Is there a difference on the left hand between franco-belgian, and russian schools?

November 5, 2007 at 01:28 AM · Could someone pls. explain me the difference between franco-belgian and russian schools, from the point of the left hand technique?

(if there's any)

Thank you,


Replies (48)

November 5, 2007 at 03:24 AM · Greetings,

in terms of shifting, if you move upwards on a lower finger and then drop the higher finger in palce taht is soemtimes refreed to as a `{French Shift.` I use the temr clasicla shift. If you place your new finger befor emaking the shift and then shift on that finger (slightly hasazrdous at times and more useful as an expressive effetc for me) then that cna be refrred to as a Russian shift. Some people call it a hEifetz shift. Within the so called Russian schools ther eis more thna one style of holding the left hand. A deeper hold with the palm collapsed slightly towards the violin used ot be called teh St Petersburg school.



November 5, 2007 at 04:32 AM · I guess Petersburgers all have really long fingers?!

November 5, 2007 at 05:45 AM · I have it on good authority that the biggest difference is that the Russian school players keep the middle finger of the left hand perfectly straight and use it to make rude gestures at Franco-belgian school players.

November 5, 2007 at 06:31 PM · Hi, wow, I never thought these st Petersburgians were really really anatomically, and morally different too!!!!

Buri, I didn't quite understand. Is the russian shift then when you shift with the finger which will give the higher note? Or is it stretching up part of the hand to the new note, and then pulling up the rest of the arm after it?

Can you pls tell me more about the different styles in the russian school? Or maybe you know a reference to some comparative work on this subject....?

many thanks,


November 5, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Greetings,

sorry about the delay in answering.

Buri, I didn't quite understand. Is the russian shift then when you shift with the finger which will give the higher note?


>Or is it stretching up part of the hand to the new note, and then pulling up the rest of the arm after it?

No. That is a delayed or `crab` shift.

There is also a combination shift which begins on the lower and ends on the upper...

>Can you pls tell me more about the different styles in the russian school? Or maybe you know a reference to some comparative work on this subject....?

The two books I would suggets are 1) Fundametnals of Soviet Pedagogy (gotta check that title-sorry)and 2) Yampolsky Principles of violin fingering.

I also suggets you watch the Zhakar Bron lessons which are available on DVD from Shar among other places.



November 7, 2007 at 01:50 PM · Hi Buri, thanks for your response, I believe the book you're referring to is "Technical fundamentals of the soviet masters", at least that is the one book with resembling title I found on the net. (somehow such books are absent from libraries :(

According to the description on sharmusic (which is a fantastic site, by the way!) it is containing the technical issues about fingerings with photograph included too.

The combination shift you mentioned leaves me a bit confused, I wonder how is it done, and what effect it gives. I'll open my eyes for this when watching media!!

I actually became enthusiast about the books and materials (dvds) on sharmusic, I've been thinking to get hold of such interesting documents for a while...

thanks again,


ps. I wonder why you get 8 books from Auer for the price of 1 book from Ivan Galamian........?

November 7, 2007 at 10:32 PM · Greetings,

"Technical fundamentals of the soviet masters",

That`s the one. It should be on every violinist`s shelf.



November 8, 2007 at 12:36 AM · Writing about violin technique is like singing about chemistry...

November 8, 2007 at 12:42 AM · Wow! That's going on my quotes list! :)

Well said, in other words.

November 8, 2007 at 01:26 AM · Greetings,

thank god Mara`s still here.

No connection- sexual chemistry makes me sing...



November 8, 2007 at 02:40 AM · Tom Lehrer sings about chemistry. He sings The Elements.

November 8, 2007 at 05:08 PM · Pieter, I don't agree with your analogy, and because of the following:

Writing (books) can convey ideas about virtually anything, including chemistry, and music.

Singing (music) in my opinion is capable to convey emotions and musical ideas, but no chemistry, or math, etc.

so...... I think your analogy -however striking- is not very precise.

I understand that you probably meant that it is much more difficult to communicate via writing how to produce a beautiful sound on the violin (if not impossible, and then you're right), than the relations between a bunch of molecules. But still your analogy is logically faulty, because it implies the same relation between the two ways of sending messages, and their content.

Which is not (see above).

agree? :)


November 8, 2007 at 06:33 PM · .

November 8, 2007 at 06:25 PM · Point of clarification. What about Adams' new opera "Doctor Atomic"? :) Singing about nuclear physics...

November 8, 2007 at 09:29 PM · With lyrics. I forgot that.!!!

November 23, 2007 at 07:19 AM · oh my goodness yes.....there are huge differences. I'm classically russian trained and my teachers want to KILL me. (my first teacher studied with Leopold Auer). At any rate...this type of shifting described above and the obsessively precise placement of the fingers with a differend bow hold (the knuckle of you first finger is in a slightly different place instead of the 1st knuckle on the stick-Galamian, the little part in between 1st and 2nd knuckle, or the 2nd knuckle rests on the stick) this all leads to more tension naturally in your hands....I've been fortunate to do somthings to eliminate this tension, but oooh also....if you "dance" or move when you play you will DIE with a Russian Teacher. Look at Heifetz. My teacher (old) used to whack me across the shins if I would dance when I play, and same thing ina Ukranian master class i played. :)

December 5, 2007 at 09:04 PM · Hello Alexandra, so on your account it seems that russian school is not a life insurance (what's up with these russian stuff anyway, the russian roulette, the russian school, etc ;)

Anyway, I think I'm just better off with the franco-belgian bowhold....

I don't understand what does it mean that the russian school would be more obsessed in precise finger placing than any other school? Is it something that has to do with what people call expressivity vs. precision? But how can you be more expressive if you're less precise, that is, a bit out of tune? More vibrato??

December 5, 2007 at 09:09 PM · not that I hear representative violinists associated with the franco-belgian school playing out of tune either.... so really, can you explain what does it mean that there's a difference in precision?

and.. can you pls. also tell me what you did to eliminate the tension in your hands?

as well as some insights about your original training, and the present one, I mean the left hand. That would really hit the topic!


December 8, 2007 at 07:03 AM · Krisztian, Just the opposite of Alexandra my previous teachers were not from the Russian school. My current teacher was a student of Stoliarsky then trained with Oistrakh. I had to make a number of changes to my left hand technique. Mainly the deeper hold Buri mentioned with the slightly bent wrist and the shifting too. There is no little out of tune it is or isn't, stop, go back play it right. Certainly more vibrato but more control also. For example if it goes down almost a half tone it still has to come back to perefct pitch no matter the speed or position. Took me weeks to make the adjustment yet the effort was worth the richer fuller tone it generates.

December 8, 2007 at 07:16 AM · Read my blog about what the slightly bent left wrist meant to me if you're bored. Cool stuff-at least to me.

December 8, 2007 at 09:38 PM · Alexandra you are sooo right I don't move around when I play but after lesson this week I asked my teacher what he though about moving around while playing. He said "There is no dancing when playing violin this is not the circus! Just play the violin there is no need to be showman." I have enough to work on between lessons good thing I'm not a dancer.

December 9, 2007 at 12:17 AM · Hi, thanks for the resposes. Cris, I think we have a communication problem ;)

Since, I thought it is the russian which is thought to be more precision-oriented, so either you, or i misunderstood. I think you're saying the opposite is not quite so :)

People possibly associate the russian school with precision because of Heifetz? Or was he soviet, aaaa all these school taxonomies. Maybe Heifetz was Heifetz school??

anyway, the richer tone sounds interesting. I thought left hand and tonality interplays with the way the finger is dropped. So that is different too?

Otherwise, i'll get "Buri's book" as soon as people will stop stealing my credit card.


December 9, 2007 at 01:06 AM · Krisztian, Both my left and right hand techniques have changed and had to get much more precise just to be clear.

It is hard to explain the numerous changes I have had to make because most of them have been shown to me with just a few words. When something is not right I have to stop get a demostration while being told what to look for that my teacher is doing and I am not. I try to memorize as much as possible as I have to make the change permanent right then and there, hoping I can do the same after a lesson.

Good idea to get that book as pictures are always a great help.

December 9, 2007 at 01:31 AM · Pieter Viljoen

Posted on November 8, 2007 at 12:36 AM

Writing about violin technique is like singing about chemistry....


Pieter Viljoen for President of the World !!!

December 9, 2007 at 01:43 AM · There's a song about chemistry whose lyrics are just the names of all the elements. It's a pretty good memory test.

P.S. Here's about 9,000 renditions of it:

January 23, 2008 at 11:59 PM · Hi thanks for the responses, my problem was not actually all in the left hand... not even all in violin. But anyway, I just hold my left hand as it feels comfortable, I guess as long as I play in tune, and it's not getting tense, it's ok.

Or, is it possible, that something is comfortable, and sounds good, but still it needs to be changed?

The chemistry song is cool.


January 24, 2008 at 12:07 AM · Greetings,

>Or, is it possible, that something is comfortable, and sounds good, but still it needs to be changed?

Unfortunately yes. The problem is that very often we don`t know the difference between comfiort and habit. Learning something new and more comfortbale in the long run may be irritating and uncomfortable because the body/mind tends to like what it knows. There is also a problem with the notion of `sounds good.` That may be fine at one level but does not exclude the possibility of `sounds better.`



January 29, 2008 at 11:38 PM · Ok, I see. I guess left hand is also probably the most difficult/frustrating to fix, once it settled in. To fix, or enhance. Second case adds up the frustration :)

January 31, 2008 at 03:14 AM · Having been exposed to both the Russian and Franco-Belgian schools, I don't believe that the famous Heifetz portamento is typical of the Russian-Auer school. I think that as a young man, H. was more stylistically influneced by his great friend (and fellow Feb. 2 B-day boy) Kreisler, than his old profeesor Auer. Kreisler sometimes did something akin to that portamento. Heifetz really ran with it, intensified it, and in his mature years, used it almost exclusively. I've also heard it used in Gypsy music. I think that Elman more typified the Auer aesthetic, and there you hear more of the other kind of shift. Indirectly, Oistrakh used a similar approach to shifting and portamento.

Everyone has a different nomenclature. I call the Heifetz type the "pushing" portamento, and the other kind the "lifting". I believe in using both judiciously, depending on the feeling I want to convey.

I just re-read the relevant section of Flesch's "Art of Violin Playing" Vol.I. He dates the pushing kind (or what he calls the L-portamento) to Ysaye! Seconding the motions re Ysaye and Kreisler as pioneers of the more intense kind of portamento is Frederick Neuman in his "Violin Left Hand Technique"

January 31, 2008 at 04:36 AM · I wonder if there are any differences in the type of vibrato favored between the Franco Belgian and Russian schools, eg. arm or hand, or whether it was up to individual violinists.

It would be really interesting I think to know what type of vibrato people used in the late 19thC. Apparently Wieniawski's and Ysaye's approach to vibrato was a big influence on Kreisler. I'm interested in Wilhelmj's left hand technique also as he played sans CR.

January 31, 2008 at 12:34 PM · From what I've read, what we'd tend to accept today as a good vibrato, is attributed to Wieniawski.

January 31, 2008 at 09:07 PM · Hi Raphael, your remark is very interesting, but a bit dense for me, that is, too many great maestros in one line, i'll just go dizzy :)

I also lack some basic vocabulary... A portamento is a kind of glissando?

But then I didn't know there are two different styles. I only know the version of shifting when the movement is initiated from the elbow, and the hand is dragged along. Or is the pushig/lifting is for some more subtle difference?

January 31, 2008 at 10:58 PM · Greetings,

it`s concened with what the finegrs are doing not the elbow. In a classicla shift you move on the finge rof the note preceding the shift then drop the new finger in palce once you have reached the require dposition. With a Russian shift/Heifetz shift/ romatic shift, you place the new finger down before you shift and then shigft on that finger IE you shift on the finger you are going to end up on anyway. The firts type is geenrally held to safer techncially . The disadvantage is that ione can sometimes hear the coonceting note although renedering it inaudible is part of the technique of shifting. The Ronatic shift is emotionally very powerful. Heifetz used to emphasize the dramatic effect by the timing of his bowing which placed more emphasis on the slide itslef than the note he wa sheaidng for. However, this kind of shifting is very easily overdone and is best use dratehr sparingly, at leats in my opinion.

A combination shift is wehere you beign on the preceding note (as in classical) and during the shift change to the finger you are heading for and continue shifting on that one.



January 31, 2008 at 11:43 PM · I agree with Buri - but let me put it another way. Different people do use words like glissandos, portamentos, and slides to sometimes mean the same things, or different things. Also, there are a number of different permutations of these expressive devices, but we're focusing right now on two of the most basic prototypes that are usually done when using two different fingers.

A simple illustration: imagine that you have your 1st finger down on the A string in the 1st position, playing the note, B. You want to go from there to the 2nd finger in the 3rd position - the note, E. Let's say you want the position change to be audible for expressive purposes. One way, which I would typically associate with Elman or Oistrakh, is to lightly drag your ist finger almost up to where it would play a D, while lifting your 2nd finger in the air slightly. The 2nd finger lands on the E almost at the last moment. Flesch calls that the B(eginning) note portamento, since the beginning note does most of the work. I like to call it the "lifting" port., since we lift, then drop the target finger.

Now with the same example, let's get the 2nd finger into action much sooner, as it pushes up approximately from the C to the E. Intensify the bow action, and we get the kind of portamento typically associated with Heifetz. (That doesn't mean we're going to sound just like Heifetz, of course. I once heard Joseph Silverstein illustrate this - and even he didn't sound like Heifetz. But he sounded like Silverstein - and that ain't bad!) Flesch calls this the L(ast finger) port., and I like to call it the "pushing" port.

All this talk of "port" is making me thirsty! Anyone have a glass of port? ;-)

January 31, 2008 at 11:33 PM · stop wineing!

January 31, 2008 at 11:35 PM · wine-not?

Ok - I've got to stop this!

February 3, 2008 at 04:34 PM · Hi, thanks for the explanations, i tried out both types of shifts.

The Heifetz shift sounds strange for me, maybe it's the specific interval. With some vibrato added to the B note (of the example) it's a bit better. Or maybe i just have to listen to it, and put it in context. Could someone recommend listenings on that?

What is sounding strange for me, is the second (C) intermediary note added as distinct. I tried also to not put it down precisely, just start to slide

from the air, a bit higher than the c-note.

Like in the second type of shift in the example, which i think is what Buri calls the combination shift. With the "protagonist" fingers changed in mid air, before D is reached. Sounds less square than when D is attained, and then second finger dropped.

I also studied some oriental stuff before, with glissandos, so the romantic shift is not more scary for me, technically. Especially with the second finger, sometimes i even find it better to use for glissandos, than the first...

in fact, i feel that the combination shift is more difficult, because there's an aspect of dynamics involved..

thanks again

February 4, 2008 at 12:01 AM · At the risk of belaboring the obvious, there are no better examples of "the Heifetz shift" than Heifetz recordings. Another expressive device he'd also use was to repeat the same note with a different finger, and push up to that 2nd note a bit. For example, though this wasn't in H.'s repertoire, early on in the solo of "Ein Heldenleben" there are several repeated F#'s. Many players, after playing the first few F#'s on the E string will then continue on the A, and at the first sounding there, push up a bit to to the F# with the 3rd finger, starting from a little below it.

February 3, 2008 at 10:05 PM · Yep, Heifetz recordings are _probably_ the best source for listening to Heifetz :)

It's a bit different, but I was wondering how violin technique becomes more and more sophisticated, like Heifetz inventing expressive methods, like repeating the same note with a different finger. And then everybody copies that later on. I happen to see the same high school football-yard from my windows as some years ago, before Zidane, (who's from this french city) became really famous. Compared to back then, now all the kids are replicating the Zidane trademark turns, and all the tricks without problem, something they did not do a couple of years ago.

Or maybe it was not Heifetz who invented, I don't know. But I'll look for it in the recordings!



February 4, 2008 at 01:29 AM · Greetings,

if you really want to hear a whole range of amazing slides then try and get recordings of Enescu. Menuhin said that his use of portamento made Heifetz look rather limite din this department. I think its the gypsy element here so probably some other people on this site can point you towards some interesting players - perhaps Lakatos. Of today`s players the one who makes the most diversified and sublte varitions for my taste is Joshua Bell. Zimmerman also has interesitng ideas in this department.



February 4, 2008 at 01:47 PM · Menhuin did say words to that effect in the film, "The Art of Violin". We should keep in mind though, that Menhuin did not personally like Heifetz (-not that Heifetz made it easy for people to like him-) whereas he worshiped Enescu, who was his last teacher. However, I must say that in that same film I do particularly like the snippet they show of Enenscu playing one of his own compositions. It is very different, beautiful, and haunting.

February 4, 2008 at 08:01 PM · So, then i really have to make a comparative journey on those recordings.

And see what's my preference. Maybe it's hard to be objective being a student of Enescu. But Menuhin for me seems to be an honest person. But anyway, what counts is how i like it, since i'm not Menuhin. Of course maybe I would change opinion in ten years... (not in being Menuhin)

Otherwise I'm afraid it will be difficult to get hold of good Enescu recordings..

I really like Lakatos, though haven't listened a lot to him.


....have to listen to more J.B. too..

February 4, 2008 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

Menuhin wa sa person of immense integrity, but he sometimes let his generosity of spirit lead him into hyperbole about players. Bette rthna being negativbe though...



February 6, 2008 at 12:45 PM · uhum. So I don't have to take so seriously everything He says about other players..

January 10, 2009 at 10:40 PM ·

Looking at this thread I think I use the Heifetz shift. It comes more naturally to me. Its probably because i watch heifetz all day long...:)

October 2, 2009 at 07:26 PM ·

Really? I thought he's dead... :))

Seriously, I like to watch Heifetz too.. Though it would've been much nicer, if he could find good equipment to match his skills too...

January 24, 2010 at 04:32 PM ·


Franco-belgian = Henryk Szeryng

Old Russian = Jascha Heifetz


January 25, 2010 at 10:41 AM ·

 Just to be more detailed,

The franco-belgian left hand has a more round position of the fingers, in which the finger drops in the string more from above.

The old-russian left hand has a more lateral position, with fingers more stretched out, droppin on the string more laterally and more flat, like with the cello.

Search youtube videos of Szeryng playing the bach g minor fugue (it has a detailed close-up of his left) and heifetz playing scherzo-tarantelle by wieniawski (where you can see a slow motion of his left hand. 

Those videos show pretty clearly the diffeence between the franco-belgian and old-russian left hand techniques.

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