have been happy to do it all lesson).

Buri, could you please give me the link on Perlman playing on u-tube (or should I just type in Perlman, u-tube?

I've watched my teacher though. It's not working by osmosis. Yet. I'll plug her on this till she's bored to death poor woman.

Is it a case of keep trying till you succeed?

Maybe if I read enough I'll get that 'eureka' moment. Here's hoping. My book collection stands at two. Though it seems that someone watching and correcting, seeing things going wrong as they happen (my middle and ring fingers slide upwards, the index slides further up past the second joint and pinky, well used to come off altogether, now I can't keep it bent going down) may be the way to go.

September 14, 2007 at 10:48 PM · Greetings,

the Perlman should be locatble just by typing youtube Perlman etc.

It`s amazing how out of touch people can get with their hands. One of my favorite exercises for the violin (bow actually) is simply the spider on the stick where one moves the hand up and down the bow as it is hel vertically in the air. Done on a dialy basis this can have huge benifits for violinists of even a very high level. I belive Dounis recommended it to some of the great players who sneaked oin his back door for an overhaul....

Of course it gets really nteresting when you are actually bowing open strings on the violin and crawling up and down the stick a la spider.

Incidentally, ther eis an excellent collection of interviews with some of the top players around (Dicterowm Zeitlin, Kopleman etc) floating aorund on the net. How I stumbled across it was googling violin pedagogy. Scroll down the firts page and you come to a thesis paper from Florida State university on the vairous schools of violin playing.

A highly informative read which demontartes just how diversified opinions are on schools bow holds etc by the people whoi have bene there, done taht and got the tee shirt. If soneone could take the time to post a link it is a must rea dfor all v.commers.

Here`s the link



February 1, 2010 at 11:56 PM ·


I am interested in the exercises that Albert justice mentions but have not figured out how to email him to request them.

Thanks in advance for your help


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