How to hold your bow

July 22, 2011 at 05:52 PM ·

A little tutorial by Gabriel Bolkosky on how to hold the bow. 



July 23, 2011 at 12:30 AM ·

Awesome. :)  I'm going to his camp in Michigan soon. Should be fun!

July 23, 2011 at 01:31 AM ·

 fun video indeed.

an unrelated question: i noticed that in his video, his index finger falls onto the silver wiring.  .my kid does that too.  i always thought the index finger should fall onto the leather wrapping.  what is the point of having a finger coming directly in contact with the wiring?  is it because people are getting so cheap that they make the leather wrapping too short?

July 23, 2011 at 07:38 AM ·

 Al, my index finger also would (on his bow) fall on the silver wrapping.  But also the way I hold the bow is quite different, I use the 'russian' hold so the stick touches my index finger 'just' above the second knuckle (starting from the tip of the finger).  The russian hold is totally different from the hold shown in this video also in the way the other fingers are used in holding the bow.

But then there is slightly different 'variations' of bow holds out there from the hold shown in this video which I have seen people using....

July 23, 2011 at 08:07 AM ·

I did not see the point in this video on bow hold and I thought it rather silly.

You can only demonstrate a bow hold seriously by playing on the string.

If you want to learn bow holds, then just look at videos of people like Milstein, Heifetz, and other great players.

July 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM ·

"big gap between first and second fingers". I call this "nose pick technique"

July 23, 2011 at 04:48 PM ·

I think it's adorable, and helpful.

July 23, 2011 at 05:59 PM ·

thats just terrible

July 23, 2011 at 06:34 PM ·

This one is even cuter! (does "cuter" exist, or is it "more cute"?) Anyhow.

July 24, 2011 at 01:50 AM ·

Just for the sake of argument...

Any static bow hold is merely a starting point. Clearly Gabriel Bolkosky doesn't use this bow hold when he plays, but there are some who do.

Whether one ends up keeping this hold or not, it's a pretty good starting point. The curvature of the pinky is the most curved it will be when the forearm is supinated or when the fingers are curled passively in a down bow (or actively in an up bow with the hand.) Learning the diagonal placement of thumb with the curled pinky/supinated forearm prepares the hand to apply leverage with pronation. The first finger is not spread very far. Add a little pronation, allow the fingers to extend a bit, and that distance will close to a spacing used by many violinists (fellow "nose pickers":




Holding the middle fingers deep allows little hands to apply weight without tensing the fingers (it's useful to employ a cello hold as an exercise for this reason,) and helps the base knuckles stay open and flexible. With the fingers 'wrapped' around the stick in this manner, it's easier to release pressure of the thumb and avoid gripping the stick between thumb and second finger/middle fingers. Starting upside down lets the thumb and first finger feel the weight of the bow and prepares the hand to seek a similar feeling of the weight of the arm being transferred onto the strings. I doubt there are many beginners who could assimilate and coordinate all it takes to draw a simple bow stroke by watching videos of the masters. You start with a static hold, learn contact points between stick and fingers, learn the various pressures the fingers feel in various contexts, learn how to apply weight through leverage, pivoting, spreading, pulling, pushing, dropping, lifting, balancing, all the while adjusting the initial hold to size, proportions, shape and natural spread of fingers, range of motion, strength, bow strokes, sound, etc.


Hi Al, I think most everyone places the index finger on the silver (the lapping) -- at least I've never seen anyone do otherwise. I don't think you could get enough leverage placing the finger on the leather, both relative to the length of the bow and distance from the thumb.



July 24, 2011 at 11:09 AM ·

The farther the index finger is away from the middle finger the weaker the stroke is at the tip and more   tension in the hand and forearm  is created. Exaggerating the gap between index finger and middle finger also creates problems when learning spiccato , sautille and other bouncing bow techniques that require flexibility in the fingers.I am a fan of Perlman's bow hold , he play's with no tension in his leftarm  at all compared to Goto's arm which is extremely tense.

July 24, 2011 at 12:54 PM ·

Yah , right arm

July 24, 2011 at 10:54 PM ·

Hi Charles,

You wrote, "The farther the index finger is away from the middle finger the weaker the stroke is at the tip..." But watch,  especially @ 2:39

A stronger stroke at the tip depends on increased leverage of the hand into the bow. Extending the first finger can help increase leverage (provided, as with any bow hold, that the leverage is not cancelled at the wrist by lifting the hand) and can help players with smaller hands, and/or lighter arms, to increase pressure of the bow against the strings.

"Exaggerating the gap between index finger and middle finger also creates problems when learning spiccato , sautille and other bouncing bow techniques that require flexibility in the fingers." @ 4:53 @ 6.20

Spiccato is controlled mostly with even oscillations of the bow and matching the frequency of the stroke (plus force of the stroke) with the frequency of the bow (bow position,) while releasing pressure at the first finger (and depending on speed, timing the suspension of the stick with the pinky, or even the whole arm for much slower spiccato.) Vertical flexing of the fingers can create a more percussive spiccato/sautille but the placement of the first finger doesn't make a large difference as the bounce is limited by the bow, not the range of motion of the fingers/hand. The greatest vertical range of motion can be had with the 1st finger making contact near its tip. In contrast, an exaggerated separation of the first finger limits its involvement in the flexing of the fingers, as does holding with the first finger making contact near the second or base-knuckle, and so limits the range of motion at the wrist; as far as controlling bouncing strokes is concerned, holding the bow with an exaggerated separation of the first finger is very similar to holding with the first finger above the second knuckle as in the so called 'Russian' hold:

but also:, where the first finger makes contact at the second knuckle, but with less lean in the fingers (i.e. more curled pinky.)


July 25, 2011 at 11:46 AM ·

Hi John,

I realize there is great variety in the degree to which the first finger splits away from the others, and also in the general way each artist wields his/her bow, in the list above. My main point is that the hold demonstrated in the original video is a just a starting point, but one which could evolve into any one of those bowing styles. There are two features common to holding the bow with a 'split finger': the hand pivots at bow changes (the first finger flips as the other fingers curl/extend) and the first finger tends to 'push', along the stick toward the tip, on up bows for greater leverage or articulation ('pousser et tirer.') The independence of the first finger can also allow for a 'pinch-release' of the bow without a change in the angle of the hand for various articulations and mixed bowings.


July 25, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

An excellent video on an excellent bow hold.  That hold enables fluid, virtuostic playing.  The 2 important unsaid things are:  1. the little finger has to build up a lot of strength - this requires specific exercises and lots of practice.  2. when the student has the bow hold working well (months of practice), the thumb contact point should remain bent, but should roll/flex at the contact point.  This frees the hand even more, adding fluidity, and creates another moving point that can control fine movements of the bow for expression.

Thanks for posting a top quality instruction.

By the way, this is the bow hold that David Oistrakh used.

July 26, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

 I agree with Peter Charles  and some of the others who expressed some disagreement towards this video.  

July 28, 2011 at 11:29 AM ·

 I kept wondering if Bolkosky is a typo error, but I liked the look of the bow itself.

July 30, 2011 at 05:21 PM ·

my teacher tells me to place the bow such that all the hairs are in contact with the strings for a healthy forte (along with speed/counterweight of hand via wrist). tilted for piano not for volume, again her instructions.



July 30, 2011 at 06:13 PM ·

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet but together with the "bow hold" ( I prefer the term "bow shape" because it implies that the fingers form a useful shape depending on where you are in the bow rather than a fixed bow hold or even grip which imply force and tension to keep something from moving around which, to my mind, would not be a good thing) one must allow the weight of the arm to do its job.

The fingers receive the leaned or pronated weight of the arm much as one might pour a pitcher of water or let the contents of a box shift to one side by tilting the box to a certain degree. This leaning allows arm weight to fall towards the bow into the hair into the string. Because even a young child  has more  than enough arm weight than is needed to draw a sound out of the bow, it is not a question of size or physical strength but of understanding how to judge and feel the release of the weight of the arm  without interfering by pressing vertically or choking the sound. Great players of various different schools of how to "hold" the bow have all been able to achieve this. The source for this arm weight goes further back because the shoulder blade muscles assist the arm in lifting to get into a position where one can then release the arm weight. 

However, it must be admitted that a sizeable majority of players have gravitated to some kind of Franco-Belgian bow hold because it provides flexibility yet strong depth of tone in all parts of the bow. Any great player will vary the details or particulars to suit the mood of the music or to bring out a particular color to the tone but the idea of projecting a big meaty sound as exemplified by Zukerman ,Shaham, Jensen, Fischer and others  in the videos Jee-Won posted seems to be in part a by-product of the Franco-Belgian "bow hold" a variation on which  is the one I see presented by the violinist in the tutorial video.

 Many have debated whether this thick broad tone has had a limiting effect on the variety and diversity of tonal colorations so evident in the players of the earlier twentieth century claiming that today's players produce sounds more similar to each other than say compared with Heifetz, Milstein, Elman, Seidel,  Francescatti, Grumiaux, Szeryng, Menuhin, Kreisler, Thibaud, Neveu, Zimbalist and a whole host of other luminaries of the past.

  Others claim it is the vibrato, the finger impulsed vibrato that accounts for the difference.

Still others feel this is not so because each player, with their own unique physical make-up, and the training and musical influences they have assimilated, cannot help but  create their own unique and distinctive sound. That however is a debate for another post or topic.


July 30, 2011 at 07:11 PM ·

I like the bow but I don't like the bow hold.  Different strokes for different folks. J

August 2, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

Hmmmm... cute *squeeeee!* But WONG. Sewiously sowy.

Extending the middle and ring fingers all the way down on the frog will hinder any attempt at elasticity and free play, not to mention the risk of flattening the knuckles and destabilizing your control. With this kind of finger placement you are more likely to end up grabbing the stick for dear life in stead of gently resting it between your fingers (thew's a diffewence).

August 2, 2011 at 04:28 PM ·

@Nate Robinson:

Not only is Gabe Bolkovsky an excellent teacher, he is a great player. Please tell me how much experience you've had starting beginners because that is the hardest teaching to do correctly. There are many great players who can't, won't and shouldn't attempt to teach a small child how to play the violin from the very beginning. That's what is being discussed here.

You have on your profile that your teachers were Erick Friedman and Sidney Harth. I would daresay they were far more your coaches than pure teachers. Someone or more teachers were responsible for your basic fundamentals of technique long before you got to them, no?


August 2, 2011 at 07:46 PM ·

 the more one follows this guy, the worse one will be when going to someone like nadien, or friedman. One should try and study with a great teacher from the very beginning to reach ones fullest potential and to avoid bad habits.  

August 2, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·


I think that this discussion is getting side-tracked, but having avoided it, I would like to shed some light.  The idea behind the Franco-Belgian grip (and the adaptation from Galamian which is based on the principles of Capet) is that the thumb and middle-finger form a ring with the thumb coming half-on-the-frog/half-on-the-stick (sort of a a 45o angle) with the middle finger exactly opposite the thumb, the middle finger resting on the first joint.  The idea behind this is that the weight will be balanced in the middle of the hand.  The index rests on the muscle between the two joints.  The space between the index and the middle finger depends on the length of the index; hence, it depends on the individual.  The longer the index in relation to the middle finger, the larger the space; conversely, the shorter the index, the smaller the space.  HOWEVER, the space should not be more than what is necessary to be on the contact point (i.e. on the muscle between the two joints) and unnatural for a particular hand.   Hence the variations one can notice.  Good examples are Szeryng or Oistrakh (and if one can find photos, Fritz Kreisler).  Of the Galamian version, Zukerman or Rabin demonstrate it well and neither claw out the index.

I cannot discuss the Russian grip since I do not use it and my only acquaintance comes from watching great players like Heifetz use it.  Someone else is probably better qualified than me to discuss it.

Hopefully this may clarify some points about this.


August 3, 2011 at 06:44 AM ·

 im only concerned with hyper extending the index finger and the general large spread of the fingers. what you say about the middle finger opposite the thumb contacting the bow on its first joint is essential as it is the center of balance. (that its also from dounis). the fingers should fall with their natural spaing on the bow after one has found the center of balance

August 3, 2011 at 09:11 AM ·

Hi Ausmar,

I agree.


August 3, 2011 at 10:27 AM ·


August 3, 2011 at 01:34 PM ·

IMO his whole hand is way too high up on the bow...why was this video posted on  Surely there are a few better videos out there. J

August 3, 2011 at 03:55 PM ·

I still think it's cute, and don't believe anyone making the snarky remarks have even checked out his playing, he's amazing and must be doing something right.



August 3, 2011 at 06:41 PM ·

Wow Nate, yesterday you talked about civility, openness, and how wonderful it is to exchange ideas, but today your comments seem disingenuous at best. 

I think we can guess what you think of renowned violinists who are not on your short list of 'great players', but you can't just warn us of a 'possibly dangerous approach to technique,' or 'stuff' which 'can lead to physical issues,' and leave us hanging. If not citations, some anecdotal evidence, at least a good sob story... some promising young violinist whose dreams were dashed by the evil 'Galamian claw'... somethin', give us somethin'... (And please don't mention CTS like you tried to before.)



August 3, 2011 at 07:02 PM ·

 Good God! Yes, this is a wonderful video, or I would not have posted it. It's for teaching young Suzuki students. Have you tried to convey anything about holding a bow to a four-year-old? Even adults don't get some of these simple ideas, and I frankly don't care if he's exaggerated a little of it so that people can get the basic idea. Yes, the pinkie is on top, it holds up the stick. The thumb is bent. Two middle fingers go over the stick. Index finger not hooked. 

It's interesting that some violinists turn their noses up at teaching aids, but I think that those who do just don't understand much about teaching. Most people won't actually take up the bow with a perfect bow if you simply say, "Look at my bow hold, it's perfect, just do this" and demonstrate. 

August 3, 2011 at 07:05 PM ·

well  first of all spreading the fingers  like that is unnatural... does not produce a fine sound... and almost none of the truly great players do it such as kreisler and heifetz..

August 3, 2011 at 10:02 PM ·

Hi Nate, I apologize if my last post came across as being a bit confrontational. It's just that you don't seem to acknowledge any style of playing, other than the one you learned, as legitimate. Several of us have suggested that the original video represents a kind of proto-Franco-Belgian hold. There are many renowned violinists who use a FB style of bowing, and among them there are some (a growing number) who use what you have called the Galamian claw. You claim that starting with the hold in the original video is inefficient, possibly dangerous, and can lead to physical issues. I've suggested, as have others, that what's shown in the video is an initial setup for beginners; it's a video about how to, and where to place individual fingers with the bow held in the air, and horizontally. When the bow is placed on the string, and leverage applied, the shape of such a bow hold changes as the fingers pivot and the forearm pronates. I've suggested that this initial bow hold can be developed into any one of the styles of bowing I linked to. Some players change their bow hand shape according to context, others tend to leave the shape more fixed, including those who employ a large 1st finger extension. But far from being limiting by this bowing style, these players have complete mastery over their bowing (unless you have a different definition of mastery.) 

You further contend that such a bow hold can lead to physical problems. Now, you can talk about CTS all you want, but if you make a claim at least be able to back it up. Anecdotal evidence is not proof, but even a story or two would strengthen your position. How many players do you know who play with an extended first finger and have CTS? How many touring artists? Even then, there are so many confounding variables that it's almost meaningless to say that so and so uses such and such a bow hold and also has carpal tunnel syndrome. 
From what I've read (admittedly not much) CTS is not a well understood disease and it is often misdiagnosed. I know a violinist who was misdiagnosed. The cause of the numbness in his hand was actually a pinched nerve in his neck. He was recommended carpal tunnel surgery after which he lost the function of his left hand (as far as playing violin is concerned.) Here are a couple of references:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is considered by some to be a form of repetitive stress injury, and as such, is caused by repetitive motions, most famously from long hours of computer keyboard use. However, while studies have found associations between some work activities and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, causality has not been demonstrated.[9] (italics mine)


What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
Usually the cause is unknown. Pressure on the nerve can happen several ways: swelling of the lining of the flexor tendons, called tenosynovitis; joint dislocations, fractures, and arthritis can narrow the tunnel; and keeping the wrist bent for long periods of time. Fluid retention during pregnancy can cause swelling in the tunnel and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, which often go away after delivery. Thyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes also can be associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. There may be a combination of causes. (italics mine)

I don't think there is enough evidence to suggest that violin playing, in and of itself, causes any disease. But there certainly is anecdotal evidence that violin playing can aggravate existing conditions. Note that the carpal tunnel houses the flexor tendons, not the extensors, which can pinch the median nerve when inflamed. I'm no specialist, but I can't see how extending the first finger would aggravate CTS. Any motion that contributes to flexion, however, might. It seems to me that the Russian grip would contribute to flexion at the wrist more than a FB grip with a big 1st finger extension. The very first finger extension that you vilify would limit flexion at the wrist. If you're suggesting that the extended first finger, in and of itself, causes repetitive strain injury, I'd like to see the stats: types of bow hold and % injured.
You keep suggesting that we study video of the masters, but to recommend to a beginner to learn simply by watching video of accomplished performers is counterproductive at best; it's kind of like telling someone who's never ridden a bike to learn by watching footage of Lance Armstrong ride L'Alpe d'Huez and go hop on a bike.

August 3, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

 Plenty of people use the Franco-Belgian bow technique. I wouldn't call anything a bow "hold," either, because you shouldn't put your fingers on the bow and freeze them there. The rigid bow "hold" is the cause of injury, whether it's Franco-Belgian, Russian or something in between. The idea is to have the ideal balance of strength, balance and flexibility. If you spread your fingers wide, you will have strength, the perception of control, and no flexibility. If you put your fingers completely together, you will have flexibility but little strength or control. The idea of any arrangement of the fingers on the bow is to spread the fingers enough for strength, put them close enough for flexibility, and arrange them for balance at the frog and tip (pinkie balances the bow at the frog, thumb balances it at the tip, in the Franco-Belgian arrangement.)

The above video would give a beginner (or a more advanced student who still struggles with holding the bow) a starting point for finger placement. The hand and fingers should be supple; if the fingers don't adjust and change angles during the course of a bow stroke, then that's a problem. 

August 4, 2011 at 02:52 AM ·

Poor Laurie! Some people just seem to live to post negative comments or go off on their own tangents.

It is a good video, it is a place to start IMO. My best teacher has so much control over her bow hand that in the middle of complicated passages her index finger would be in so many different spots. When I commented on it, yet amazed at one more thing she did that influenced the way she sounds, she brushed it off with an "of course". 

She also stopped me once, saying "BECKY BECKY BECKY, no one wants to hear you shift!!! (Kind of off subject, but thought it might be good advice to share with someone).


August 4, 2011 at 07:43 AM ·

August 4, 2011 at 07:44 PM ·

Nate says:

"Nancy you are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But I have just as much right to express a view on this forum in a civil manner.  This is an open discussion and I think it is wonderful we can exchange our ideas freely.  When you put a piece of your work up for review, one has to expect that it will be reviewed from different perspectives.

In regards to your question, no I have not taught many beginners, but from my professional experience, I can recognize an inefficient and possibly dangerous approach to technique when I see it.  I have watched many great players up close and on video (Friedman, Heifetz, Nadien, Milstein, Harth) none of them do this stuff  with the exaggerated hyper extension of the index finger (Galamian claw) which over time I think can lead to physical issues. 

 Well to answer your question about my teachers, I was a student of a Gold Medalist at the Queen Elizabeth at MSM then yes indeed I was a pupil of Erick Friedman for 3 years (are you suggesting he wasn't my teacher?).  I then studied with Sidney Harth for one season after Friedman's death in 2004. "

I can tell you've not taught many, if any, beginners,  by your sole focus on high level players. This video is for beginners, i.e., little children, i.e., maybe 3, 4, 5 years old. Can you successfully teach a three year old how to hold a bow and violin? I can. I have the teacher training necessary to be able to teach very young children from great pedagogues such as Ronda Cole, Bill Starr and the late great John Kendall, to do a little name dropping. I've been teaching little children for over twenty years. I send my students to artist level teachers who very gladly take my students because they have a rock solid technical foundation. They don't have to rehab them.

High level players are not born playing Mendelssohn and Brahms concerti. Someone is their beginning teacher. That was my question to YOU. I am not questioning if you actually studied w/ Harth and Friedman. I asked you who your teachers were before you got to Harth and Friedman. Who was your first teacher? This is not a hard question. I do not believe Friedman or Harth taught beginners.... Or did the Gold Medalist of the Q of E of B give you your first violin lesson?

Have you watched any of Gabe Bolkosky's performance videos? He is a very fine player in anyone's estimation, as well as being an extremely fine and articulate pedagogue.

August 4, 2011 at 11:47 PM ·

Now we're getting an exchange of ideas! Can we agree that we don't have to trash opposing views or resort to extreme and unfounded assertions just to present an opinion?

Thanks for sharing that Nate -- it's sounds like a simple and elegant solution; it reminds me of a Primrose demonstration. Where can we learn more about the Yankilevich method? Did he produce any methods? Do you find when a student focuses on their hand shape rather than placing individual fingers, they naturally find a suitable bow hold and are able to produce a decent sound with a decent stroke? It'd be interesting to see an actual demonstration on a beginning student, just to see the process in more detail. It's too bad we don't have more material from the Russian/Soviet school available here. Are there translations of Mostras' work available? I agree with you that there is a clear advantage for bowing at the tip with a Russian hold. I think there are more than a few players who adapt their FB bowing to one more like a Russian style when bowing at the tip in certain contexts. But do you find there are issues in teaching a young student to play at the frog? Do you remember how you got through that stage, or did it present no problems for you? 



August 5, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

Thanks Nate. I'd be interested in learning more about the Yankilevich approach if you get your hands on his book and have the time to blog about it. I can play pretty comfortably with the Russian style (and do use an FB version of it when playing fast detache at the tip,) but bowing at the frog is too steep of a learning curve at this point. 

I remember reading a paper about different bow holds taught in North America (a dissertation by someone, I can't remember who.) As you say I think it was found that the vast majority of teachers taught FB style, but there was a story of one teacher (Charles Castleman?) who found a Russian hold worked better for one of his students, a diminutive female. I remember being surprised at the time because I had a preconceived notion that an FB style would suit smaller players better. Having since experimented with various ways of bowing it's clear to me now that a person with shorter arms might find it easier to bow at the tip, to apply leverage more naturally with the Russian style.

Can you discuss more about the idea of the left hand? Do you mean using the hand in blocks and finger patterns? I know you prefer a flatter violin, but for me having tilted the fiddle more and letting it rest on my forefinger has allowed be to forget about my thumb and fingers -- and it's been very liberating. Yes, I think there's a lot to be said for using a method that allows a student to focus on the music, rather than be obsessed with placement of fingers. I'm not sure that all students can do it though -- some just find all the physical stuff more awkward and challenging. But is there a method (hidden behind piles of Cyrillic text) that shows an easier, more natural approach? I'm intrigued to find out. :)


August 5, 2011 at 02:02 AM ·

 Hi Jeewon, I will let you know if I get a copy.  My friend and classmate, Anton might know because he’s from Russia and is more in touch with the happenings over there.  He posts in the forums if you ever want to get in touch.

Interesting about the Castleman story.  I’ve actually heard some cases where youngsters with really small hands develop this sort of Russian hold in order to get leverage from a bow that might be too large for them at the time.  Friedman said he noticed this with some people that started extremely young.

Well what I meant about the left hand is that I like to think of it as a cohesive unit rather than 4 separate parts (maintaining the octave frame in most instances).  How do you think of it?  Yes I actually do that thing with the side of the forefinger coming into contact with the neck.  Credit to Galamian, he actually talked about this in his book. I recall he called it double contact. I find maintaining contact with each side of the neck (thumb on one side, fore finger on the other) especially helpful.   This way you’re not just navigating with the tips of your fingers and balancing the instrument (especially without the rest) I think is easier too.   

Some teachers believe that the side of the forefinger should be divorced from the neck completely – I find this approach much more difficult personally to find the notes.  

August 5, 2011 at 10:17 AM ·

Hi Nate, I dug up this old thread and discovered that Masha Lankovsky is working on a translation of Yankelevich's Pedagogical Heritage. I don't know when it will be available but sent her an email to ask. There are a couple of other sources as well that I look forward to reading/watching.

and a video by

Thanks for mentioning the forum, I'll check it out later tonight.

Of the Russian/Soviet school, I've only read the Auer book and the Yampolsky book on fingering, so this is all fascinating to me. I've always wondered how much Mostras influenced Galamian, whether he was more Capet or a perfect blend. It could be that the whole Galamian school is an extension of Mostras in which case violin playing here would really be largely Russian/Soviet. 

I see what you mean about the left hand unit. I've definitely emphasized it in my teaching, especially during formative stages, and still think it's an essential aspect of left hand technique. But I was taught to use a lot of extension/contraction, going in and out of frame and snapping back. I used to support the neck with the 'v' between thumb and forefinger equally. Now there's much less vertical holding with the thumb. In the lower positions if I let go of the first finger tip the neck always sits on my forefinger side and the thumb acts more like a gauge. Because I've tilted my fiddle more it wants to fall diagonally forward and down, rather than straight down (which I think happens naturally for people with square shoulder.) My elbow points more out on the higher strings and straight down on the lower strings, so with the tilt of the fiddle my whole arm has rotated out. In the transition there's more diagonal support by friction; in the higher positions the violin falls into the thumb/palm diagonally rather than straight down. With this new position I find it much easier to use pivot shifts than before. I've been revisting Sevcik Op. 1 and noticed that he introduces extensions very early in his work without really drawing attention to it. And although my left hand functions very differently from Ricci's the idea of the fingerboard as one big position got stuck in my head. So lately I've been practicing etudes trying to further develop this facility, to learn the whole fingerboard as a unit, if that makes any sense. 


August 6, 2011 at 10:29 AM ·

Maybe we could all learn from the master -

(I think a warning - like the TV programmes - of "please don't try this at home" would be appropriate)


August 7, 2011 at 12:35 AM ·

This is not a demand but I would appreciate comments on the comments  I posted here on this discussion. I made the comments to point out issues that go beyond the "bow hold" itself.

August 7, 2011 at 01:57 AM ·

 "I think I could teach" lol

I'd much rather take advise from someone who actually can. But thanks for the interesting reading, looks like it took a lot of time!

August 7, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

Where did you get that quote?

August 7, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·


">'Can you successfully teach a three year old how to hold a bow and violin?'

Yes I think I could."


"no I have not taught many beginners, but from my professional experience, I can recognize an inefficient and possibly dangerous approach to technique when I see it. "

 Not professional experience teaching, in other words. It sort of reminds me of that quote, "I was a perfect parent, until I had a child."

August 7, 2011 at 02:34 AM ·

Ah got it, didn't see it right away and am feeling a bit too lazy to scroll thru the whole thread :-|


August 7, 2011 at 03:45 AM ·

  Well Laurie, I don't pretend to be the perfect person, violinist, or teacher.   I'm not. I think those that do think they are perfect and have nothing to learn, at any stage, have a problem.  I've actually learned a great deal about playing from teaching.  

Is teaching many students an inefficient method considered to be 'professional experience'?

I do get paid to teach, I have played on Hollywood movie soundtracks for major A-list movies that some of you might have paid to go see or watched on TV,  I appeared in performance with Sting on several occasions, I have appeared with major/mid level orchestras as a soloist, I have studied with world renowned musicians so therefore I certainly have a degree of professional experience.


August 7, 2011 at 11:00 AM ·

 And teaching the Franco-Belgian bow hold is "dangerous." You've never run into anyone in your experience who uses this way of holding the bow who can successfully play the violin.

If everyone could learn all the details bow mechanics by watching a video of Heifetz, I suppose we wouldn't need teachers. I think what's dangerous is this idea that there are right and wrong ways to learn. It's not true that the only way a person will learn to bow "the right way" (and what is that anyway?) is by watching someone of the highest professional level play. Most people need it broken way down when they are learning. If you didn't get that this is a teaching video made for a pretty obvious audience, I'm not sure how to help you.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like your teacher (Friedman) accommodated your "wrong way" of bowing. He didn't "correct" you into doing it his way, which, at the level you were at, was perfectly appropriate. Am I right that you didn't fit into a mold? And somehow you can play? So maybe this is what upsets you, that a teacher would tell a person where to put their fingers, since you don't do it any fixed way. It's annoying if a teacher tells you to change something that might be working.

But some perspective is need here. People do need a starting place, and even a correcting place, because students hit a wall where they can't do anything if their bow hand is simply a claw.

August 7, 2011 at 11:25 AM ·

There's also a thin line between a Russian bow hold and a student who is over-pronating their hand and incapable of using their pinkie. 

Consider this, any video made to show a beginner where to put their fingers is going to look like some teacher telling a person the "right " way. If you made a video showing someone how to hold the bow in the Russian way, I'm sure everyone would be equally appalled. If you made a video showing people how to "find their own way" to hold it and tell them "there is no right way" then most students would wonder why you weren't answering their question, just tell me where to put my fingers.

Developing a bow hand is a very long process, you can't just hold up any one moment in the process for such intense scrutiny, it's ridiculous.

August 7, 2011 at 03:32 PM ·

Came across this old post: Wow

From Julia Hofstetter
Posted on July 9, 2005 at 03:05 PM

I learnt first Russian and later the Galamian and then franco-belgium as well. Honestly all three of them are good, depending on the repertoire, on the accustic where you're playing, if chamber music or concerti - best is to be able to play with all of them and choose whatever is most suitable depending on the situation. [Flag?]



August 7, 2011 at 04:04 PM ·

I wonder why people get so obsessed with schools, as they do with playing with or without shoulder rest;  it makes me think that they are just not so sure of what they stand up for. It could be from watching great players that just do the opposite they say, who knows...


August 7, 2011 at 04:41 PM ·

Are we still talking about this video?  This "bow hold" doesn't look very Franco-Belgian to Beriot, Prume, and Artot would be rolling in their graves.  I'm a big fan of "whatever works" to get the sound you want but if a beginner is just learning to balance their bow I would not recommend being so high up on the bow as to actually having your index finger overlapping the silver lapping of the bow.  Because as many of us know...over time if you're not practicing correctly your hand is only going to get higher and higher on the stick and before you know it your fingers will be gripping the tip hehe.  Later on in life if your bow hold does wind up being like this I suggest a longer leather or something else to protect your bow from sweat and ickiness

That is a very nice looking bow though I feel sorry for the poor little turtle that gave his shell in the name of fashion :-| 

August 7, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

Ask an Eastern grip tennis player to play a set with the Western grip and see what happens.

Ask an accomplished natural fiddle player to follow the arguments in this thread, and see what happens.

Similar results.

August 7, 2011 at 05:28 PM ·

I like this approach:



August 7, 2011 at 05:31 PM ·

followed by this:


August 7, 2011 at 05:37 PM ·

I used to do bow exercises with my pens and pencils allllll day at school

August 7, 2011 at 05:53 PM ·


‘And teaching the Franco-Belgian bow hold is "dangerous." You've never run into anyone in your experience who uses this way of holding the bow who can successfully play the violin.’

I didn’t say that the FB hold itself is dangerous.  Maybe earlier I didn’t express myself clearly enough.  What I meant is that I see a certain sect of players and teachers subscribing to this theory that the fingers of the bow hand must be separated beyond their natural spacing and the index finger hyperextended.  Many of Mr. Gingold’s students (except for Kavakos) play in the FB mold successfully; however I don’t see them doing this stuff.  So it is more of how this method is taught and interpreted by some that I disagree with.

>‘If everyone could learn all the details bow mechanics by watching a video of Heifetz, I suppose we wouldn't need teachers. ‘

That’s why I personally sought out teachers for myself and still play for people.  Heifetz, himself, even in his 40’s and 50’s played for this man on the West Coast (an Auer student) who would give him feedback before a tour. 

I have to say I do think some of these videos of great players in action are invaluable and almost like a lesson.  Do they substitute actual instruction? Of course not.

>‘I think what's dangerous is this idea that there are right and wrong ways to learn.’

That’s very true.  I have however encountered major figures in the violin world (like the people I referenced above) that feel otherwise and that all of the ‘influential violinists’ use one approach or bow hold.

>‘Reading between the lines, it sounds like your teacher (Friedman) accommodated your "wrong way" of bowing. He didn't "correct" you into doing it his way, which, at the level you were at, was perfectly appropriate. Am I right that you didn't fit into a mold?’

To tell you the absolute truth, before I went to Erick Friedman, I hadn't paid much attention to my bow hold.  I just picked up my bow and played without thinking.  I guess I had been taught by my first teacher at MSM in the beginning to hold it this way and went to EF and he said ‘Oh you hold it in the Old-Russian way like my teacher.’  He did indeed use the FB hold, but I think he was aware of the different schools of bowing and comfortable with finding a suitable approach for each individual.


August 7, 2011 at 07:49 PM ·

 Perhaps, Nate, we are having a heated agreement.

August 7, 2011 at 09:05 PM ·

This sounds like Gulliver's travels , something about how to break an egg.

We need to be more like doctors; teach to do no harm.

I think we need to get away from the names of the holds ,and focus on the characteristics of placement.



August 7, 2011 at 10:32 PM ·

The names are utter jibberish unless you are "in the know"

August 7, 2011 at 10:54 PM ·

Or you can learn about the history of the instrument you love, including but not limited to the players of the past and the different ways they held their intruments and bows.

August 8, 2011 at 03:23 AM ·

 Hi Laurie, yes I think you're right.  Interesting photo Charles, Bill, Jon (and others in the discussion) of Ysaye I just found.  I'm not sure if it really depicts his bowhold  in action.  I've been told that the old FB grip originally had the fingertips placed on the stick together (kind of how Ysaye looks here), as it evolved over the years people began spreading out the fingers.

August 8, 2011 at 02:02 PM ·

i think i'm using the FB hold usually.first joint for 2nd and 3rd, fourth curled on stick (slightly more towards the side facing the finger), and anything from first joint to just above first joint for index. my hands are not large nor too small. i get a reasonable tone and my fingers have latitude, they dont press against each other (in pronating). 

i tried with the bow pressing against index finger  second joint or just slightly above (but really most comfortable at the second joint- considerably above would be too close to the palm for me). very little space between fingers, not so curled on stick, straighter fingers,..what, i gather, is being called the "russian" or more "correctly" the "heifetz hold". i really do get more power which, i really do sense, penetrates deeper into the violin. as stated, my hand acts more like a unit. there is less individual finger flexibility that figures in, but i think my wrist flexibility is sufficient (and anyway, i read somewhere that even galamian stated that finger motion in bow change was not necessary for a smooth change of bow). i want to experminet with it more. its quite pwerful

after doing this, i suspect this latter hold works well with hands that are smaller for a reason...with the FB, the longer and maybe even stronger palm..when rotated outwards to press the bow against the string has more of a chance to exert more weight onto the string. the hand in that case works at the end of a fulcrum. with the heifetz or russian hold, the stick is closer to the fulcrum (second knuckle or above) so there is less of an angle that the smaller hand's wrist has to bend  with ergo its more effective for smaller and naturally weaker hands. mind you' i'm just theorizing based on trying both bow holds and comparing for myself. i'm sure good players can use either depending on their education and so on.

question: could perhaps the bow hold somehow dictate the speed as well as the pressure/weight exerted onto the string? i notice that there is more power with the russian really transfers weight very effectively for me. so i dont need  to have as much speed. but the FB is less effective at transfering the weight of the that could be addressed via speed of bow (assuming contact point is the same of course). also, could this reasoning transfer to the kind of instrument being violin reacts more to speed another more to pressure..

August 8, 2011 at 02:26 PM ·

This is a fascinating thread. It has prompted me to look around for pics of bow holds and now my mind is spinning. Just google violin bow hold or bow hold. Yesterday I found one site with a page of pics of many great players (but didn't save it, darn!) and it was a great illustration of how different they each were, how the angle of the picture and  where the bow is in relation to the instrument makes all the difference in how the hand looks and, IMO, how little one can actually learn from simply looking at a still picture. Too bad there aren't videos of the greats taken with that camera technique (like in the Matrix movies) where one get the slow motion 360 degree shot, but instead of circling the player, the camera would circle the bow hand:)

August 8, 2011 at 06:24 PM ·

Here is a nice video from Itzhak Perlman in which he describes his franco-belgian bow grip.

August 8, 2011 at 07:52 PM ·

am i right in thinking that hilary hahn's hold  is in between the two, though the basic paradigm is that of the russian hold?

freeze it at 1:42

hand naturally, and at all times,  pronated towards the index finger akin to heifetz and milstein's. very unlike the orthogonal placement of fingers shown in the perlman clip posted by marc

index finger almost wrapping around stick....but i think its only momentarily. but it does show the power of the index finger over the stick.

thumb usually straight

 however, the bow is not as deepset within the hand as in the proto russian...there is the gist of the FB in the gap maintained between bow and upper outer side of the index finger

 the fingers adhere much more to the stick than do oistrakh's for instance. oistrakh releases the little finger as he places the index and vice versa..all in a very free, controlled and nimble way of couse

her small finger is curved sometimes...but it does straighted out at other times

is this what is called the galamian bow hold? russian with some FB effervescence? 

August 9, 2011 at 12:01 AM ·

 Hilary doesn't come from the Galamian school of playing.  Her mentor and main influence was Jascha Brodsky a fantastic teacher who studied with both Zimbalist (Auer student) and Ysaye.  She plays in tune, vibrates with center of pitch, plays legato when it is marked legato (not portato - which is rare these days).  Aside from the shoulder rest, I agree with just about everything she does on the violin.    I would say her bow technique is a fusion between the Belgian and Russian styles. 

August 9, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

My teacher, a grand-student of Ysaye, holds the bow much as the picture of Ysaye. He will not teach a student at the outset that bow hold. He thinks that immature players will reflexively spread the fingers and press. When I came to him he first had me hold the bow in a Russian grip. After a time I wanted to move to his grip. It was quite difficult at first as the muscle in the palm below the thumb needs to be quite limber but I quite prefer this. Neither he nor I spread our fingers. He has a singularly beautiful tone. Mine is better than it was. 

August 9, 2011 at 05:20 PM ·

grimiaux's index is really advanced ..and it obviously worked for him

August 9, 2011 at 05:20 PM ·

post repeated, sowwy

August 9, 2011 at 07:52 PM ·

I am still not convinced that the differences between the so called Russian and Franco-Belgian bow holds and the variations thereof are the main issue in tone production or  that one over the other is decidedly less prone to causing injury or pain.  If you observe your right hand hanging down by your side, most likely you will see small unforced gaps between your fingers and the fingers themselves will appear somewhat curved and certainly not stretched straight or far apart from each other. It is also likely that your thumb will appear opposite your pointing finger and not opposite your middle finger. When you take this natural hanging position and lift it up into the air, you need only move the thumb over a bit to form a circle with the middle finger. There is debate about whether it should be forming that circle between the middle and ring finger or just opposite the ring finger but this circular idea is common to all commonly taught bow holds as far as I know. The degree of leaning the hand toward the bow ( and with it, how much the forearm pronates)  and how much spread is used between the fingers is different but these things should not effect the basic concept of relaxed arm weight, supported by the muscles of the shoulder blade which radiate out from the spine, which involves a release of weight into the hand into the fingers onto the bow onto the string. As long as this relaxed weight is present and one does not grip tightly with the fingers but allows them to receive weight it should be possible to play quite well with any number of variations in the tilt and spread of the fingers. No bow hold that I have seen looks exactly as a person's hand at rest looks so the various schools of bowing have made adjustments to the natural shape of the hand hanging down by one's side, some more so than others.

What does give me pause for thought is why there was a change from the bow hold one observes in the old Russian masters such as Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, etc. compared to the next generation after that of Oistrakh, Kogan, etc. Why did this change occur? Is it the result of influence from the Franco-Belgian bow hold? 

I have heard the following explanations given:

The old Russian bow hold went hand-in-hand with a tendency to use more bow speed than heavy weight, producing  a sound of great intensity and, together with an impulse vibrato, a sound of myriad tonal colors and variety but not the largest or thickest, projecting sound.

 The Franco-Belgian bow hold was an attempt to keep the power and intensity but with the use of a slower bow speed and often heavier arm weight for a thicker, more concentrated sound with greater flexibility at the frog. Some people have said that the gain in volume and thickness was at the cost of some tonal variety and color, yet for purposes of projecting in a large concert hall, this thicker sound became very common, especially in the late 50's, sixties and beyond.

 I have often heard the debate over these "bow holds" framed in these terms. I do not state this as truth, just as how it has been discussed or explained to me.

  What do you think?



August 9, 2011 at 11:48 PM ·

Wow - coming so late to this interesting discussion, it's hard to know where to begin, plus I'm kind of busy, preparing for a recital that I accepted on not much notice for 8/17. So just a few points.

Holding and using the bow has long been a controversial subject with many details, such as, finger placement, finger distance, 1st finger remaining wrapped on the stick or coming off and how much, thumb bent or straight, hand choked up or down, contact or not with end of frog, use of wrist and fingers, bow at 90 degrees with hair flat or tilted and how much, bow drawn straight or rounded near the tip or figure 8, linear or circular technique, etc. etc.

Eventually, if the thread hasn't finished when I have more time, I'd like to comment on some differing approaches of some of my teachers and various major players. For now I'll note that my own approach is somewhat different from any one of my teachers, while somewhat beholden to all of them. It is my own synthesis of aspects of the Russian, Franco-Belgian and Dounis approaches. If anybody would like details, please visti my website - . Go to "writings" then "fundamentals", then "the bow". If anyone would like to see it in action please visit my youtube performance at

August 10, 2011 at 12:51 AM ·

[Edited the post below]

I do know, however, that my tone improved tremendously after my teacher - the one exposed to the Galamian and Ysaye "schools" - corrected my bow hold. The way I look at it, though, was that all I had to do was to drop my fingers, raise my arm to be in the same plane (Math required) as the string being played unless one was playing Bach-style string crossings, and play.

August 10, 2011 at 01:38 AM ·

Beautiful performance there Raphael...may I ask the violin/bow combo?

August 10, 2011 at 01:43 AM ·




August 10, 2011 at 01:48 AM ·

Beautiful Raphael, I love postings of v.commers playing, thanks!

August 10, 2011 at 09:44 AM ·

Thanks Jon and Rebecca! That performance goes back about 6 years or so. Both the violin and bow in the video are Chinese! The violin is a beautiful and very close copy of the "Hellier" Strad. I've since acquired several more violins and bows, with 2 more on order from Ed Maday and Vittorio Villa, respectively, and 4 are now for sale. My current favorite combo is my 2010 V. Villa violin (that I call "Michelangelo") custom made for me, and an EA Ouchard bow (that I sometimes call "Excalibur") sold to me by a certain JF, who just posted here!

August 10, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

lol @ "Excalibur" love it!

August 12, 2011 at 04:10 AM ·

This discussion has gotten me looking in the mirror, wondering what on earth I have been doing during nearly 40 years in professional jobs. By the time I get it figured, the thread will have reached 100 and be archived. Shucks.

August 12, 2011 at 05:29 AM ·

David, me too! I am actually trying out other holds , trying different things. Turned out to be a great thread for sure.


August 12, 2011 at 10:07 AM ·

In the end it comes down to this: bowing but not scraping! ;-D

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