Disadvantages of Russian bow grip?

January 20, 2013 at 01:52 AM · Hello everyone,

I have been learning and using the Franco-Belgian bow grip to this point and found it to feel very relaxed and "healthy". However, I am left-handed, and have always struggled to get my right hand on the same technical level as my left hand. Especially when it comes down to rhythm and string changes, no matter on which instrument, really.

After mimicking the Russian bow grip a few times for just trying it out, I have noticed that it gives me way more steadiness and control over the bow, since you hold on to it much more tightly and it feels like it "becomes one" a little more with my hand and arm.

Now I am wondering: What would be the disadvantages of using this bow grip? Are there higher risks of carpal tunnel damage, or other wrist pain? Would anyone advise against using this grip? What do the Russian bow grip users among you would say?

Thanks,

Christian

Replies (39)

January 20, 2013 at 02:21 AM · To start with, if you're holding the bow much more tightly (or tightly at all), you're doing it wrong. Your questions also suggest that you're feeling tension in your wrist with this grip and are worried about the consequences; that tension also suggests you're doing something wrong.

A Russian grip usually comes with a higher right arm, by the way, so if you want to play that way, you'll probably find yourself changing more than just the grip itself.

Bow holds are an individual thing. What works great for one person might not be great for another. I find a Russian grip to be much more comfortable for my particular physique, but your mileage will vary.

January 20, 2013 at 03:38 AM · I'm not saying that I'm holding it tight, but there's plainly "more" of the hand holding the bow, and the hand is more tightly wrapped around the bow with the Russian bow grip.

I know that holding the bow tightly is wrong and it has to be relaxed.

The questions still remains the same: Does this bow grip, if executed right, naturally entail more of a "pain risk" in the long run, or not?

January 20, 2013 at 04:26 AM · Coincidently, this amazing guy is left-handed, and is holding the bow more towards the russian way (name doesn't really matter though). I think he would share the same thoughts with OP.

January 20, 2013 at 05:03 AM · the only bow hold that should matter to you is the "Christian Linke" bow hold...find it and use it! Your fingers should fall in a natural way if you hold up the top of your right hand and relax it. Your arm and wrist should follow their natural track as you push and pull in a relaxed fashion while keeping the bow parallel to the bridge. Everything should be relaxed and easy with complete control. That's the best bow hold for you.

January 20, 2013 at 06:04 AM · No, the russian bow hold grip does not give you increased risk of carpal tunnel or any pain/injury.

I use this hold and my grip on the bow is extremely relaxed, I have been told so by a few teachers. There is no force in holding the bow.

You have to decide whether you are happy with this hold or another, I am very happy with it and very happy I've made the change 2 years ago.

January 20, 2013 at 05:57 PM · Hi John,

Quickly: Calvin Sieb taught this technique in later years for certain types of chord-playing, but he did not teach that as a general rule of playing. He himself had a very traditional Franco-belgian bow hold.

Cheers!

January 20, 2013 at 09:29 PM · from what i have seen, it seems that for students who are double jointed, or for students who curve their pinky only at the first rather than at the first and second joint, the russian bow hold is easier to pull off that the franco belgian bow hold. Because they don't have to curve the pinky.

January 20, 2013 at 11:54 PM · I try to teach my students the usual franco-belgian style, but I notice, that for some students it comes very natural, for others its nearly impossible to round out the thumb and the pinky. And it seems to me, that lefties are very common with this problems. But to generalise one had to generalise lefties to, wich isnt realistic, because most are bilateral active to a always different degree.

I decided not to teach the russian hold, because I think its easier. When students can play the franco belgian, they can swich easier to russian bow hold than the other way around. Also the high wrist (not arm necessarily) is a symptome of the russian style bow hold along with the fact, that its more difficult to bow at the tip straight, especially if the arms are too short. This of course could possibly be a danger for the wrist and definietely isn't very comfortable.

Generally I think, that the russian style bow hold is more for people with longer arms, I tried several times to copie some of Kavakos' bowing habits with the feeling of playing in an telephone cell and I must say it always gave me a positive feeling. But I am 186 cm and have very long arms too. So I am much above the average violinist... in height.

Because beginners have short arms and are small I would recommend to teach the franco belgian style. If a student feels uncomfortable with it, he will anyways have the pinky straight without noticing it. More important than the bowhold is to me the ability to bow straight and relaxed, whatever serves this is justified.

January 21, 2013 at 12:50 AM · I don't think there are any disadvantages. I like the Russian bow hold for its stability and articulation.

I'm left handed as well but I don't think that really affects anything.

January 21, 2013 at 06:12 PM · I switched to the Russian bow hold years ago and its one of the best things I ever did. Even while I was learning/improving it, I could easily do bowings that were very difficult for me with the F-B hold. It is not a "tight hold". The thumb and middle finger squeeze a bit, but everything else is loose and relaxed. You will need to build strength in the pinky/4th finger - do some wind shield wiper exercises every day for a few months - then you have stability, control, and a relaxed hand. The thumb should curl in toward the palm. When you do that the thumb becomes a lever to use for control and/or power. I found it complex. I strongly suggest having a teacher help you learn the nuances of the hold, e.g., the choices you have for finger movement, the turnaround, etc. It may take you 6 to 12 months to get all the nuances working together well.

January 21, 2013 at 10:27 PM · I think all this classification is not very serious since every hand is different and most violinists, unlike kavakos maybe, play some kind of a mixture also depending on the required technique.

January 22, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Nothing wrong with the Russian bow hold itself. It has proven to work. I use it. Some people who teach, are just not too familiar with it, so they advise against using it. Nothing wrong with the Franco Belgian hold either. I would personally never recommend changing an advanced violinist's bow hold after the age of 19-20. It's kind of like a brass embouchure, you don't want to mess around with it too much after a certain point.

What you do with the bow to make it sound a certain way is what is important.

January 23, 2013 at 01:40 AM · A few months back my teacher told me that the Russian Bow Hold has a disadvantage in that it is more of a challenge to play at the frog. That's all I know about it. When I started lessons again I guess that was my hold, but they quickly changed it to the Galamian hold. This has helped me tremendously in progressing.

Really though I think it is up to the individual. I like seeing variety of styles. Makes the instrument even more intriguing.

January 23, 2013 at 07:04 PM · John Cadd,

From a variety of sources, you have described the Russian hold well. Let me describe it as I learned it several years ago, as an adult learner.

Five characteristics stand out. 1. The thumb curves toward the palm of the hand and touches where the frog and stick join. The touch spot is the tip of the thumb, but toward the inside - about at 2 o'clock on the thumb tip. It should catch the bow at the leather or some similar "bump" to provide a point of leverage and control. 2. The bow is held with a squeeze between the thumb and the middle finger. The third/ring finger helps a bit, but you should be able to lift the 3rd finger off the frog at any time. Its role is as a guide. 3. At full arm extension, the index finger touches the bow stick at the 3rd section back from the finger tip. However, the hold is loose and this touch point on the index finger can change as the performer needs to create expression. The touch point can move all the way to the 2d/middle joint of the index finger to aid expression and control - and then move back. This is often helpful when playing a lot at the frog. 4. The pinky/fourth finger goes on top of the stick. Strength has to be developed in that finger as it is the counter balance to the index finger. Hence, the bow can be "rocked" with the middle finger and thumb as the pivot point and the index and 4th fingers doing the applying force. This allows fine control of pressure for expressions. 5. All the wrist, hand and finger joints are loose, and flex in a relaxed way during a stroke. Various exercises are done to learn to flex each set of joints separately. Again, this loose flexing allows fine control of expression. For me, the turnaround was tricky to learn because it adds the rotation of the forearm to all the above joints that are in motion.

For some violinists, this may be too much muscle complexity. For me and others, it has opened up much improved control of nuanced expression, and made difficult bow technique, like flying up-bow staccato, very easy to do. For me, one great advantage of the Russian hold is the curved thumb, a large well controlled muscle, is like a spring that can go in either direction to create expressions.

When James Holmes says his teacher described the Russian hold as "more challenging", that teacher was really saying (or didn't say) the 4th finger has to develop a lot of strength. Once strengthened, the Russian hold is easy, fluid, relaxed and controlled via many nuanced motions.

January 24, 2013 at 10:39 AM · Hi,

John: in the Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch, there is an excellent description of the various bow grips with annexed photos, if that interests you. Interestingly, it was Flesch who termed the bow hold used by Heifetz, Elman and the top Auer students as the Russian hold.

In the last post you wrote: "Normally the change of direction and string changing are the main jobs for fingers." Actually, that is the job of the arm, the flexible fingers follow. Because the bow "catches" the string, the fingers change direction, but if you lead with the fingers, you will get a bump in the bow change. Milstein was quite openly dead-set against this and explained in an interview once that what you said was a misconception of what the top players of his time did.

"Giving a little kick to emphasise a note is another one." Sometimes yes, though one has to be careful not to make a habit of it. Again, it is more speed from the arm as on sensitive violins, like Strads, this can give a scratch.

Cheers!

January 24, 2013 at 12:31 PM · i dont know whether its me -certainly not advanced player- but i think the russian bow hold gives a clearer indication of how the arm should be, altogether. effort seems to be more parallel to the bow and the wrist position seems to follow. but with the franco belgian, i think one must be more conscious of a relaxed non-raised arm (so, a paradox there) and low wrist as well because its easier to get the swan neck hand figure there. the role of the fingers also is more discrete because they seem to have less dependence and a more seemingly active role...but then, this is counterbalanced by the role of the wrist?

question: does the frog design also dcitate which of the hoolds is more optimum?

January 24, 2013 at 01:26 PM · Hi,

Tammuz, it really depends. One of the problems with the current understanding of the FB hold is an over-spreading of the fingers, instead of the contact point on the index which is between the first and second joint on the muscle. Traditionally, the fingers are not overspread (especially not the index); that is more of the Galamian school's impact on the hold.

Cheers!

January 24, 2013 at 06:09 PM · John Cadd,

Perlman's performance is a great example of the Russian hold in action. The times below are approximate, but if you follow the performance with these, you'll get the ideas.

1st 30 seconds: rocking motion - index vs. pinky pivot over the thumb

~1 min - 2 min: stacattos with fingers and wrist

~4:40: lots of muscles working simultaneously to get force/volume and speed at the same time

5:40: strong pinky in action

7:20: strong pinky in action

7:30: very loose, relaxed hand muscles

8:30: very loose, relaxed hand muscles and many muscles working simultaneously to get force and speed in the sound.

IMO, Perlman plays with the pinky off the stick a lot because he puts pressure via the index finger on the stick. He is known for "playing to the back of the hall" He uses the pinky when he has to. Note that his hand is relaxed and fluid at all times in the performance. Only the index finger is pushing hard, on occasion. His index finger touches the stick at several joints - 2d, 3d and in between, which is the flexible aspect of the Russian hold. That's how he gets results in his expressions.

Perlman performs Tchaikovsky

I see that the "definition debate" phase has entered this discussion, i.e. what is really Russian. I won't participate in that. I will only say my teacher's teacher was David Oistrakh, and I was taught his bowing technique.

January 24, 2013 at 06:15 PM · Can you give a link to the Perlman performance, please?

January 25, 2013 at 02:23 AM · Perlman's hold is the archetypal "Galamian" variant of the Franco-Belgian hold - he has a nice video on Youtube where he specifically discusses his bow grip (where you get a nice view of his gold-mounted Howard Green bow). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r0WW-KN6VM

Here is a photograph of Eugene Ysaye, with his definitive version of the Franco-Belgian hold; apparently he never used his pinky in his bowing technique. http://www0.artflakes.com/artwork/products/267220/poster/55ecaca71054de11ac53c001c9452f3d.jpg?1301120288

January 25, 2013 at 03:09 AM · I don't know if this would be a factor that you would consider, I'm not sure how many American teachers teach a Russian hold. Which means it may be difficult for a teacher to help you with issues related to a Russian hold. The arm motions are very different. I'm not saying don't change your bow hand, but be aware that it might mean years of working things out by yourself or arguing with teachers who want you to change your bow hand.

BTW, if you have tension/flexibility issues, they will follow you with the russian hold- the tension will probably just move higher up your arm.

January 25, 2013 at 08:19 AM · Thank you all for the great responses.

Basically, I consider myself "strongly" left-handed. Even with other instruments, playing them for over a decade, there is always a certain instability in finesse and rhythm in my right hand, and in the past, it actually happened sometimes naturally to me that I would move my fingers further over the bow, so that it would touch my fingers closer to the first joint. It felt like I had more control, but I then always tried to correct it to get back to the "standard" that I had learned, which is the Franco-Belgian one.

This is just a direction to explore for me, to maybe get some more stability into my right hand.

January 26, 2013 at 12:31 AM · John, the contact point is closer to the index finger knuckle, which causes the arm to be more pronated. The elbow goes higher. It changes the stroke. Some things are actually easier. I never got a slurred staccato with my bow hold, but if I switch to a Russian, I can do it. There's no rule that says you have to have the exact same bow hold for every stroke, Is there?

January 26, 2013 at 01:41 AM · Use with caution. I don't switch grips often. Occasionally, I can't do something with my regular grip. Occasionally. Note to new players, I'm not advocating. It's important to get a solid bow hand before you start monkeying around with variations.

January 26, 2013 at 09:57 AM · I do find the Russian bow hold gives me slightly less control and delicacy - but that may be because I'm not used to it. For the first few seconds of trying it my sound was a lot different, but it settled after a couple of minutes. At the moment at this early stage of trying it I find I get a better sound with the FB hold.

January 26, 2013 at 01:34 PM · Hi,

Darrett, there is a cast iron of Ysaÿe's left hand on the fingerboard that shows that he had an incredibly (almost abnormally) short fourth finger for his hand which may explain why his pinky was not or rarely on the bow; it may not have been able to reach that easily.

Cheers!

January 26, 2013 at 01:47 PM · Perlman's russian bow hold got me puzzled. In a video, Perlman himself said he had russian bow hold and changed to Galamian's bow hold when he studied under him.

January 27, 2013 at 01:43 PM · Hi,

John: Grumiaux was not taught by Ysaÿe (he entered the Brussels Conservatory after Ysaÿe had retired), but studied with Ysaÿe's pupil Alfred Dubois. Grumiaux had two basic bow holds, both variations on the FB. For fast articulated passages, he often kept the index close to the other fingers for relaxation and flexibility, and he did extend the index away from the other fingers in lyrical passages for more breadth of sound. This concept is actually discussed also in the Principles of Violin Playing by Galamian.

Cheers!

January 27, 2013 at 10:34 PM · I repeat some material I wrote in ther past that's hopefully relevant. First from 2011:

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 - http://rkviolin.com . Go to "writings" then "fundamentals", then "the bow". If anyone would like to see it in action please visit my youtube performance at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ul2QUc5Gqc

And:

Posted on February 6, 2008 at 01:45 PM

How did I miss this thread? Anyway, a lot of very good ideas have already been presented. Rather than go into uneccessary detail about exactly where I agree here or disagree there, I'll just present a few thoughts from my angle.

Obviously, Heifetz, Elman, Milstein, Seidel, etc., etc., all knew what they were doing. Auer had loads of less stellar, but still highly competent pupils who carried on his approach to about a gazillian students. I was one. My first two teachers, Harry Fratkin and Vladimir Graffman, had both been Auer pupils. On top of that, Carl Flesch, no minor influence, also advocated the "Russian" method of holding the bow. In the pyramidal scheme of things, the violin playing world ought to be just inundated with close variations on the Auer approach to holding the bow. Yet it isn't. In just one generation or so, with exceptions to be sure, it all but died out. What happened?

What happened, I feel, is that in the competing marketplace of ideas, and with the world shrinking, and more and more cross-fertilization taking place, more of an international approach emerged - one much closer to the Franco-Belgian approach than to the Russian. For many, it seems, the Franco-Belgians had built a better mouse trap. Some, like Gingold, were more influenced by the great Belgian master, Ysaye. Others, like Galamian, by the French pedagogue, Capet. I, myself, consciously came to respectfully repudiate the Russian approach as too awkward for the lower half of the bow, and too slanted, generally. It also lent itself to a wrist position that was too high. And yet, not everyone was entirely happy with the Franco-Belgian, either. Many developed their own synthesis. One of my grandmaster teachers, Aaron Rosand, did this in his own way. In his latest video he talks about it and demonstrates. I felt a need to evolve my own synthesis. Influenced to some extent by Dounis, I came to dislike the Franco-Belgian tendency to have the wrist sink down at the point. "How do you manage so well at the frog?" asked Efrem Zimbalist, the noted Auer alumnus, of his gifted pupil, John Dalley. "I don't know", he replied, "how do you manage so well at the tip?" This exchange succinctly and significantly epitomized for me the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. I resolved to combine what I felt to be the best of both, equalizing and balancing the stroke from one end of the bow to the other with a pivoting technique based on the Dounis "paintbrush stroke". Exactly how I do it is described in my website, in my "fundamentals of the bow" section. http://rkviolin.com

One thing I'll mention here is that unlike this or that classic approach, which is partially recognized by where the 1st finger is set, there IS no "set" in my approach - except when beginning a down bow, especially at the frog. But nothing remains static. The hand and fingers change angles - especially in the down-bow - subtly and fluidly, as the bow makes its way from end to end.

BTW, words aren't deeds, but can sometimes influence them. I highly recommend coming away from the word "grip" in regard to holding the bow. An average violin bow weighs about 60 grams or about 2 oz. And it basically rests on the string as we move it. If we need to grip it - with ANY style of bowing - there's something wrong.

PS I'm also a "lefty" and don't see why this should make any difference. On the violin as with most instruments, we have to become quite ambidextrous, wherever we started from.

January 28, 2013 at 07:04 AM · Raphael

I too was worried about calling it a "grip." The bow should be so lightly balanced in the hand that it can easily be dislodged and fall to the ground.

Too many words like "held" and "gripped" are used by people to describe playing the instrument.

January 28, 2013 at 01:40 PM · These days, by virtue of busyness, and disinclination, I will not be posting often, so I will try to clarify a few points and probably disappear again for a while.

There's no fear of words here at all. Any suggestion I make to use or not use certain words does not come from any sort of “politically correct” direction. But as I said, while words are not deeds, they can sometimes influence them. Many players struggle with issues of tension and stiffness – and then we're calling the bow hold a grip! Why not call it the “bow strangle-hold” if it matters not at all what we say?

I'd kind of assumed – probably incorrectly – that almost everyone knew what is meant by the Russian and Franco-Belgian approaches to holding the bow. The following are some typical characteristics of each, without being exhaustive, and keeping in mind that each player may have a somewhat different individual take on this or that general approach.

In the Franco-Belgian approach the 1st finger generally contacts the stick between the 1st and 2nd joints. The 2nd finger and thumb are pretty opposite one another and form a ring, and the emphasis of the balance comes from there. The fingers are pretty much at a right angle to the stick throughout the down bow, and the thumb is and tends to remain pretty curved. If the 4th finger is long enough, it usually stays on the stick.

The Auer approach came to be called the “Russian” approach, even though not every Russian used it by any means. The 1st finger contacts the stick at the 2nd joint and even in the down-bow, the fingers are at a slanted angle to the stick. The emphasis of the balance comes from the 1st finger.

Hope this helps!

February 22, 2013 at 12:05 PM · Just to revive this thread a bit. I've changed to the Russian hold, without all the complications that John in particular has aluded to.

I've simple moved the bow from the FB hold where the first finger is on the stick between the first and second joint to the bit between the knuckle and the joint.

I've found now that this produces a bigger and better sound, and I find things easier to play. I'm admiring the bowing of Mr Milstein very much and sort of got inspired by him. (I do know that one of his excellent pupils had a FB hold and he didn't seem to mind ... unless he changed back after he left him).

February 22, 2013 at 11:20 PM · Interesting to hear about your switch Peter. I have been using the Russian grip for as long as I can remember. Over the years I think I've moved my fingers closer together, which makes things easier for me. It's comfortable and simple for me to use this hold, and I feel I can get good leverage at the tip especially. Have you noticed any differences in power in the upper half of the bow, comparing the two holds?

Christian also brought up a good point I think earlier about spreading the fingers on the bow, being more of a Galamian thing than something that was from FB school of playing. If you go back to the 18th century, and read Leopold Mozart's excellent book on violin playing, there's a few diagrams in it showing the 'correct' bow hold and another showing the 'error.' The 'correct' way according to Mozart, shows the fingers on the bow all held pretty close together working together as a unit. The 'error' diagram shows the fingers spread out (much like you see many of today's players do).

February 22, 2013 at 11:43 PM · Nate - yes, I'm finding a lot more power all over the bow, even to the extent that I have to back off more. I get more hair on the string too with this new hold, even though I used a fairly flat bow before. I have long arms so this Russian hold helps a lot.

February 23, 2013 at 12:14 AM · Flesch was convinced the Russian hold would be the only one taught by now. It didn't do Heifetz any harm. What happened?

February 23, 2013 at 08:14 AM · Well, players like David Oistrakh and for example my teacher, Frederick Grinke (who was a Flesch pupil) all seemed to gravitate towards the FB hold in the 1960's - along of course with players like Grumiaux. So it became fashionable and the norm, and only a few Russians and others used the Russian bow hold. Also, it was not a topic for much discussion in those days and I'm not sure how many people were aware of the two styles and schools of bowing then.

But have things changed much in this respect? I happened to be entertaining one of my wife's piano students yesterday whilst she waited for her lesson. She's about 18 years old and is about to go to the Trinity School of Music, full time, to study violin. And no, she had never heard of the Russian bow hold! Probably not heard of the FB hold either - but I had no chance to continue the conversation.

So on an enlightened forum like this it is discussed at some length - but in real life probably not. I will ask some of my orchestral playing friends about their knowledge of the two bow holds, and I know one does have opinions, but I bet others don't.

February 26, 2013 at 04:36 PM · for what it's worth, when i just switched to the russian hold (right-hand index finger in the driver's seat with the wooden shaft of the bow resting on the pad between the 1st and 2nd joints of the finger, closest to the knuckle) my control of the bow improved a lot.

February 26, 2013 at 05:22 PM · That's great, and I don't want to pour cold water on your new bow hold, everyone is different, but I've sort of moved back to the FB hold. (Although sometimes I'm finding I'm using both - switching between unconsciously).

Tonight I'm playing chamber music, so it will be interesting, and I might swap between both holds.

February 26, 2013 at 07:23 PM · I had various teachers who each of them use either grip, so everyone of them tried to convince me to use what he/she was doing. I am using a combination of both, whatever feels more appropriate for each ocasion.

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