Bow holds

April 16, 2011 at 05:19 PM ·

I just came from the Cello Chat forum, where there is a discussion going on about bow holds.  (To sum it up in two words:  Alisa Weilerstein :-P)   This conversation surfaces periodically --- there seem to be a lot of famous cellists with unorthodox bow holds.

It got me wondering:  are there any famous &/or really good violinists out there with unorthodox bow holds?  It seems like there's pretty much just the standard high wrist  (e.g. Ferras, Heifetz) and the standard  flat wrist (Oistrakh, Zukerman, Meyers), with slight variations within each style, but I never hear about anyone with a unique / unorthodox / bizarre way of holding the bow.  Are there any out there?  (And if not, why not?)

Replies (20)

April 16, 2011 at 10:37 PM ·

Tossy Spivakovsky.

April 16, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

Whoa.  Dude.

April 17, 2011 at 12:40 AM ·


actually Heifetz difn`t have a high wrist.  Its the postion of the fingers on the stick.  The actual hieght of the wrist is defined by its relationship to the forearm.

I also immediately said Tossy Spivakovsky for weird bow hold.   The thumb was,  I think opposite the fourth finger.



April 17, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

 Incidentally,  re the Heifetz wrist,  take a look at his Paginini Caprice 24 on you tube. Aside from eing the most beautiful playing one could wish for it shows clearly his wrist staying close to the neutral position all the time.  A little natural give of course. That`s one of the key points about Heifetz,  perfection comes from lack of extremism.....



PS just looked at your Ferras link. That`s not a high wrist either ;)   Wonderful player though. One of my favorites.

April 17, 2011 at 06:07 AM ·

Hm, maybe I'm imagining things then.  Thanks for the tip on Spivakovsky though --- that's wild!

April 17, 2011 at 08:29 AM ·


it@s not a question of imagination but rather definition. A high or low wrist is understood in terms of the relationship between the back of the hand and the forearm. In the case of Heifetz this does not go to any extreme bend in either direction, therefore he does not use a high wrist..   There are schools of pplaying that avocate a much ore flexed wrist.



April 17, 2011 at 08:20 PM ·

 I'm not sure how unusual it is (I'm not heavily into classical playing)  but Hilary Hahn will sometimes remove her index finger complete off the bow, which strikes me as fairly odd.

April 18, 2011 at 02:22 PM ·

I don't think I've seen anyone else lift their index finger off the bow. I lift my pinky all the time bowing at the tip, much to the chagrin of my teacher.

April 18, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

I've noticed that many of the greats allow the 4th finger to lift from the stick while playing near the tip, especially those with a pronated Russian-style bow hold. So I'm feeling a bit less guilty when my own 4th finger lifts, which it apparently likes to do.

If I'm not mistaken, Zino Francescatti was known for a somewhat unorthodox bow hold.

April 18, 2011 at 04:17 PM ·

Yes , Christian Ferras definitly: his thumb was curved the opposite way.Always said to his pupils not to do like him.

April 18, 2011 at 08:19 PM ·

a fiddler, but still..


MIchael Cleveland has one of the most unusual bowholds I've seen. He has been blind since birth, and figured out a lot on his own.  Doesn't seem to hold him back much.

April 18, 2011 at 09:41 PM ·

Notice how Michael Cleveland's bow is rock-steady parallel to the bridge (easy to see in the first video). His right hand moves about on the bow quite a bit, so there is a lot of relaxation there. If there wasn't he wouldn't be getting that LH-RH coordination in the really quick bits!

April 18, 2011 at 10:48 PM ·

Cleveland is certainly interesting, fun, & fast.   -but his sound is rather reedy, which is surely due to that odd bow hold.  He also has pretty questionable intonation.

Fun to watch, though.  You gotta' love the guy.

April 20, 2011 at 08:03 PM ·

What about Joshua Bell?


April 21, 2011 at 07:53 AM ·

I would say Leonard Smith here has a unique way of holding the bow.

January 8, 2015 at 12:37 AM · My teacher in high school, circa 1944 -1947 was Gaylord Yost. He encouraged the Spivakowsky bow grip which I used for those years and a little later. In college my conductor urged me to change and I use a much more conventional grip today - Franco-Belgianish.

The Spivakowsky grip was a little uncomfortable until one got used to it, but for me it was harder to be flexible using it. Obviously Tossy didn't have any problem with it at all.

January 8, 2015 at 08:44 AM · That is the weakness of those old schools that mimic old masters like Paganini,ignoring their specific physical features.

Franco Belgian school became effective thanks to its cosmopolitanism.

January 9, 2015 at 04:54 AM · A couple years ago I made a study of bow holds and noticed a couple of things. First, women violinists often have index fingers that are more extended. Second, the extension of the index finger in male violinists fades as they age. These are, of course, generalizations, and if you dont agree I would welcome your comments.

As for Josh Bell, his bow hold, based on the pictures I was able to find, he holds his bow rather lightly in his fingertips. Unusual but not as weird as Tossy.

January 9, 2015 at 05:34 AM · Greetings,

Paul, your observations may well be quite close to the mark. I think the reasons are possibly more complex than a gender division. Women tend to have lighter bow arms and have to resort to a little more forcefully applied pressure. This can be especially true of Asian women. So for example , try as she might, Chung , with her light physique and narrow fingertips could not produce a thick sound.

Then the high index finger was a Galamian trademark so we saw a lot of male players (I seem to recall reading he was somewhat sexist......could be wrong) using it when young. but many of them realized it was actually a source of tension in their case and abandoned it, Steihardt for example.

Interesting research you did. Would love to see the names....



January 9, 2015 at 05:26 PM · I made the observation about aging independently, but I think it was made also by Gingold (?) or some such luminary person.

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