Menuhin's Bow Arm?

January 17, 2008 at 07:56 AM · Well, I always wondered what happened to Menuhin in his later years. His tone always had that haunting quality and his intonation was always superb, but I wondered what happened to his bow control? I had heard many things: crowbar smashing into his right arm, WWII accident, etc. What is the real deal? Is it just lack of practice?

Not that I don't love him. His musicianship is great, and he is one of my all time favorites. I am currently reading his autobiography, Unfinished Journey (Twenty Years Later) and I love it!

Replies (42)

January 17, 2008 at 01:48 PM · it is said that when MEnuhin was young he went to play for Ysaye. Ysaye was impressed but asked him to play a scale and Menuhin could not function. Ysaye mentioned then that there was something wrong with his bow arm and that he would have trouble in the future.

His elbow did seem to be abnormally high as a youth. If you watch him play the Bruch Concerto in the 1950's you can see that there are problems with the arm already.

I'm sure there are other things....

January 17, 2008 at 01:55 PM · There was an article in Commentary about Menuhin after his death that had an interesting thesis about his bowing. Menuhin studied with Louis Persinger, who was a student of Ysaye. According to this article, Ysaye's bowing technique, which he taught Persinger who passed it on to Menuhin, was defective, and, in later life, Ysaye's bowing technique self-destructed in the same way that Menuhin's did. When I have put this theory up for comment, a number of people have replied that Ysaye's problem was not his technique but that he was quite sick with diabetes and other ailments in later life, causing his technique to self-destruct. I have no idea what the true answer is but put this out there for whomever it interests.

January 17, 2008 at 02:12 PM · When Menuhin was very young as a preteen his technique was phenomenal as one can hear in his very early recordings. RUMOR has it that in his late teens he began "questioning" and "over analyzing" his technique and tried to change it. The changes however failed and caused his inability to play as well as he did when he was a young carefree lad. That said, Menuhin is one of the greatest violinist to ever have lived and one of my personal favorites, perfect technique or not.

January 17, 2008 at 03:18 PM · i know of a musician who played in the orchestra when menuhin guest-visited. i would think this was later in menuhin's life. apparently before going onstage, he would "need" to do some yoga including one posture where at the backstage, he positioned himself upside down, as in feet in the air and head pointing down the floor. the vague story around that was that he was trying to relax his bow arm area,,, (disclaimer: since i did not see it myself, my understanding could be off)

consequently, the problem with describing health complaints way back is multifold:

1. may be no one knows what is really going on. the person in question knows what bothers himself, but does not necessarily know the exact medical condition. either the medical field back then was not advanced enough, or based on that, doctors made wrong calls, or the best calls possible given the circumstances. until the advent of MRI since the 1960's, many soft tissue injuries are impossible to prove (until too late at autopsy table if they bothered). clinically, it is very difficult often to tell a neck condition from a shoulder condition, or both, or neither because it is something else. simply complaining of having a "bow arm" issue is suggestive of way too many things. if you read descriptions of the older days, everyone dies of a stroke, or falling off horses:)

2. as stories evolve from the source, subjective connotations are often applied by the tellers down the line, and the validity is limited by the teller's expertise. it starts out as an apple and ends up as an orange. for instance, we really do not know if the bowing tech changes cause the health issues, or the health issues cause the bowing changes. to make something of value to the future generation, that distinction is where the money is.

January 17, 2008 at 11:14 PM · What happened to it? I'm pretty sure Menuhin's bow arm was buried with the rest of him. Unless he had gotten a tatoo on it and then if he was buried in a Jewish cemetary maybe it was buried somewhere else. Those are the only two possiblities I can come up with.

By the way, on a lighter note, Humphrey Burton has written a terrific biography of Menuhin.

January 18, 2008 at 04:41 AM · Marina, rumor isn't really a factor here; Menuhin said so himself in his autobiography. Whether or not that questioning was the real cause of his problems is a different question.

January 18, 2008 at 11:37 AM · Another 'theory' I heard is that playing too many concerts for wartime troops wrecked his bowing arm.

I don't dig these though, after all Heifetz had to take a masseur around on later tours and his bowing is notably defective, but you would never know this apart from the odd crunch or ropy strings crossings passage. When I look at videos of Menuhin his bowing looks loose and fluent but is clearly 'disturbed' - by something, I wouldn't say technique.

January 18, 2008 at 04:51 PM · Did anything similar (to what happened to Menuhin and Heifetz) happen to Oistrakh in his later years? If not, how did he escape it?

January 18, 2008 at 05:10 PM · I regret to say my violin teacher in high school had the same problem as Menuhin in mid-life and beyond. He was also a student of Louis Persinger and I am inclined to think that there is a great deal of truth in the article in Commentary mentioned previously describing Menuhin's demise regarding faulty teaching of the bow arm by Persinger who had been a pupil of Ysaye. But my college teacher, Josef Gingold, was also a pupil of Ysaye and never manifested this detached legato quality that sounds like an accented portato bow stroke so the problem may stem from something in Persinger's teaching. What I do notice in Menuhin's bowing that is different from his colleagues' is a consistently pushed down wrist and an elbow movement at the tip that does not bend back as he draws an upbow. These two things create an unnecessary stiffness in the bow and while one is young enough the lack of flexibility can be compensated for but, in time, this can lead to tremor or shakiness in trying to draw a long legato bow stroke. When one observes Jascha Heifetz or David Oistrakh or Eugene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet, to name a few whom I've recently re-observed on video there is a relaxed hanging wrist in the lower half of the bow and they all allow the elbow to be flexible at the tip. I don't wish to imply that Menuhin could have avoided all of his bowing difficulties by correcting these problems but I believe it would have made a significant difference because from observation alone it is clear that the majority of violinists who play well do not do what I see Menuhin doing and his problem seems different from the more common adrenalin rush that makes it difficult for people to stop their bow arm from trembling when they are just a bit too excited. Even given the incredible natural talent that Menuhin possessed, tension caused by improper movement of the arm and hand eventually took its toll. I say this with great sadness because it is plainly evident that Yehudi Menuhin had one of the greatest musical minds and hearts of any musician and his interpretations are so sincere and heartfelt and well conceived with excellent taste that his bow arm issues pale in comparison to all the wonderful music making he gave us. Nevertheless, Brian's question is an important one because we all, mere mortals in comparison to Menuhin, must be mindful of the appropriate use of the body to minimize tension and play in a healthy, pain-free, and ergonomic way to achieve the most we can.

January 18, 2008 at 08:18 PM · Maria - I think it is fair to say that Oistrakh escaped the problems of Menuhin and Heifetz by not having later years. As I recall, he died in his mid-60s. There are other violinists, however, such as Milstein, who played wonderfully into their 80s.

January 18, 2008 at 08:58 PM · Yes, but in his last 10-15 years his health was not so great. However I do not know whether he was still performing much. I thought maybe he was doing something noticeably better than the others technically - and someone who'd know would comment. Menuhin's problems started relatively early.

January 18, 2008 at 10:29 PM · Oistrakh died in 1972

His bow arm remained wonderful for his entire life... However, after his first heart attack in the 60s, his technique and intonation were not as strong anymore as before...

January 20, 2008 at 01:05 AM · When I heard and saw him in some of his later concerts, the bow technique was superb, however there was the occasional bow jumping off the string and crashing down. My impression was that there was no problem of bow control, bow technique or anything related to his education or technical development. Rather, the issue seemed to be pain. I saw and heard the most refined and highly controlled techniques throughout, plus the occasional spasm which caused a momentary blemish in the tone.

January 21, 2008 at 05:36 PM · This has been discussed before...Ward is right that Menuhin's Bruch (on youtube) shows bow problems. There's a tremor in the lower part of the bow and he keeps playing in the upper half to avoid it. This got worse and worse. I heard a performance of Beethoven in the 70s where his arm sounded like it was about to fall off. There was another one on TV in the early 70s where it was a struggle and kind of uncomfortable to watch. And his recordings (at least the ones I've heard) in the 60s and 70s particularly are not good. Sometimes he can hardly play difficult parts.

There are some short pieces on youtube filmed around 1946. He still sounds very good on those. But I suspect there were always problems but that they got out of control sometime in the late 40s or early 50s.

Someone told me that he had emotional problems that, at the least, didn't help him. But my feeling is that there is more to it that this.

On another topic, evidently our Heifetz fans have not been reading this thread or they'd be upset at the comments about his bow arm above. While he did have certain issues with his bow arm, they never became problematic as did Menuhin's.


January 22, 2008 at 12:47 AM · test - can't get my real response to submit. Maybe it's too lomg? But long responses have worked before. I apologize in advance if there's a delayed reaction and my response eventually repeats 12 times.

January 22, 2008 at 01:10 PM · test 2

OK - I'm a Heifetz fan who just tuned in. H. had a somewhat extreme take on the Auer bow hold (- and there is most definitley an Auer bow hold; I studied with two Auer disciples). This is not the ideal hold for sustained chordal technique, and frog passages, generally. Other than that, H. sustained his bow extremely well, with any number of nuances within one long bow stroke. And when it came to L and R hand coordination, speed with accuracy, bite, etc., to this day I have never heard anybody who has equalled the way he played say the 1st mvt. of the Sinding Suite. It's just unbeleiveable! However, H. did sustain an injury in the '50's when he performed the Strauss sonata in Israel. Richard Strauss was considered by many to be an amoral Nazi collaborator, and it was a sensitive issue then in Israel, where many audience members were Holocost survivors. 99% of the audience showed its displeasure by simply not applauding the performance of that piece, while wildly applauding everything else. But one crazed man hit him on the right arm with a crowbar. He seemed OK for many years, but finally had a delayed reaction and eventually had an operation.

January 22, 2008 at 10:46 PM · continued...

Now to Menhuin. It wasn't just the right arm. There were many performances where he just couldn't control anything, as others have pointed out. Many people have emotional problems. In some cases it doesn't adversely affect their playing. In others it does. M. was obviously in the latter category. But there was another factor. He was a genuine prodigy, who at 12, played with a heart-rending maturity and organic flow that was truly remarkable. The sad thing was that he never got much better, and often played much worse. It all came naturally and easily to him as a child. And why question what is working? He loved Persinger and later, adored Enescu. But these were not systematic teachers of technique. I don't think that Persinger developed bad bowing per se. One of my teachers studied with him for a while, and it had no ill effects on his bow arm. I think the sins of Pers. and Enescu were rather ones of omission. They allowed his natural musicality to bloom, but did not instill a concious understanding of the mechanics of violin technique. Ysaye sniffed that out after one arpeggio.


January 22, 2008 at 01:09 PM · Continued...

There came a time when instinct stopped working for Menhuin, and he had no concious knowledge to replace it with. Over the years he went back and forth in public statements with various degrees of honesty. At times he acted like he'd long remedied his problems - but many performances betrayed that. In one printed interview he wondered if things would have been different had he studied with Dounis. In the film made about him, at one point he said that there were times when he was on top of the world, and could play the most difficult things with ease, and other times when he just couldn't play anything well. And he offered no answers. Perhaps there were psychological or even neurological problems that were never diagnosed. He was an enigmatic guy; seemingly gentle, yet stubborn and tough; an unrealistic idealist who could be pretty canny, and yet had trouble facing reality; accomplished in Hatha Yoga, etc., yet still very erratic in his playing. His best performances will always be worth listening to.

(That's all)

January 22, 2008 at 02:10 PM · Hi,

Thank Mr. Mutchnik and Mr. Klayman for your enlightning posts! Refreshing to see thoughtful writing of this nature on the site these days!


January 22, 2008 at 02:09 PM · Dear Mr. Klayman,

What a helpful clarification of Menhuin's situation! It seems it is very important for violin students to develop an understanding of the mechanics of violin playing regardless of their inherent talent.

January 22, 2008 at 05:45 PM · agree that mr klayman has provided an eloquent account of Mehuhin's playing. however, as mr klayman concluded: the precise etiology of his erratic bow control is not well understood or at least multifactorial.

in other words, in my opinion, it is not (at least not yet) justified to use Mehuhin's trouble as a lesson to students about the importance of proper violin techniques. one cannot rule out the scenario whereby other influences have led his once proper techniques to go astray.

proper techniques need to develop along with many other things, namely, a healthy psychological and neurological state, etc. there have been well known extreme contrarian examples with some of the most amazing violinists in the history cutting short of their own lives.

i also believe proper techniques evolve with time as an individual matures. the player needs to learn to adapt to the most optimal level of playing, allowable by his mental and physical state. if he can, he shows grace, despite limitation. if he can't, well...

January 22, 2008 at 05:37 PM · Oistrakh had a better bow arm than Menuhin

January 22, 2008 at 05:40 PM · Jim Hoyle wrote, "Another 'theory' I heard is that playing too many concerts for wartime troops wrecked his bowing arm.

I don't dig these though, after all Heifetz had to take a masseur around on later tours and his bowing is notably defective, but you would never know this apart from the odd crunch or ropy strings crossings passage."

What a great violinist Heifetz could have been had he heard your insightful "analysis".

January 22, 2008 at 09:11 PM · It strikes me there's more than a touch of a rather insidious sarcasm there, Nate, but I am actually a great Heifetz fan. I do believe I am faithfully echoing what other well-regarded violinists have said - eg Buri noted how he could never approach the heel till warmed up, Roger Raphael (a noted English pedagogue) recorded the Walton with him and said he had "a twist". This is also mentioned in one of his biographies IIRC.

But give me that tone rather than a perfect bow-arm any day!

January 22, 2008 at 10:52 PM · Heifetz had a twist? Nah...Chubby Checker - now that cat REALLY had a twist! (I've really got to stop dating myself. But while I'm at it, yes there WAS music in the Jurassic era!)

January 23, 2008 at 11:56 AM · It's my understanding from my father who knew Menuhin and shared a platform with him when he played with what was then the SNO, that he suffered from an attack of nerves. Before then he played instinctively with his own natural talent, but this was not based on learnt technique. So when he had this attack of nerves and self-consciousness in concert when he lost the place and failed several times to pick it up and they had to bring the music on for him, this unsettled him greatly. I understand he spent a long time afterwards re-learning the instrument based on technique, after which he no longer had the same wonderful instinctive and natural approach to the instrument. I'm not sure when this was supposed to have happened but it may have been in his early 20s.

January 23, 2008 at 12:39 PM · that is an intersting point. in one of those violin documentaries, perlman was talking about the emergence of hefeitz which one way or another might affected other violinists of the same era. if playing great requires above all, confidence, it does take some getting used to when someone else is suddenly so out- of- proportionally "better", making daily sound post adjustment mandatory:)

in golf, when tiger woods first turned pro and started winning tournaments after tournaments, many great, older profs needed to see psychiatrists to reflect what had happened and how to manage it. the ol' boyz network was torn down. then, when they realized that even if they lost to tiger, they ended up making more money simply because tiger was in the field by bringing in more sponsors, they quickly came to terms with it:):):)

January 23, 2008 at 01:39 PM · Fascinating thread. Thanks for starting it, Brian, and thanks others for your interesting observations/comments.

January 23, 2008 at 05:09 PM · I had a conversation with Menuhin's pianist son Jeremy at a chamber music festival in 1976. My memory is a bit hazy but I rememeber asking him about his father's slight tremor in the lower half of the bow. He said that it was suspected to be a neurological thing. He also said that he, Jeremy, had that same little twitch in his arm, although it didn't affect his piano playing.

February 4, 2008 at 09:12 PM · I only stumbled upon this fascinating discussion last night, and am particulary interested since I have (some days more than others) a similar condition to the one Menuhin had, snd have been exploring all sorts of things in the effort to get to the bottom of it.

I have observed Menuhin's bow arm on the various DVDs available, and am convinced that part of his problem was caused by the high elbow and extent to which the forearm is pronated towards the point. I am in the process of trying to correct this error in myself, and notice a correlation between the bow arm and lack of flexibility in the left arm and shoulder. Although I'm experiencing improvement, I've still a way to go - and I still have days when I seem to regress, especially when under pressure.

Of course how one reacts mentally and emotionally to the problem can help or hinder things. There's quite a bit of truth in the fact that the analytical 'left brain' can interfere with movement that hitherto was achieved naturally without thought. This is perhaps particularly true of people who have the kind of temperament that tends towards perfectionism / over-conscientiousness. A strict upbringing could also cause this 'left brain' to be particularly active, and 'critical'. And awareness (+ a bit of anxiety, perhaps) of a problem can, if reacted to wrongly, make the problem worse.

I'm slso convinced that repressed emotion can produce minute physiological changes / stresses which can result in physical imbalance (see Jeremy Menuhin's Daily Telegraph interview at He points out that his father had bottled up alot of anger, which rarely came out - perhaps he, like his son Jeremy, felt that his worth was conditional upon his performing well, and living up to the impossibly high expectations the public had placed upon him from his childhood onwards.

There is I believe, a purely physical aspect to the problem (in my case). As someone who is fairly tall and slender, I'm aware how much (as I've got older) my 'core' muscles have got lazy in their support of muscular activity nearer the extremities (i.e. arms / hands). If core muscles aren't playing their part fully, other muscles take over the job, creating muscle imbalance. This can feed back into the nervous system, and may cause tensions or conflicts between mind and movement. I've noticed distinct benefits from doing Pilates which definitely helps strengthen the core. Alexander Technique is also beneficial,but cannot be practised easily on one's own. I did have some Feldenkrais sessions, which again were beneficial - I know Menuhin went to Moshe Feldenkrais himself for many sessions - I wonder if Feldenkrais documented anything that would be useful to other sufferers? If he did, I expect the information would not be accessible due to client confidentiality / data protection, etc.

I've also been examined by neurologists, and have tried all the usual Beta blockers - and was even put on a drug normally given to epileptics! (I wouldn't recommend it!) Although I am perhaps more susceptible to what neurologists term 'benign essential tremor' than most when under pressure, I've come to the conclusion, that mental training can overcome many of these symptoms. I also concluded that the essential problem I was experiencing with the bow arm wasn't related to the extra trembles I would get when nervous.

A good night's sleep is also part of the cure!

February 4, 2008 at 10:28 PM · Greetings,

Verity, that`s a really interesting and enjoyable post. Got to respectfully take issue with one of your comments. You say Alexander Technique cannot be pracitced easily on your own. This is not actually true. Alexander technique cannot be learnt on your own. Thereason is that the highly trained hands (and nerbopus system) of the teacher helps one to move past learnt misuse of the body so that one can return to natural use without much in the way of language use. Once one has returned to a good use of the self (note thta nothing new is learnt- this point is crucial- it issimply returning to the self), then tyhe conscious attention to good use of the self becomes, if you`ll forgive the apparnet contradiction, automatic during daily life: Whatever activity one is engaged in.

The number of lessons it takes to get into a condition where one can automnaticlaly apply the lessons varies for each individual. For some it as as few as ten. For others in real dififuclty it coyuld be as many as forty or fift with constant refreshers become sless over time.



February 4, 2008 at 11:01 PM · Though I didn't focus on it in my other posts here, I also feel that Menhuin exaggerated a good thing to the point that it became a bad thing. Violin playing is such a razor's edge. A little too much this way or that way and you've missed it. Heifetz had a high bow arm, as did others. Rosand advocated a fairly high bow arm, along with a level wrist, and my own last teacher, Charles Libove, emphasized this even more. Done right, it can yield both freedom of sweep and greater sonority. But Menhuin took it too far. His elbow pointed up so high - not level, like most other high arm players. Trying this recently just as an experiment after watching him on film, all of the sudden I had a lot less control of the bow!

Buri - I've been intrigued from time to time with such approaches as Alexander and Feldenkreis, as they might apply to violin playing. I know you do Alexander. I appreciate what I think you're saying about what the teacher and student must directly feel. (I do something akin to this in my own teaching.) But do you think it would be of any value to have, at least as an introduction, some sort of video of Alexander applied to violin playing? Does such a video exist? If not, would you ever make one?

February 4, 2008 at 11:47 PM · Greetings,


What intrigues me about AT is the difficulty of explaining or not, what it is. Language always seems to get in the way, apoint which Alexander stressed over and over: talking creates problems.... Of course AT applies ot violin playing and that is what you are asking about because you are a violinist;). But at the same time it is not somehting that can be said to have a violinist specific approach. It is based on a single fundamental physiological principal which is true for all people (and animals): the relationship between head, neck and back. An Alexander teacher oberves and works on this primarily irrespective of whethe ror not theyknow anything about the violin. Its the same in principle as Steinhardt`s comment that violinist could learn a lot form golf coaches. Use of the body/mind is good or poor whatever the acvtivity.

>. I appreciate what I think you're saying about what the teacher and student must directly feel. (I do something akin to this in my own teaching.)

Yes. I think there are some really greta teacher swho worked this way all the time. A studnet of that great Italian violinsit feature din the Strad a while back (forgotten his name-one of the firts to record all the Caprices, studnet of Ysaye) describes how he taught by having the studnet place hands on his hands and arms while he wa splaying. Its unfortunate that the problems of sexual harassment and abuse have got us to the stage where touching is a nono a lot of the time- I teach this way but disucss things with the studnet first and have parents in the room if I know I have to work on someines back or neck...

>But do you think it would be of any value to have, at least as an introduction, some sort of video of Alexander applied to violin playing? Does such a video exist? If not, would you ever make one?

As far as i am aware there are no famous videos of a violinist working with a teacher. The videos of teachers such as Barstow (one of the ginats of thre filed-posisbly more advanced than Alexnder) show her working with a small variety of instrumentalist, usually woodwind.

I wonder what you would see?;)

When I have been in large classes the most extraordinary thing has been how the technique exposes our fake emotions. IE I have seen time and timegain really high level musicans play very well. Then the AT teacher frees the @layer from physical inhibtions which also bypasses are preconcieved beliefs about how we should be feeling at a given moment because the mind and body are completley oine entity. What happens at this point is that the music flows -through- the player who acts as a conduit to the audiences emotions. In essence the players feelings are largely bypassed. Almost always the advanced player becomes angry and frustrated and tells the AT teacher things like `You took away my emotions. That was really cold playing.` The teache rthen points to the audeince and aske what they felt. More often than not many of them are weepoing because they have been touched so deeply. Its a very beautiful thing, but it s very hard for an experienced player to let go off their beliefs about what they are doing and evoke the music within the listener. It can feel very lonely.

My experience with a very powerful teacer form the US wa sinteresting. I wa splaying and he worked with me and my whole sound and style just abruptly changed. What wa scoming out was genuine and beautiful to me but it shocked me very deeply. I am a very robust and chunky guy and my mental cocneption of what my sound should be has always been influence dby Oistrakh. Yet, when I played as me without interferring with what nature intended my oberall style and feeling is much closer toMilstein. Sadly I cannot play as well as eithe rof them...



February 5, 2008 at 12:18 AM · Very interesting - thanks!

April 25, 2016 at 06:19 PM · When I was in graduate school at Univ. of Western Ontario (Canada) our prof passed around a large knuckle bone that showed clearly the shiny bursa. He mentioned that because Mehnuin had played so many early years without any support for his violin, thus with raised left shoulder, he had no more bursa on his shoulder bone. It was very painful for him. I actually heard him in concert during one of his very last concerts and it was truly pathetic and we felt so sorry for him in his pain.

April 25, 2016 at 07:55 PM · @Patricia: How does that make sense?

I don't see him lift his shoulder in any way in his videos, and not using a shoulder rest doesn't mean you raise the shoulder to hold it up, it just means you balance the violin (and prop it up a bit more than most while playing if you can't do the "hands free" pose (which Menuhin could also not do, the violin dropped somewhat if he let go) :)

HOWEVER, having to somewhat support the violin does not impede playing as long as you can hit the high register and comfortably get back down. EX: Milstein, who held the violin with his left hand doing most of the work while playing with extreme ease and relaxation. :D

April 26, 2016 at 11:17 AM · Hi A.O.

We rarely see soloists from their left side, or from the back. For that matter we cannot tell from a video if the base if the left index base is in contact or not with the the violin neck. But a raised right elbow is clearly visible..

April 26, 2016 at 11:17 AM · Menuhin's childhood spontaneity gave way to adult "insight" (his words). Take his Six Lessons book, and try every exercise. The Genealogy of Bow Strokes is an unqualified masterpiece. I went through these exercises, and I sounded something like Menuhin. Of course you may not wish to, but I have never seen an author who could describe the sensations so precisely and successfully lead the reader through the various strokes by written descriptions. Not even Simon Fischer.. Amodel for future work by us teachers.

Very, very few childhood geniuses continue into adulthood, but Menuhin's bowing difficuties made him leave us a priceless legacy.

May 2, 2016 at 12:22 AM · My last violin teacher, Paul Stasevitch, was very basic and physical in teaching me a low elbow Russian bow hold. He spoke a very limited English and used quite a bit of arm feeling and guiding as we did our rote bow exercizes. The violin left arm revolved the violin INWARDS (slowly curving to the right) as the Low bow arm also moved INWARDS simultaneously curving to the left. These two parts acted as would the bellows of an accordion slowly meeting at a central point.

Lessons were always performed with me wearing only short sleeved shirts. No talk was expended as Paul Stassevitch guided both arms, with a pencil, gently touching and guiding their movements. Smoothness and limpness was always emphasized. This relaxed method of bowing was totally taught by rote starting with slow long bow strokes.

The legato produced by this method was strong and effortless using very little right arm muscle. The right hand index finger pushed the bow downwards if more volume was needed. Stassevitch referred to the right hand fingers and right hand palm as being a unit with such phrases as a “Limp Lettuce Leaf” or a “gently swaying palm tree branch”. Such verbal imagery was used very successfully to get his point across.


Recently, one of our members was seeking advice on a problem with pain in his bow arm. Some of us suggested that he might want to try the "Russian" bow hold. Once you get used to it, the Russian seems to be more relaxing on the thumb, IMO.

I switched to the Russian after experiencing the improved tone and bow control that it seems to afford. I don't remember exactly now, but I think that I changed over sometime earlier this year. I learned about it through Carl Flesch's book.

The major difference between the Russian and the more common Franco-Belgian bow hold is that with the Russian, the contact point is not on the second segment of the index finger, but rather the first segment (nearest to the hand). This then forces the hand into more of a tilt, with the wrist being somewhat raised. The pinkie finger will be straighter, and some players let it float off of the stick toward the bottom of a down bow.

I find that I can more easily produce a consistent tone, from tip to frog, with the Russian. Also, for me it becomes easier to play up right at the tip, without feeling a strain in my right arm. It seems as though I could actually use a longer (than normal) bow with this hold.

May 2, 2016 at 11:10 AM · I did once know someone who met Menuhin. He said Menuhin held the violin all wrong and didn't hesitate to tell Menuhin's wife!

May 2, 2016 at 04:19 PM · I find I use a Franco-Belgian hold with a Russian accent.Or the opposite.

Changes can be made like a religious conversion, or a gradual enlightenment. Or both. In either order.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine