trying to get a grip on russian prodigy grip...

April 19, 2009 at 06:14 AM ·

ms ann fontanella, ( what a player!), on this clip demonstrated and also explained (to answer a question)  that her bow grip is a russian prodigy grip,,,with higher elbow with stronger pinkie. 

i am as astonished by her beautiful sound as by her STRONG pinkie and have a hard time putting the 2 together as i watched the clip, esp those passages near the frog.   doesn't that hurt? :)

please explain the advantage of this approach.  i could be mistaken, but i think her teacher and teacher's teacher did not hold bows like that.

Replies (32)

April 19, 2009 at 03:30 AM ·

duh, here is the clip :)

April 19, 2009 at 02:28 PM ·

Hi Al,

It would hurt if there was excessive pressure into the stick, which typically is a result of clamping between the thumb and fingers, and/or if the forefinger and pinky press into the stick at the same time.  Counterbalancing the weight of the bow shouldn't hurt whether the pinky is held straight or curved (unless the bow is too heavy for the player, or the bow is not balanced well), and I don't think one needs a stronger pinky to play one way or the other.  

Besides the question about pain, did you have another one regarding her beautiful sound at the frog and a strong pinky?

'Russian prodigy grip'?  Sounds like clever, if a bit pretentious, marketing.  




April 19, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

hello jk, thanks for your reply and always a pleasure to see you here.  you should really practice more you know.  just kidding:)   it is always a pleasure to read from someone who apparently can play as well as relate:). 

anyway, first of, disclosure: i actually do not know of this player until i saw the clip on youtube and my question is purely academic, about bow hold and sound production, esp near the frog region.  the reason being that my kid is working on smoothing up the transition near the frog and everyone without fail advocates to loosen up the knuckles and curve the pinkie, a release if you will.  then i saw this clip :)    

with one hand pushing my jaw back up and the other hand goggling on russian prodigy grip, i came up with nothing so came to the rescue.

i am curious to know the physiology behind that bow grip approach because in my limited violin exposure i have not seen something similar.  to be honest honest, i actually see many beginners holding like that, out of tightness and insecurity i presume, instead of this case where apparently it is done by design and with some purposes.

in other words, if i see a beginner bowing like that, without hesitation (knowing me:) i would have suggested to loosen up the hand and joints.  not that i know better, it just seems to be the conventional wisdom, if not my personal feeling since i know i cannot stand a minute of bowing like that, but then again, i may not be doing all that the player is doing in addition to the bow grip.  there may be associated shoulder, elbow adaptation that i am not very sure just by watching the clip.

besides being bewildered by the sight, i wonder if this type of grip is being taught by anyone here or being learned by anyone here...




April 19, 2009 at 03:31 PM ·

Hey Al,

I don't know much about the grip your talking of having seen, but on the subject of legato bow changes at the frog.... It's been a personal struggle of mine for the past few years, and after awhile of experimenting and thinking I finally have gotten my brain around the way it works for my body. That's really the whole point to be honest. You have to find what works for you and is comfortable. But anyways, the basic premise behind the legato bow change is quite simply to keep the bow in motion at all times AT THE SAME SPEED (across the change). If your daughter can achieve those two things her legato will be seammless for all bow speeds. It is of course more difficult to do it the slower you get ( or at least, it is for me at this time). Really it's all about control of bow speed. As for actual technique, I use a loose wrist and finger combination that resembles the spiccato stroke only smoothly connected to the string as opposed to bouncing. This allows ME to keep the bow in motion at all times without doing any strange or unnatural flicking of my wrist or anything (which could change the speed dramatically). But I've also seen the approach you've described used and I can use it myself if I think about what I'm doing.

So that's my input...


April 19, 2009 at 04:12 PM ·

As I only know this bow hold as the Don't Try This At Home Grip, I'm very interested in the development of this thread. I've been consistently warned against it by at least five different teachers.

April 19, 2009 at 04:38 PM ·

I am always skeptical on a "grip makes tone" story. A knowledge of what tone is makes tone. The only affect of a grip is a bad one (like the forefinger extended one) that inhibits tone by encouraging pressing.

But there may be many good bow grips. Mainly what a bow grip does is facilitate

  1. Change of bow at all points in the bow
  2. Staccato and martele strokes (and even spiccato)
  3. Change in bow speed at any point n the bow stroke.
  4. String crossing



April 19, 2009 at 04:53 PM ·

In my opinion, it is not possible to play well if the bow is tightly gripped.  Personally my preference is never to have the word "grip" pass my lips during teaching.  I also believe that one shouldn't maintain one position throughout the drawing of the bow.   If you'll ask me what bow grip I use, I'll say: "None, I hope."  If you'll ask me what bow hand position I use, I'll say: "Many."  With these answers, I'm not intending to be a wiseguy (though I am from the Bronx!); I'm trying to say what I believe is true.

Erick Friedman made a most instructive observation when he said that, in watching his teacher, Heifetz at close range, he felt that if he breathed too hard it would blow the violin and bow out of Heifetz's hands! 

April 19, 2009 at 05:56 PM ·

I love that Friedman quote. As it turns out, Ms. Fontanella was Friedman's student. She may be using a Russian bow hold, but I'd be surprised if there were a whole lot of actual gripping going on. Her tone and playing are feasts for the ear. To my eye, the bow hold in question is similar to that taught by Clayton Haslop in his DVD courses.

April 19, 2009 at 07:44 PM ·

 I just saw the video.  Brava to Ms. Fontanella!  No gripping going on here - just excellent playing!

Notice how the violin is free to rotate so as to best coordinate with the string changes.  One of the benefits of holding the violin gently (as her teacher described of Heifetz).

April 19, 2009 at 09:25 PM ·


The advice on curving the pinkie has to be taken with a grain of salt.  See Christian Ferras for an example.

Friedman’s remark reminded me the occasion I witnessed where a fantastic concert violinist dropped her bow in middle of performance!  I’m not saying that one can’t have the ‘grip’ too loose, but a preferred tendency by many very good violinists I’ve observed seems to be as loose as possible. This is consistent with the idea that the bow hand and arm are no more than guiding the bow movement and adjusting the pressure (see for example Vengerov).

Matt’s advice on keeping the bow in motion at all times at the same speed is very important. You may heard about doing the “S” motion when change the bow at the frog. The most helpful analogy I’ve heard is to think the hand is a soft paintbrush described by many including Zhao Wei, one of the most prominent Chinese violin teachers in Mainland China. imagine you are painting a up-down line on the wall with a broad paintbrush by moving the brush up and down a few times to get the smooth colour everywhere without any ‘blob’ at any spot, especially at the either end of the line.  You need to  move the brush continuously in motion without any jerk, but more importantly, at the end of the line before you turn, the hairs of brush are still facing the same old direction (say towards up when you are going a top-down motion), but your hand should be already to go the other direction. This is the feeling you want if you want a smooth bow change.



April 19, 2009 at 10:08 PM ·


all of the above. Especially what Oliver is saying about the violin rotation. Thats very well done indeed.  The thing about `russian Prodigy Grip` is a load of old cobblers. If v.commie can`t define prodigy then anybody else who uses the term is just pulling your leg;)

PS Yixi,  the comment underneath Mr VenegeroV@s Sibelius renminded me why V.commie is abette space to be in....



April 20, 2009 at 12:57 AM ·

Did you actually read those youtube comments, Buri? I hardly ever for obvious reasons:)

April 20, 2009 at 04:08 AM ·


since it is the first time with the BigMac I thought i`d take a peek.  Pretty disgusitng. Makes even the worst of v.commie seem like an angel speaking from on high.



April 20, 2009 at 10:28 AM ·

Dunno about the grip thingie - I wonder if she was pulling  a leg when she said that.

She's got some providence for a 20 year old.  Heifetz's own mute. Last student of Eric Friedman. 


April 20, 2009 at 06:21 PM ·

Well, this is off topic, but the issue of bow hold is one that has caught my attention quite a bit. To me, it's up there with the perfectly straight bow stroke and the constant vibrato as one of those things that I hear all the time but I seldom see in real life playing, even from professionals.

Oh, and there's the bent thumb...

I try to adhere as much as possible to what my teacher gives me, especially with bow hold. But some things seem to be contradictory, like the relaxed but yet firm bow hold. I find that if my right hand is truly relaxed and all fingers are nicely rounded, the bow is pretty loose in my hand and it would be fairly easy for someone to snatch it away.  

April 20, 2009 at 08:19 PM ·


I use the term `gluey` for the bow hold.  There is some kind of magical feeling of cnnection between you and the wood.  One way to tets or develop this is to paly around with removing the thumb.  If you can refrain from dropping the bow without adjusting the fingers you have the mytserious sticky quality.  This has often seemed one of the great mysteries of violin playig to me ;)



April 20, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·

"The hand belongs to the bow but not the other way around." ~ Yan C. Lin (my translation). When analysis reaches to an end, and it eventually does, I find this kind of relational thinking very helpful.  Does this make sense to you, Buri?

April 20, 2009 at 11:10 PM ·


Yixi, yes.  It is the same as saying the tool organizes the body.   If you are using a screw driver you don`t analysie what you are doing with your arm or wrist or whatever before oyu even start screwing.   Or plan what your elbow is going to do while you are reqching for your coffee.  The lcoation and your prior knowledge of how to pick up a cup are ruling the roost.  Of course if you get burnt then you can sue...



April 20, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·

Yes, Buri. Also, it means the hand is the servant of the bow but not its boss. The grip-talk can imply otherwise, as though the hand has to extert so much control power over the bow, which is also like a little parrot that you want to train it to talk or do tricks rather than being held so tight to keep it from flying away.  Boy, do I love analogy!

April 21, 2009 at 01:37 AM ·

Yes, but the parrot is dead. (See Monty Python for continuing education on the subject)

April 21, 2009 at 02:00 PM ·

Hope I'm not intruding here, especially when there is talk of parrots ;-), but I wanted to share one grain--I attended a Leon Fleischer master class not too long ago.  He said something I won't forget:  The measure of one's technique is how quickly the body can manifest what the artist's inner voice demands.  (Not verbatim here, but very close).  I think that pretty much sums up my thoughts on any technique.

The inner voice is going to come out no matter what you do to the technique (hopefully), but the technique as servant can influence the way the voice comes out, which is what I think of as "style."

April 21, 2009 at 05:05 PM ·

Yixi mentioned bowing in an "S" motion....... Is this the same as a bowing method called a "Figure-8"?

And to reask what Al asked, who else uses the Russian Bow Hold?


April 21, 2009 at 08:10 PM ·


its actually a rather dubious clssification these days.  However,  Milstein, Heifetz, Kavakos and Clayton Haslop are accessible examples. 



April 21, 2009 at 09:08 PM ·


Regarding 'S' motion or figure '8', what I was taught at one point and I think it is valid to a great extent is that when you do the bow change, you "knead/wipe" the bow hairs on string a bit by doing the 's' or '8' motion with the involvement of the RH fingers and wrist ever so slightly. The purpose is that the bow does not get any chance to reach a stop and is continuous in motion even when change directions. I believe some Russian teachers were of the view that you should not do this but simply make a 180 degree change without any fancy movement of the wrist or fingers.  Whatever it works, I think you can try and listen for yourself which method works for you. For me, I notice my fingers and wrist change constantly when I move the bow, changing direction or not. Living things and are intended to move to stay loose and flexible I think.


April 21, 2009 at 09:30 PM ·

Nicely stated, Yixi.  Describing the "S" or "8" motion as kneading or wiping is a helpful way to think about it.

April 21, 2009 at 10:33 PM ·

Yixi- Love your illustration of the fig. 8 bowing.  My former teacher Dr. Pinell taught me this bowing tecnique.  He called it figure 8 but I like 'S' or wipping too. I saw Christian Ferras on youtube, I think, doing it.


April 22, 2009 at 05:25 AM ·


 As far as the grip goes, Mr. Friedman used to call it the 'prodigy grip' not the 'Russian prodigy grip' because some violinists who started young had to learn to hold the bow that way in order to compensate for the bow maybe being too big by placing the stick higher up on the bow stick.  If you watch Heifetz carefully he was still able to play with flexibility in the fingers cause if you don't you get a gap or accent whenever changing the bow at the frog as Al pointed out.    Erick Friedman actually held the bow the way Galamian taught him; Friedman was his student at Juilliard before he went to Heifetz..  So I think it is more of a matter of what you do with your bow grip whether it be the 'Russian' or 'Franco-Belgian' rather than concentrating on the actual hold itself .

April 22, 2009 at 05:50 AM ·

I have been told that I was originally taught with a Russian bow grip - I've been working on converting it to German for the past year.  It's been really hard to break habits that established!

April 22, 2009 at 11:22 AM ·


I doubt if yu are converting to the German school.  That dies out at the beginning of the 20c more or less.  Flesh in his book wrote of how the Art of Violin bowing will pivot aorund Rusisian vs Franco Belgian.  I suppose the latter is what you mean.  The old German style holds the bow in the fingertips ,  tends to have a very low elbow and uses a lot of lateral movement of the wrist which has huge potential for injury.



April 22, 2009 at 11:39 AM ·

nate, thanks for your input.  if there is anyone here that can shed some light with "been there" perspective, it has got to be you:)

also thanks to everyone else for the interesting comments.

April 22, 2009 at 09:22 PM ·

As a child I was taught what is known as a Russian bow hold.  With my students I prefer the term "bow shape" since the hand and fingers accommodate themselves to the shape of the object they are about to hold. I do agree "grip" tends to imply excessive strength and force in holding something so I too avoid that term although it can mean that one simply has a secure, solid hold of something rather than a tenuous one.

 In any case,   after attending the Sarasota Music Festival, James Buswell spoke of the benefits of  the Franco-Belgian bow hold as taught to him by Galamian and I ended up, after graduating from conservatory, studying with a teacher in Israel who taught me a Franco-Belgian bow hold.

  I  remember Ilya Kaler telling me  he was taught a Franco-Belgian bow hold but switched to a Russian bow  hold because he felt he could achieve greater tonal variety and color this way compared with the Franco-Belgian bow hold he had originally used. I understand from someone who saw Ginette Neveu play that she varied her bow hold according to the demands of the music.

   My own observations, which I admit are not scientific and control-tested, have brought up questions as to whether or not one bow "hold" is better than another. First I should say that once the bow starts moving there is no longer a specific "bow hold" that is frozen because moving from the frog to the tip necessitates changes along the way and the tilt of the violin and which string one is playing on at any given moment in any given part of the bow are also going to be factors in the look of the bow "hold".

 The observations led me to believe that some people have their fingers and hand rest on their bow pretty much the way their hands rest at their side. Others bring the fingers together to act as a more unified support system. Still others separate the index finger further away from the other fingers and with this seems to be a deeper bend in the wrist at the tip, especially those with shorter arms. Others keep a  natural spread in their fingers but with the hand always tilted towards the index finger and the knuckles above the fingers without the wrist bending down. Others seem to keep curved fingers and a flat looking hand throughout the entire bow stroke without much wrist dipping- it would seem especially those with long arms and a good reach but I have also seen people with long arms have a more "gooseneck" look as they approach the frog.

  Some of this seems to be the result of how people conceive of releasing or applying arm weight on to the violin.  Good players with all these different variations in the bow hold seem to avoid pressing down and crushing the tone and instead hold their arms in such away as to transfer weight to the point that the string is engaged by the bow to push and pull the tone before vertical pressure would crush the sound.  I believe it is generally agreed and understood that more weight is needed when playing near the bridge compared with the fingerboard but that the idea of pressing down is still not a good way to think of the added weight needed to play at the bridge.

  Though some of these you tube videos are only audio files and the recording conditions vary in each case, it might be instructive to listen to the results of the following players, each with different bow holds and/or arm positions and ways of holding the violin, playing  the Vitali Chaconne to compare the sounds. I believe if  the strength and conviction of one's concept of the sound one wants at any given moment  is clear in one's mind, a convincing interpretation of great artistic sensitivity is possible regardless. I believe very few artists calculate to the millimeter every change they will make in their sound but that inspiration and the fact that they have understood physically how to make any variety of sounds gives them the flexibility to produce the sound they want in whatever way they need to hold and move the bow. 

If  any others have thoughts on why you prefer to hold the bow a particular way or why you switched from one way to another  it would be interesting to know your reasons.

 The Vitali Chaconne examples are as follows:


April 22, 2009 at 07:36 PM ·

ronald, that is a fantastic summary and analysis.  appreciate those links as well.  regardless of bow grip, ah excuse moi, bow hold, actually no, bow touch or carass, i wonder about the following: how each player incorporates different level of input (hate to use exertion since the crowd seems to be sensitive here) from the upper back, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, finger, fingernail and the blackline under the nail.  i suspect we all end up developing our own unique combo in that regard, leading to signature sound profiles.

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