Hand Position for Russian Bow Hold?

July 12, 2014 at 03:24 AM · Taught myself the Russian grip, but trying to work out the details. I drop my wrist for the whole bow stroke so that I start at the winding with a completely dropped wrist, with my whole hand above the bow. Is this correct? Thank you!

Replies (38)

July 12, 2014 at 08:20 AM · Not necessarily. You need to be shown the bow hold properly by someone who knows how it should work. If you curve the wrist too much it will be bad. With the Russian bow hold you need to use flatter hairs as well, which might correct the wrist position. Basically you should have a fairly flat wrist.

But get an expert to show you, even if this costs a lot. Bad use of the bow arm ruins your sound amongst other things.

July 12, 2014 at 08:51 AM · this one John ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de5RbZPjBlE

thanks had a good look :)

July 12, 2014 at 09:00 AM · That does NOT appear to me to be the Russian bow hold he's using. Looks more like Franco-Belgium.

Very confusing to try and find out how to change bowing technique on a forum. You need a PROFESSIONAL teacher.

July 12, 2014 at 02:08 PM · That video shows a franco-belgian hold. I use completely flat hair, and my wrist has a slight curve towards the ground.

July 12, 2014 at 03:34 PM · Yes, you are correct. I don't know what John C meant by reffering to that video. It's a Franko-Belgium bow hold , and in my opinion he has too floopy a wrist movement leading to some problems. He on the other hand had a bit of a tense left hand. Too relaxed in the bow arm and too tense in the left hand. Apart from that his playing was OK.

It is good to use flat hair, and many top players do just that. This results in a bigger sound in my opinion.

July 13, 2014 at 03:56 AM · I am not sure I completely follow your description.

Let's call the knuckle where finger attaches to the hand the "base" knuckle. The knuckle that comes after that as you move towards the tip the "middle" knuckle, and the one closest to the tip of your finger the "end" knuckle.

A Russian hold has the bow crossing around the middle knuckle. Extreme versions of it can be somewhere between the middle and base knuckles. Also, part of the finger between the middle and end knuckles may also be in contact with the bow depending on what you are trying to do.

When starting at the winding, your wrist will be above the level of your base knuckles. In other words, you are holding the bow with your fingers and bow drooping down.

As you pull the bow in a down stroke while keeping the sounding point fixed, your hand will naturally rise up so the wrist droops below the level of the base knuckles.

You do not have to consciously lower your wrist. If you focus on the sounding point (where the hairs touch the string) you should find your wrist lowering quite naturally.

Flat strings or on edge is easily controlled by slightly rolling the bow between your thumb and middle finger.

Look on youtube for videos of Heifitz to see the bowing motion when the bow is near the middle knuckle.

July 13, 2014 at 07:40 AM · "Double entendre bowing"

You only get that if you go to the brewery before the concert and consume 16 pints of best bitter.

Some good descriptions of Russian bow hold in the last couple of posts.

July 13, 2014 at 09:34 AM · With both bow holds the wrist should be fairly flat, in my opinion.

July 13, 2014 at 11:39 AM · One problem for violin enthusiasts in search of "knowledge" is that photos in fiddle-books can depict players with unusual physical make-ups.

Though I worked as a professional player, I have always been uncertain as to what my bow-hold was. I never suffered a Conservatiore musical educatiopn, see !

It seems from looking in the mirror that I am of the Branco-Felgian School.

July 13, 2014 at 02:46 PM · Thank you for the responses. I start my down bow with the knuckles slightly below the wrist, and end at the tip with my knuckles above the bow. It looks like the bow stroke that Heifetz and Nate Robinson use, so I'm pretty sure something is working right. :)

July 13, 2014 at 02:46 PM · Sorry, double post!

July 13, 2014 at 04:42 PM · You should be OK then as Nate was Heifetz's teacher!

July 13, 2014 at 04:44 PM · "I start my down bow with the knuckles slightly below the wrist, and end at the tip with my knuckles above the bow."

Fine. If the thumb is not too bent and is opposite the second finger all should be OK. Sometimes it seems to help to move the first finger up the stick somewhat. That seems to help make the whole arm work as a unit, facilitating "bowing from the shoulder" .

I've heard it reported that a once-fashionable high elbow was a reaction to playing upon all-metal strings. Most non-gut-core strings nowadays have a synthetic center that's more forgiving.

July 13, 2014 at 08:14 PM · John Cadd asks what the Russian hold is.

A google search came up with "Images for russian school violin bow hold" revealing a confusing array !

http://www.google.com/search?q=russian+school+violin+bow+hold&lr=&client=safari&hl=en&rls=en&site=webhp&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=W-TCU8WKFab07AbrtIHoDw&ved=0CDYQsAQ&biw=1343&bih=953

Heifetz, Oistrach, Leopold Auer (I think that's him) have Russian grips, bow held in the second joint counting from the tip of the first finder. Some display a WIDER spread of the fingers than others. Ysaye and Zuckerman don't seem to be adopting particularly Russian holds - Ysaye was after all Franco-Belgian. Maybe Zuckerman is more of a Galamian man.

As to a dropped wrist at the heel, that depends on just how far to the left the neck of the fiddle points of the straight-ahead position and the length of the player's arm, I think. If the violin is straight ahead, the elbow needs to be way up before the wrist can be flat or dropped.

As I understand it, a more "Russian" grip gives a firmness to the hold facilitating a bolder and grittier sound, whilst making it harder to effect smoother bow-changes at the heel. But there are other links between brain and horsehair to worry about !

July 13, 2014 at 08:19 PM · I think Oistrakh had a Franko-Belgium bow hold?

July 13, 2014 at 11:33 PM · I have a self-taught, fairly moderate Russian style hold, mainly based on the description by Carl Flesch, who promoted this hold in "The Art of Violin Playing". The relevant passage is available for free on Google Books.

I've learned on this forum that bow hold is very individual and depends on factors such as the relative length of your upper arm and forearm. But for me my wrist is in a flat, neutral position at around the balance point, and obviously a little above the knuckles at the heel and below at the tip. I always try to keep everything as simple as possible and avoid exaggerated movements like the "swan neck" some players affect at the heel.

I use Nathan Milstein as my model, as he has a similar physique and achieved remarkable simplicity with his bow arm:

http://youtu.be/9EGDCjkY_zY?t=11m

July 14, 2014 at 12:19 AM · Peter, LOL!

July 14, 2014 at 01:45 PM · Look up Leonidas Kavakos on YouTube

July 14, 2014 at 04:01 PM · If you will be experimenting with the bowing that presumably you are getting from Leopold Auer, keep in mind that just holding the bow to make it look like them and then using intuition to figure out how it might work may not give satisfactory results and you may not even sound any different.

In this bowing and tone production, all of the tone comes from the wrist. From the wrist, the index finger and thumb are the only fingers that make active contact (or transfer force) to the bow stick. The other fingers just rest in place. When you want to manipulate the tone, it comes from the wrist exclusively, not from the fingers. That is to say the conscious effort is that you are tilting your wrist into the strings, the index finger and thumb are passive.

The contact point is what determines what your bow arm will do. The "spun tone" is the building block of the tone production, and Auer describes his way of practicing the exercise in book 7 of his teaching books.

There are other ways different people do it, his was to hold the bow on its extreme edge so that only 1 hair is touching the string. From there draw the bow for 8 seconds, without absolutely any shaking or jittering or unevenness of the tone at all. The tone will sound like a sustained breath, but needs to be even as described. Once the tip of the bow is reached it is to be held there for 8 seconds without absolutely any shaking as before. After that passage on all 4 strings, the same is repeated but with 16 second bows and pauses. After that warm up comes whatever long-bow melodies you want to try. Auer said not to practice it for more than 15 or 20 minutes at one time. It requires an immense amount of concentration to do it perfectly but as it is practiced your bow arm muscles are forced to learn how to behave and how your fingers should work and be positioned.

The result is a very different sound that is very sweet and rubbery. It can be heard rather well on the Heifetz Final Recital CD. There are blog posts on this site about people's perplexing experiences with the spun tones. The method of tone production becomes different. The need to 'press' more at the tip of the bow becomes non-existant, and to play near the bridge is rewarding. The tone carries very well, and the bow hairs feel like they are glued to the strings automatically. You may get better results with two plain gut middle strings instead of synthetics. Articulation of faster notes becomes clearer in this bowing with those strings.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that tilting the bow is going to get in the way of this tone production and is pointless except in orchestral playing, where the discussion of "contact point" "bow speed" and "bow weight" is much more relevant. Projection does not equal loudness, but you sure do not want to be standing out in a section.

July 14, 2014 at 04:40 PM · Thank you for the great response. I tilt my wrist and dig in with my index to play loudly, and tilt the bow weight onto my pinky for quiet dynamics.

July 15, 2014 at 03:05 PM · It showed as far as I can see in the style of playing.

Oistrakh was a very classical player (Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms etc) whereas Heifetz excelled in

more exotic music

such as Lalo, Saint Sans, etc.

Of course there was

also some crossover - H could play the

Bach concertos wonderfully as could DO -

but in quite different ways. DO's bowing was

more delicate, H's more dazzling etc., etc.

Both are at the pinacle of violin playing as far

as I'm concerned, along with Milstein and

one or two (or three) others.

July 15, 2014 at 03:17 PM · There's clearly some confusion as to exactly WHAT is a Russian bow-hold. I'm sorry to say I don't have any of the Carl Flesch books to hand, but was once told that his depiction of a Russian hold wasn't "typical". If Ms. Rodrigues suggested that the Russian School is a myth, I suspect there's more than a grain of truth there. Oistrach's bow-hold does look different from that of Heifetz, indeed. But there's a possibility that calling Oistrach a "Franko Belgian" style performer might be a result of some slight confusion, arising from his early success in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium competition at which "The Soviet school was the resounding winner in 1937 as David Oistrakh took first prize."

To simplify, if you suspend the bow with fingertips as one would hold a smelly diaper en-route for the bin, then you are Franco-Belgian. If the bow is more deeply embedded, with the hand pronated to the left, stick in the first-finger knuckle joint, and the fingers are spread, then your tendency is "Russian". But as folk have observed, no two famous fiddlers, even if both are Russian trained, seem to sport bow-holds that look alike.

August 30, 2014 at 02:24 PM · This is the book Violin Method by Maia Bang. There's a Russian bow hold tutorial.

August 30, 2014 at 06:39 PM · Thanks!

September 6, 2014 at 09:50 AM · Vocabulary!

To my feeble mind, a "joint" (apart from being a pub or a strange-smelling cigarette..) is the bendy bit between two bones, not the bone itself.

3rd joint: counting from which end?!

The "dropped wrist" is actually a high wrist with a dropped hand.

Level hand: level with the floor or parallel with the bow?

Vibrato!

Finger- or knuckle-? Hand- or wrist-? Forearm- or elbow-?

With a mess like this, violin forums are like the blind leading the blind!

September 6, 2014 at 11:18 AM · John, I agree about using the base joint (not bone!) in the left hand, although I should call it the 1st, not he 3rd..

But in describing the index on the bow stick, I find it much less obvious.

Now, can I plead for more consideration for the thumb? Thumbs are as different as noses, but much better hidden. With a drooping hand, the thumb often has to "pinch" the stick against the fingers. With a "level" hand it can provide more support under the stick, not so much holding the bow as "holding it up"; then the fingers can balance and direct the stick over a fulcrum. This is not limited to a particular "school" of bowing.

Discussing what on earth to do with the left thumb is great fun, too!

September 7, 2014 at 09:18 AM · O.K, John, you win!

Although "they emphasise that they are counting from the fingertip" (my italics).

But don't we count vertebrea from the bottom up?

(Not to mention chakras..)

(And musical intervals..)

September 7, 2014 at 05:20 PM · This is all total nonsense.

September 7, 2014 at 08:21 PM · "This is all total nonsense."

Not so. Just dressing up canny reflection as nonsense. So British!

September 7, 2014 at 09:26 PM · I've never thought about the angle of the violin but a recent photo of me playing in an outdoors gig in Ireland (see my profile) shows an angle that is pretty close to 45ยบ. It's comfortable enough, even though I am unaware of it.

September 8, 2014 at 09:05 AM · Joachim.

The Joachim-Moser method contains much intelligent material, but apprently Joachim's students leared nowt from him about technique, but found him immensely inspiring as an artist.

Such apity that the only recording of him were made when he was past 70!

September 10, 2014 at 11:18 AM · John, a professional I know is of the opinion that in some quarters that style of high-arm bowing is expected of female violinists with television audiences and viewers in mind. In other words, sex appeal comes into it, and I can't help but wonder about possible adverse effects of such a bowing style on a performer in the long term.

September 14, 2014 at 12:17 AM · Yes, that is part of my bow hold. :)

I basically hold the bow Heifetz style.

The bow contacts just above my second joint on my index, while the rest of the fingers lie on top.

September 14, 2014 at 05:05 AM · You can find pictures online of aaron rosand demonstrating the franco belgian and russian bow holds, look for that, there should be accompanying text.

September 15, 2014 at 10:20 AM · "The bow contacts just above my second joint on my index, while the rest of the fingers lie on top."

Second joint, or second bone? (wink, giggle)

September 15, 2014 at 01:28 PM · Non-anatomical descriptions of finger joints and parts of finger can unfortunately be ambiguous in the absence of pictures.

Does A.O. mean by "the second joint" the proximal interphalangeal joint, which is located between the proximal and middle phalanges of the finger; or the distal interphalangeal joint, which is located between the middle and distal phalanges? For reference, the distal phalange of a finger is the one which has the finger nail.

It is further not clear whether A.O.'s "just above" refers to the distal (finger nail) side of the joint, or the proximal side (the hand side); or it could be at the joint.

September 15, 2014 at 03:19 PM · I couldn't have put it better!

September 15, 2014 at 05:16 PM · My index finger contacts the bow right above the second joint (counting from the nail).

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