Learning the Heifetz bow grip

May 9, 2008 at 05:46 PM · I've always been interested in the way Heifetz holds the bow and have been recently experimenting with holding the bow this way and have found some different qualities like more relaxation in the forearm and a certain fluidity but I have trouble controlling it, especially at the frog and in fast tempos. In fast detache it goes sort of all over the place... obviously I haven't taken the time to properly learn it, but I would like to hear suggestions or advice on how to control the bow better in this way. Specifically, what to do with the thumb and what to do at the frog, or anything else that is helpful.

I've also noticed several other older generation players playing in this way, such as Gitlis, Ferras, and of course the other Auer students, Milstein and Elman. Is this considered part of the Franco-Belgian school?

Replies (30)

May 9, 2008 at 01:45 PM · Not sure if I made myself clear; the main thing I meant by "Heifetz bow grip" is holding the stick under the middle joint of the index finger, as opposed to the one closest to the nail as most people do these days. I know it's probably impossible to emulate all the things Heifetz actually does with the bow.

May 9, 2008 at 06:14 PM · (flagged)

May 9, 2008 at 06:19 PM · Well I hold the bow that way. Have been doing so since I was 5. If you do decide to try out for some teachers in the US you are going to run into some unfounded opposition to this method of bowing. The only major teacher in this country not from the Russian School that was quite accepting of this approach was Joseph Gingold one of the great pedagogues and players of the past century. He had the knowledge as a major performer of being accepting to other ways of holding the instrument/bow as long as it sounded good. One of his greatest students Kavakos uses the Russian bow grip.

The key to it is making sure you are able to stay flexible, there is a tendency to play stiffly with the Russian grip in detache and spiccato especially.

May 9, 2008 at 07:44 PM · As a cellist (too), I can speak to the advantages cellists have in that their entire right arm is above the bow. This gives them a tremendous amount of control - but with a very light hold on the bow - pretty much just balanced on the thumb and the string and manipulated by the fingers necessary to get the desired effect/stroke.

I was in my mid-30s when I finally realized that I had this advantage on the cello and decided to change my violin-bow hold to enable me to get as much right arm above it as was practical for my physique (very long arms). (By then I had been playing violin for 30 years and cello for 20.)

It took me about a month to get a new bow hold working fairly well. Before even attempting to change my bow hold I read Galamian's book, Berkley's book on bowing, and various things by Menuhin and Kato Havas.

Getting that arm up there (not as extreme as Josh Bell's) and getting the stick "deeper" into the index finger and the pinky used properly all helped. I am now (almost 40 years later) still using some variant of that improved bow hold, but with more of the lighter "balance" that works so well on cello. (It did take me a while to finally realize what Havas was talking about.)

Regarding Heifetz - you must view many of his films to see how extremely he changed his bow hold to achieve certain effects - for example his remarkable down-bow staccato.

Perhaps far more important than exactly how you hold the bow is how flexibly you can move your joints while you are bowing.


May 9, 2008 at 11:52 PM · I asked my teacher about the different types of bow grips the other day and she told me that Heifetz, Franscescatti, etc. had a Russian bow grip. The russian bow grip uses a lot of pronation of the wrist and almost straight-looking fingers (still relaxed and flexible), whereas the Franco-Belgian bow grip has a more evenly-balanced hold. Delay and Galamian taught the F-B grip. My teacher, who had taken lessons from DeLay, noticed that her students had really lovely, fat tones but my teacher did not think it was as penetrating as a Russian bow arm.

I personally like the feel of a Russian bow arm.

May 9, 2008 at 11:57 PM · About not being able to control it at the frog:

perhaps you are not leading enough with the wrist. I have a bad time with up-bows. My wrist needs to lead the rest of the hand and it needs to come towards my face so that I almost hit my nose :)

May 10, 2008 at 06:49 AM · Actually Francescatti I think used a Belgian grip. But that is besides the point he was able to make it sound good that way which is what is important. Bow grips don't really change the sound it's what you do with the bow..

May 10, 2008 at 08:59 AM · "Bow grips don't really change the sound it's what you do with the bow.."

And how do you do what you do with the bow other than with some form of a bow grip? I dare you to play your next concert with your hand choked up on the stick like a baseball bat and see if you can pull off a brilliant sound. I'd pay to see that. ;)

How you hold the bow affects the sound you make, and you know that. If you started from scratch, you would experiment with various options and see how each hold affects the sound, and eventually you'd come up with something that makes the sounds that you like best. There's more than one way to hold a bow to make the sounds you like, that's for certain, but how you choose to hold the bow most definitely affects the sounds you make. Otherwise, I wouldn't be paid good money to help kids get rid of their claw-like fingers (which tend to make claw-like scratching sounds).

Not that I've been chopping off fingers lately, but you get my point...

May 10, 2008 at 10:28 AM · It is not the Grip that makes the sound.

The different ways of hoding the bow does NOT affect the sound. Just see Kavakos. He have changed grip but not his sound.

The only thing a grip changes is how easy certain strokes are.

The sound comes from the head not from the hand. It is then channeled with the parameters speed, weight and contact point. I can make my sound with any grip, even the "bat" grip, but it is easier if I hold the bow in my personal way.

May 10, 2008 at 11:03 AM · I just feel that using the Franco-Belgian grip, at least for me, makes it easier to become tense in the forearm, and I feel that using a Russian grip channels the weight from the arm much better to the bow without adding pressure from tense muscles and makes a deeper and more penetrating sound... I'm just having a lot of trouble trying to control it.

Has anyone tried developing a sort of hybrid between the two? Any suggestions?

May 10, 2008 at 11:37 AM · Nate:

By saying to not go past the metal winding, do you basically mean don't go all the way to the frog?

And what about the thumb... mine seems to slip to the underside of the stick.

May 10, 2008 at 12:39 PM · Enosh:

To quote your statement :

" holding the stick under the middle joint of the index finger, as opposed to the one closest to the nail "

The bow placement you described above :

" holding the stick under the middle joint of the index finger " is the key to releasing tension in the right hand wrist and fingers. It also transfers bow control to the whole arm and shoulder. The result is more comfort, looser upper and lower arm, looser shoulder, as well as that it eventually develops powerful and long lasting endurance.

Most athletes learn to use the larger muscles of the body and therfore play looser and longer.

Ted Kruzich

Ted Kruzich

May 10, 2008 at 01:05 PM · I tend to agree with Matthias. The sound does come from the head. I can get the essence of my sound by holding the bow like a German string bass player or even by the screw with three fingers and my thumb.

But grip does help with things like bow changes, articulation, and in all the variety of bow strokes. In my mind almost anything can be made to work except the very popular hyper extended index finger grip that is frequently and mistakenly called Franco-Belgian

May 10, 2008 at 05:35 PM · I think my point was missed. I'm all about letting the sound lead the way you use your bow hand. But how you use it makes a difference. It's what creates the sound that comes from your head. Your mind doesn't make the sound, your body does.

May 10, 2008 at 05:54 PM · My good friend Adam Han-Gorsky, the former Minneapolis CM and concert violinist told me he demonstrates to his students who try and dig for extra sound that you can get every bit of sound possible by holding the bow only by the screw.

Pushing down with force on the bow is a waste of good energy when you don't have to do that at all.

May 10, 2008 at 06:17 PM · Emily I think the counterpoint would be that within the narrow confines of legitimate bow grips, the grip does not trump the many factors that influence personal tone. No doubt different grips make different approaches to tone production easier or more difficult, in that sense I take your point, but surely Heifetz could've sounded like Heifetz if he wanted even while using a different bow hold?

May 10, 2008 at 06:43 PM · I agree Andres. My teacher who was Heifetz's student, according to many had the same qualities of sound although Friedman used a Franco Belgian hold.

"From Enosh Kofler

Posted on May 10, 2008 at 11:37 AM


By saying to not go past the metal winding, do you basically mean don't go all the way to the frog?

And what about the thumb... mine seems to slip to the underside of the stick. "

Hi Enosh, yes precisely. You'll see Heifetz do this in his videos.

May 10, 2008 at 06:55 PM · Enosh:

It is interesting that you say you have trouble controlling the bow at the frog when you play this way...As someone else pointed out on this site recently, Heifetz essentially never plays at the frog. When an up bow does bring him there, his down bow moves quickly to the middle of the bow (i.e. it does not stick, the way an ideal down bow should).

An ultra pronated position down bow at the frog, such as he used, may not be comfortale for you. Aside from tending to bring the shoulder up (Compare a pronated position at the frog to one where the hand is open. Or, watch Heifetz play, this is not a quirk of any still pictures of him, as some have claimed on this site), it is very "active." You will tend to swipe and feel much better once you get away from the frog

I'd recommend you take a look at some Heifetz videos. Take ones where there are versions by other violinists out there, like the 3rd movement of the Mendelssohn or Rondo capriccioso. Compare where Heifetz plays on the bow to where they do. He's in the upper half much more than most. And his down bows move very fast (compare, say, Kogan's down bows, which are ideal). YOu may think he does better anyway (as he usually does), but I would ponder whether this is the best way to go.


May 10, 2008 at 07:55 PM · Enosh,

How long have you been playing? I'm not sure I understand why you would suddenly want to start using Heifetz's bow grip. Is there something defective about your own? Although some in the violin world can use this type of grip effectively (like Heifetz), I would still stick with the Galamian grip because it emphasizes the bending of the finger joints. I just don't see the advantage for someone who has been playing any length of time to suddenly attempt to change this.


May 10, 2008 at 08:48 PM · (Feeling a bit contentious...)

What's an ideal downbow? Should you be striving to use an ideal downbow every time you start a stroke on a down? Don't less-than-ideal downbows have their own merits too?

Personally, I'd be happy to have Heifetz's less-than-ideal downbow as well as Kogan's 'ideal' one in my toolbox - along with a whole bunch of others.

Actually, I know what you're getting at, K G - not trying to start an argument, really.

May 10, 2008 at 11:35 PM ·

May 10, 2008 at 10:00 PM · "From Scott Cole

Posted on May 10, 2008 at 07:55 PM


How long have you been playing? I'm not sure I understand why you would suddenly want to start using Heifetz's bow grip. Is there something defective about your own? Although some in the violin world can use this type of grip effectively (like Heifetz), I would still stick with the Galamian grip because it emphasizes the bending of the finger joints. I just don't see the advantage for someone who has been playing any length of time to suddenly attempt to change this.

Scott "

My question is, how is bending the finger joints for hours at a time really a good thing? If you talk to any hand specialist they'll tell you that over flexing and bending of the fingers as well as hyperextending the fingers (as the Galamian hold does) will lead to problems.

May 10, 2008 at 11:31 PM · Nate,

You might have misunderstood my post about bending the fingers.

Hold your hand in front of you (either hand--it doesn't matter). What do your fingers and thumb want to do naturally if you totally relax? Bend slightly. They don't naturally straighten, and if you do straighten them, you have to try to do it. That leads to tension and muscle fatigue. The Galamian grip, as I teach it, emphasizes not a claw-like and tense bending, but a natural and flexible bend. So yes, this flexible and relaxed bend in the joints is what will get you through hours of playing (or years).

When I first teach the grip to young students, I have them lock their knees and walk like a penguin. They immediately grasp that locking joints is counterproductive.


May 11, 2008 at 12:38 AM · I enjoyed watching Christian Ferras on Youtube and watched his bowing like when he would use figure-8 bowing and when he would not. His shifts from lagato to spicatto, etc. Man, what I would give for such bowing skill!

May 11, 2008 at 03:08 PM · All these names for bow holds are making me crazy! Unless someone studied directly with a given "name" and had a very similar hand shape, arm length, muscle structure & flexibility, my premise is the student's bow hold is only an approximation, anyway. There seem to be many ways of holding the bow and sounding fine. It seems to me that only a fairly long process of change and integration of something different will show whether that something is that much better for an individual. There definitely are bad ways to hold the bow; too tight, fingers too spread, bow hold so far to the end or so far above the grip or frog that the bow weight and balance on the string is affected and bow use is harder, not easier, more natural. I don't agree at all with the idea that bow hold doesn't effect sound. Yes, tone (along w/everything else) starts in the head, but the mechanics are what make it happen, and with more or less success depending on choices. When people say, I love music or I can hear that but could never do it, they are saying, I think, that they have it in the head, but they lack the physical skills, the mechanics, and even an intuitive sense of how to let it out. Sue

May 11, 2008 at 03:53 PM · Scott:

I've been playing for over 12 years, but is it not healthy to reevaluate one's technique once in a while? I love Heifetz's playing and I find it has a different quality than most people's, and I figure part of it might be due to his bow hold. But it's not only that; like I've already stated, I feel the Galamian hold makes it easier to begin pressing to try to get a bigger sound, whereas the Russian hold seems to channel the weight of the arm better....

Anyway, I don't think at this point I can completely change it without going back to basics which I don't feel like doing, but I would still like to try and capture some of the qualities of this hold.

May 11, 2008 at 04:16 PM · Enosh,

I agree--I would find it unhealty NOT to evaluate and constantly reevaluate one's playing (after all, isn't this the hallmark of the professional?) I just think one has to proceed carefully when making basic changes to one's basic set-up--there has to be a very good reason, like you can't play spicatto or some other deficiency. It's kind of the same with people who want to abandon their shoulder rest after years of using one: while a select few can accomplish it, the vast majority probably cannot.


May 11, 2008 at 04:28 PM · Kevin - there used to be a Heifetz video of Mendelsshon 1st mvt on YouTube, it was interesting how in the lead-in to the cadenza, on A-string repeated G#--E#-G#|G#----|--E#-G#-|G#---- , you know the bit, how on each long G# he would crash through the bow with a heavy accent, utterly unmusical, yet to him it was perfectly acceptable.

Also he still performed the Strauss sonata after the attack in Israel, "gingerly holding the bow between thumb and forefinger", so (assuming it sounded OK) he could indeed get the same tone using a different bow-hold.

May 19, 2008 at 03:59 AM · Regarding why you felt so uncomfortable at the frog, well, in the Russian grip, it is incredibly difficult to play at the frog, almost impossible - Vadim Repin has an extraordinarily difficult time changing bow at the frog smoothly. It is usually very scratchy, that is why you see so many Russian school players, including Heifetz, playing more at the tip. The, in the russian grip, gives more power - something that the Franco-Belgian lacks. I used to play Russian, and have changed to Galamian (I believe that is still Franco-Belgian, yes?) and personally I much prefer the FB/Galamian.

May 19, 2008 at 04:03 AM · Sorry - I mean that at the TIP you get more power in the Russian school.

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