I wonder if anyone has any more thoughts on the Russian bow hold, and advantages or otherwise with reference to the Franko-Belgium hold and the other offshoots such as Galamian?
The Russian (also Old Russion/Soviet etc) hold seems to be a bit out of fashion. My own view is that one bow hold may suit one person and not another.
How many people have tried or in fact used both?
Each individual player obtains fairly unique results with the different possible bow holds. Someone who is 6'2" playing a violin has a very different physical experience than someone who is 5'0". The bow hold is just one part of a dynamic system, and I agree it really is something that suits the individual player.
I had a teacher who was fairly dismissive of the issue...his belief was if you could do everything and create all the sounds you needed with a bow hold that didn't cause pain, then that was the right one for you. Didn't matter what it looked like.
My last teacher used to say to me, "if you want a hundred different tone colors, you'll need a hundred different bow holds."
As a former Franco-Belgian turned Russian I have to completely agree with Oliviu.
Pros: The hold gives more bite and power as well as a completely stable sound throughout the bow (no sound drop in the middle of the bow stroke). Also makes fast playing easier and provides better staccato and legato. Playing on one string is easier because the bow sticks to the string very well.
Cons: It is often impossible to play smoothly at the frog (I do not use the frog at all, I only play up to the winding, same as Heifetz and Nate Robinson). String crossings, strokes requiring finger action such as colle and bouncing strokes require more effort. Tilting the bow for colour changes and subtle bowing nuances are more difficult to pull off, and each note has more scratch to it. The scratch means more projection but makes the violin sound scratchy under your ear, which might be why the Russian users play with flatter fingers (except for fast music and when requiring a silvery sound; Ex. is Mendelssohn Concerto 1st Movement).
P.S.: The Russian hold seems to work better if you have short arms like me because there is less distance to pull the bow to the tip. I could not pull a straight bow to the tip until I switched holds, and switching gave me a natural figure-8 bowing arm with silent bow changes.
P.P.S.: You normally have to use looser hair or the hold will have no proper control and the bow will bounce off the string.
Hope this helped, and sorry for the long post! :D
Nate, I would say you are an expert! Interesting story about the professor and Heifetz.
Many thanks to everyone so far for the hugely helpful and enlightened comments. As you may have guessed I'm trying out the Russian hold once again and I'm finding it pretty good so far. It solved my problem at the point and also means I can forget about the bow more, and concentrate on the left hand.
It certainly produces a big sound.
@Nate: Is there a trick to playing smoothly right up to the frog with the Russian hold?
I can only seem to manage it when pulling off a fairly quick bow change, otherwise a scratchy tone results.
One of the things every violin teacher should encourage is the ability of their students to experiment and find out what works for them.
Leaning toward certain school does provide a few benefits, but may also stop a violinist from finding out his/her own unique style and technique.
I have seen a few great violinist which had a very peculiar bow hold, while still producing a great sound. The same bow hold would not pass the first lesson with many teachers, but it did pass the test of the audience.
Experiment, observe, listen, change.... find out what draws the best sound of your violin while you feel the most relaxed.
This is a little tangential, but does anyone know about the approaches to bowing used in other schools, like the Polish, Czech or Hungarian? I've been listening to recordings of Zoltan Szekely lately, and his sound is pretty nice.
Many thanks. Yes, I remember Tossy Spivakovsky. His bowarm and left hand were unique. He looked deformed, but what a player!
I agree that we should all experiment and strive for the best outcome - even if this is frowned on by some.
AND one is never too old to change.
My teacher's teacher was David Oistrakh. We call it the Russian hold because Oistrakh and his students, e.g., Oleh Krysa, are Russians. I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to learn it because it has improved my playing a lot, and made difficult strokes, e.g., up bow staccato, easy.
Several people have commented on playing at the frog. The turnaround is tricky, but I would not call it difficult. It takes practice to master - doesn't anything? As the frog nears the strings, the fingers and ulna (forearm bone) gradually rotate - moving the bow hair contact gradually to the outside edge. Very near the frog, lift a bit (fingers mostly). These moves reduce pressure on the string(s) and there is no "scratchy" sound.
As the down bow starts, do not "reverse" the above movements, rather rotate about the wrist smoothly. This is the movement I had to practice a lot, as it requires co-ordination, plus strength in the little finger. Once mastered, it is possible to have almost continuous sound during a bow change because the hair is in continuous motion on the string (the rotation) while the arm changes direction.
If you practice these moves, start by strengthening the little finger by doing "windsheild wipers" with a relaxed right hand. The little finger should do all the work.
I love the Russian hold, and feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn it.
interesting excerpt from Zimbalist's biography that addresses the subject.Most of my teachers were very Franco-Belgian in their approach, but one (Harold Wippler) seemed to want to put a little more of that Russian angle in there. "A little bit more like a broken bird wing," I can remember him telling me! Harold was a Zimbalist protege, so that would go back to Auer -- though perhaps Auer did not really have a particular bowing style that he taught; here is an
@Nate Robinson: I don't mean that I cannot play up to the winding.
What I was asking is this: Is there a way to use the Russian hold to play smoothly with the last bit of bow that is underneath the hand?
Teacher training in the S*z*k* M*th*d encouraged a level hand (with curled pinky) and a drooping elbow.
I don't relate this to start another polemic about S*z*k*, just to relate a moment when my wife spotted Oistrakh on the telly, and exclaimed "Oh! A S*z*k* bowing arm!"
Perlman too. Two big men with big tones.
There was that period of course when Suzuki studied in St Petersburg with Leopold Auer - so that's where he got his Russian bow hold from ...
On another note I would second Nate's idea to work on studies and scales at the extreme heel. It does improve the flexibility and comfort as well as confidence at the heel. I've been doing Rode Caprices at the heel, especially No 1 after the slow intro,but many others as well. And scales of course.
The good thing so far about the Russian hold is that I can forget about the bow as it looks after itself, and concentrate 100% on the left hand.
PS Adrian -
Perlman has a Galamian/F-B bow hold. He stated that after leaving Israel where he had a Russian teacher he changed to the F-B/Galamian hold when studying at Julliard.
Regarding my trial of the Russian hold - I've found that often I will do a down bow retake (a quick one) and get a bit of a crunch. (Or on off the string notes as well, mostly near the heel).
However, on the occasions when I have been recording myself, on these occasions of the crunch, on playback I don't notice it at all much.
Is this something fairly normal, a bit more grit and crunch is heard under the ear but not from a few feet away? (The mics are omnis and about 6 feet away).
Many thanks for all the help.
Yes, the extra grit or scratch is what gives the hold its power and great projection.
Playing with the Russian style hand (index almost straight, other fingers get flatter and flatter towards the pinky and your hand is tilted back 10-15 degrees) decreases the scratch heard and enriches the tone. Straight fingers are for fast music or a silvery sound.
The hand shape takes some time to adjust to, especially for playing notes such as B flat in 1st position. You can see it in this video of Nate's at 0:03 to 0:06, or whenever he doesn't stretch to higher positions. :)
I started with a more or less Russian Hold, and moved towards Paris-&-Brussels later. I now find I can do many bowings more easily, and now prefer lower tension strings. But my elbow may rise, and my forearm still pronate for e.g. tremolo or upbow staccato, or for a more "surfacy" détaché.
F-B gives me a richer sound with no stiffening.
For me the FB hold has certain things that work OK, but a lot that now seems rather problematic. I had to continually think about the bow, and where it was and what it was doing. It's a rather more delicate hold and for me a little too feminine - OK at the heel but not good for legato, or a really big sound. (At least personally speaking).
I've been looking at Nate's 38 Youtube videos and also at Leonid Kogan. Kogan really is a great example of the Russian bow hold.
My fiddle teacher was a pupil of Carl Flesch and I seem to remember he may have had a Russian bow hold. Great bow arm and left hand. I wish he were still around as I would consult him without question. I think the Russians though produced the very best players and not only on fiddle, viola and cello, but pianists too.
The other thing I'm finding personally is that I can get more gradation and contrasts between fff, ff, f, mf, p, and pp etc. Lots more tone colour seems possible.
Many violinists capably use more than one bow technique :-)
Kogan and Nate's bow holds are different.
Nate's is Heifetz style: Bigger sound and completely flat hair (mostly), no playing with the last few inches of bow near frog. The top 2/3 of the bow is used more often.
Kogan's is Oistrakh style: Use the whole bow, and play with some tilt (mostly) and less aggressive sound. Classic, "smooth" bow use.
I think the Heifetz style is more natural because it uses the weight of bow to bow length ratio.
Eg: The bow is pulled more quickly near the frog and more slowly near the tip because the difference balances out the differing bow weight and yields a stroke that does not lose volume in the middle of the bow.
I use mainly flat hair as it results in a bigger sound. Yes, I noticed that Kogan uses all the bow and quite fast bows as well. Difficult to judge on videos and recordings just how big the sound is, but it sounds I think (Kogan) much bigger say than Kavakos.
I did hear Heifetz live once, but I was an infant at the time and only a year or so playing the fiddle. It was some occasion though!
I don't understand this conversation - it would help of someone defined on the topic exactly what a Russian and a franco-belgian hold are. While there may be starting characteristics (e.g. middle finger-thumb apposition) for these - I suspect there are no specific definitions for the simple reason that both have to be adapted to extremes depending on the particular hand.
To my mind, just because a bow is tilted it does not necessarily imply that there is less contact with the hairs unless the bow is very, very tight - they flatten out on the string. What the tilted bow does is to increase dynamic volume range as set by the amount of downward pressure. The two examples below illustrate this - and also question other conclusions above.
Here is Kogan:
Can someone please provide a link to 'more intense' playing by Heifetz - preferably a slow piece?
Note also that he plays mostly with the little finger completely off the frog (beginning , 2.34, 3.23.
For slow (intense) blowing Oistrakh uses a flat bow only at the tip and tilts it from the middle of the bow to the frog (e.g. beginning and 4.02):
Maybe I don't know what a Russian hold is, but his bow hold (look at the frame at 39 seconds) looks very different from what I've seen of Heifetz - the latter has the tilted hand but not as much as Kogan and maintains his little finger tip-contact.
The answer to a good bow hold is surely not in these examples at all - their real lesson is that you have to find a way that works for your body....
I will deal with Kogan first as I've been looking at most of his videos on line.
With the Russian hold the bow is always between the first knuckle joint and the second. In other words, at the top end of the first finger.
There are variations on other spects of the hold. Kogan has often a straight first finger, but not always. His pinky can be on the stick or off. The middle fingers can be curved but also straight. It all depends on the dynamic and bow speed.
Pity that the useless camera person and director were more interested in extreme close ups of his face, especially when he often looked like there was a bad smell in the room!
Also the Russians generally but specifically Heifetz (who is he?) use a flat hair as it produced a bigger sound in ff passages. With a tilted bow in ff or fff you just don't get the power. Many F-B bow holders tilt the bow but use flatter hair when power is needed like the opening of the Brahms concerto.
Judging from that Oistrakh clip he appears NOT to have a Russian hold. (Too many extreme face close ups which are useless). Maybe his is Soviet or even a version of F-B. He does rotate the bow to flat hair at the point to sustain the sound.
"Big sound" is a term I see all the time on violin forums but frequently has different and conflicting definitions when people are asked to explain it.
Power, energy put into the violin over a period of time, is proportional to bow weight times bow speed. It has nothing to do with how many hairs are actually touching the string while the bow is moving.
One can play quite loudly with all the hairs (flat) or some of the hairs (tilted).
All hairs versus some hairs mostly affects two things: the timbre of the tone produced, and how much bow weight you can use before the stick starts hitting the strings.
Fewer hairs means the hairs deflect more for a given weight and position along the bow. If you want to bow with a lot of power, fast and near the bridge, but want a tone quality that comes from tilted hairs, you are stuck to bowing towards the tip or frog.
Or you can really tighten up the bow to get more distance between the hairs and stick and more resistance to deflection.
You can get more pressure with flat hair. Therefore more sound. However, the instrument may not take the extra pressure and the sound will choke. You have to know your instrument as well.
It is not a given, but the Russian hold does tend to produce more sound. For me I find I can get bigger contrasts between ppp and fff.
"...You can get more pressure with flat hair..."
Let's examine that statement scientifically.
Suppose I put a certain force into the bow. You can call it weight if you wish. Let's label it "W".
If I have all the hairs on the string, let's say the total area of the hairs in contact with the string is "Af" for Area-flat.
The pressure on the string is then
Pf = W/Af
Now let's tilt the bow so only half the number of hairs are on the string. Then that is only half the hair area in contact with the string. Call it "At" for Area-tilted.
At = Af/2
Pt = W/At = W/(Af/2) = 2W/Af = 2Pf
In other words, the pressure on the string for the tilted hairs is now TWICE the pressure as for flat hairs for the same bow weight!
If you tilt the bow so even less hairs are in contact with the string, the pressure on the strings goes up even more.
So why doesn't the string suddenly choke when one tilts the bow as it is drawn across a string at a consistent weight?
Because the choking effect is a function of the WEIGHT on the string, not the pressure. If you do not change the weight you are putting into the bow, then tilting the bow may double the pressure but also halves the area. So the total weight into the string remains the same.
One can easily find a youtube video of any number of world famous soloists drawing the bow flat across the strings then rolling into a severe tilt with a sliver of hairs on the string. The loudness of the note does not change but the timbre certainly does, as does the frequency a tiny bit (flat-sharp-flat) as they roll from flat-tilted-flat.
Anyone got comments or advice for changing between bow holds for different types of playing?
My violin playing is of three kinds*: full symphony, playing for barn dancing and ceilis, and string chamber orchestra (25 players). For the first two I use a fairly powerful old violin fitted with 3 gut and a Goldbrokat E (a combo that works very well), and a standard modern bow. The violin for the chamber orchestra is usually my Jay Haide fitted up in quasi-late 18th century mode with 4 gut strings, and played with a replica 1750 French bow in snakewood.
Currently, my bow hold for everything is with the first finger contacting the stick between the first and second joints distal from the hand, so almost wrapped round the stick, the other fingers coming into contact as necessary, the back of the hand in alignment with the outside of the forearm, and the elbow relaxed and hanging by gravity. No lift of the right shoulder (again relaxed). I have no playing problems with this hold.
After reading the comments here I'm in mind to experiment with the Russian hold (for example as used by Nate) for symphony playing.
However, I have my doubts whether a Russian hold would be a good idea for a gut-strung chamber orchestra violin. Apart from my current bow hold what would be an effective non-Russian alternative to experiment with for the chamber orchestra violin - or perhaps better to leave things as they are?
I don't see a problem in using different bowing styles for different types of playing and on different instruments.
* could also be interpreted as, "just about copes", "so-so", and "dreadful" :)
Its wonderful to see some algebra in a violin post !
Seems to me that you sort of made your point, but volume is a dynamic property, at times. It can also depend on the speed of the bow. So next time, I'll be looking for some calculus, you know W * dt, etc.
I agree with the statement that the Russian hold has the first section of the index finger on the bow. Because of that placement, the thumb is curved into the frog, which in turn allows it to flex a lot and be yet another muscle with strong controlling effects on the bow.
The Claire de Lune video of Oistrakh shows to me that he changed his bow hold frequently. For example, the first down bow has the 1st segment of the index on top of the bow. Many of his strokes have the bow under his joint between the first and second sections. Some strokes are with the 2d segment on top the bow. He changes rapidly at times. At 3:55, the first segment is atop the bow. The next bow stroke at 4:00 has the second segment atop the bow. He is a great example of the comments made by several people here, that bow holds change to make different sounds.
In a video of Oistrakh playing Mozart Sonata 32, I came to the conclusion that he places the first joint over the bow when he wants strong attacks (probably using the flexing thumb, also) and uses the joint or second segment when he wants softer, legato starts to a phrase. He does not seem to change bow holds very often during a phrase, but frequently changes bow holds between phrases. What mastery!
And mine too! All that algebra. Just taken a pain killer!
Nate, to play powerfully you need force and velocity. That is what translates into a lot of energy in a small amount of time, i.e., power.
People tend to use pressure and force interchangeably, and for most casual conversation, there is no confusion. We know what you mean. But when trying to understand the physics of what is happening, one can be led astray by not carefully differentiating between the two.
As I mentioned, the most powerful playing across the whole bow won't work with tilted hairs because there will be too much deflection at the center, NOT because it cannot supply force on the strings or velocity.
So when you see players trying to blast the audience out of their socks, they have little choice but to do it with all the hairs on the string.
Also, there is a difference between power and ability to carry a note deep into a hall. Obviously, louder is always better to fill up a room, but sound dissipates in loudness as it radiates away from the violin and is strongly frequency dependent.
Playing with flat hairs will excite higher frequency overtones which will be detectable at low volume levels further away from the violin. The human mind is remarkable in that it only needs a few overtones to fill in the missing harmonics and hear the basic note. A bit bright perhaps, but at least the people in the cheap seats can enjoy the music.
"Anyone got comments or advice for changing between bow holds for different types of playing?"
Oistrakh's subtle changes for different repertoire needs have been noted.
For myself, I like to spread my fingers more, with the first finger further up the stick and with the bow more deeply embedded in the hand if I'm trying to play stuff with lots of double-stops, e.g. Bach S&Ps page one. I seem to get a more consistent and sustained two-string contact that way.
I wasn't Conservatoire-trained, so was never enrolled by a professor into any of the great bow-hold camps; indeed, though I enjoyed a long career as a professional orchestral player, I'm a product of the School of Hard Knocks. Such awareness as I have came from the Carl Flesch tome on fiddle-playing.
The last time this topic came up I looked in the mirror and concluded my grip is a Branco-Felgian; how bold !!
@Elise Stanley: Greetings fellow Canuck!
Here is Heifetz playing the most intense interpretation I have ever heard! :)
Carmen, I find it impossble to apply the same force into the string with half the hair, since the hair goes to one side of the stick, which then touches the string.
So this purely practical issue prevents me from testing your algebra. Pity.
That makes a lot of sense Adrian, and is my experience too. The stick takes over - or in my case, the carbon fibre overheats ...
As I may have already said regarding Oistrakh - I don't think he has a predominantly Russian bow hold.
Re: "playing only in the upper half" please watch the following starting at 4:20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOGNwxSb6Zs (I don't know about you, but I see Heifetz in the heel ... when he wanted to be there, he could).
Adrian, you should be able to play piano to mezzo forte somewhere on the strings with only half the hairs. But perhaps you have a manlier bow grip than I, say, something like this...
Seriously, I don't advocate flat hairs over tilted hairs or vice versa. Using a relaxed, natural bow grip and bowing motion, I find I am tilted at the E and A strings, but tend to play with flat hairs on the D and G strings.
I can play with consistent volume/power across all strings, and with a subtle motion of my thumb I can choose tilted or flat strings at any time.
I also avoid playing anything louder than mf. Given the current state of my intonation, the local anti-noise pollution laws would surely kick in.
Sorry, I didn't realise you were so shy!
My manly grip is a wee bit more delicate than in the photo..
"this one from a masterclass of Pierre Amoyal (one of Heifetz' best students) is Youtube gold in my opinion.."
I met Pierre Amoyal once many years ago when he was playing a concerto with the orchestra I was playing in, and whilst waiting for a taxi to the train back to London I quizzed him about his lessons with Heifetz. He was not very forthcoming though so I didn't learn much. (This was in about 1986 so he was a much younger guy then, as I was).
Just a quick question or two to all those Russian hold experts.
Do you find it better to keep the bow on the string during short rests, rather than lifting off and on again? (I'm meaning quaver/crotchet rests [8th note/quarter note])
I'm also finding I can play with only the first finger and thumb on the stick quite easily - is this normal?
Interesting thread. I think that one has to consider bow holds in the context of the entire approach to holding the instrument. Two traits that most of the Russian bow hold users have in common (the term Russian hold was coined by Carl Flesch), is that they hold the violin very much to the left of the tailpiece, and many of them substantially more to the left shoulder. This more open stance certainly plays a role. Heifetz for example had his violin pretty much in line with the left shoulder and his hold reflected that; he would balance the bow in the upper half with the ring finger at times.
I would say that Kogan and Oistrakh represent two completely different approaches to bowing, and neither of them would be associated with the Russian hold per say.
Another modern violinist that uses the Russia hold is Vadim Repin.
In terms of tonal purity, etc., there are a few particularities about about the approach to sound. First, the fingers of the left hand are held close together and the weight comes from the entire arm/wrist/hand rather then pressure of the fingers into the bow. In fact, there should be no pressure of the fingers into the bow. So, if one wishes to use this hold, opening the stance with the violin more towards the left and chin placement also more to the left of the chinrest probably would be something worth exploring. In slow off the string strokes, the arm lifts the bow via the hand with no change in finger pressure and the stroke remains lateral. This prevents tonal impurities as naturally, there is more pronation in the Russian hold. Flesch recommended doing very rapid repeated strokes at the heel to accustom oneself to the different balances and achieve lightness.
People tend to confuse the Franco-Belgian hold with the so-called "Galamian" hold. Like the Russian, the traditional F-B hold also kept the fingers at the width of the hand and its main traits were that the index contacted between the first and second joint and the middle-finger was opposite the thumb. Depending on the length of the index, there could be a small gap to accommodate the point of contact of the index; the pinky was kept close. There is a photo of Heifetz's bow hold in the book The Great Masters of the Violin by Boris Schwartz which shows that the thumb actually lied between the first and second finger, so the weight of the hand was distributed differently, perhaps to balance better the greater pronation. The Galamian hold that we think of today with the hyper-extended index did not come from Galamian; none of this prominent students including Zukerman and Rabin use that hold. Rather, it seems to come from Dorothy Delay. Galamian kept Capet's ring concept, but many of his students do allow the index to straighten at the frog as part of the balance towards the pinky from the greater supination. But that is a different matter. I think that many people confuse the FB hold with the contemporary American hold related to an overspread of the fingers more than the width of the hand.
As for force and sound, etc., the production of sound from the physics perspective is different than what people think of with the violin. As the bow moves laterally, the string vibrates laterally making the bridge rock side-to-side. This actually sets the top table vibrating. Different violins have different levels of resistance to weight from the thicknesses of the top plate, and to some extent the back, and the response is different. This is the main difference between Strads and Del Gésus. However, pressing the bow into the string or the fingers into the bow will choke the lateral vibration of the string and limit projection, kind of like strangling the throat of a singer who is singing.
Carmen: where did you get that photo? It looks very familiar and if it is what I think it is and who it is, then it has a very particular meaning that I can explain.
Because I'm so environmentally conscious (and lazy!) I'm going to recycle a couple of relevant past threads, especially where I commented a lot.. Re bow tilt:
Should you tilt the bow when you play or leave it flat?
Technique and Practicing: Should you tilt the bow when you play or leave it flat? Which one will sound better? Which one will reduce tension?
From Angelica Cantu
Posted June 3, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Hope you can find it from that. I'll also look specifically for Auer vs Franco Belgian
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on February 6, 2008 at 01:45 PM
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, 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. The hand and fingers change angles - especially in the down-bow - subtly and fluidly, as the bow makes its way from end to end. [EDIT]
Regarding your question that you "can play with only the first finger and thumb on the stick quite easily - is this normal?"
Yes, this can be done, and may be useful in some passages. Its not a good "base case" for 2 reasons. First, a smooth turnaround at the frog is not possible using just those 2. Second, the index finger should be used for making emphasis and impulse.
A better hold is to grip the bow with the thumb and the middle/longest finger. The thumb should be curved/bent in under the palm. The index finger rides the stick and makes frequent adjustments to pressure and impulse - like several per bow stroke. The thumb can move, as needed, to add force or to change the position of the bow relative to the fingers - eg. 1st digit to joint to back to 1st digit. (Oistrakh does this from stroke to stroke in the Mozart piece I posted above.) The little finger and the wrist rotation (which I described above) make the turnaround at the frog. The entire hand curls toward the body in an up bow so the bow goes from flat hair in its middle to 'on edge' near the frog. This eliminates scratchy sounds and allows control of volume near the frog - depending on the amount of lift from the fingers.
I suggest that anyone trying these moves, write them down and practice each move separately at the start. Also, strengthen the little finger first with windshield wiper motions. Then combine movements. Some of this is difficult and may take months of practice to combine it all. At least, that is my story.
Mike - many thanks.
I would not use just the first finger and thumb normally but I think there could be the odd occasion when it could be useful (even just to confuse Elise!) (wink).
I thought i saw someone do it in up bow staccato but might be mistaken. I shouldn't have said "normal" but maybe "occasional" instead.
I notice some players straighten the first finger near the heel, and that also works for me, but I'm not sure if it's necessary.
It's still early days with this hold for me (just over a week I think) so I'm still experimenting.
@Peter Charles: Yes, the first finger and thumb only is primarily for staccato.
Start from about 0:20 to see the change in hold for the staccato.
Live version with a more realistic sound with less close mike scratch, I HIGHLY recommend you listen to this one too.
P. S.: I find it easier to leave the bow on the string during a short rest because the Russian hold is easier for stable playing than it is for lots of fast string crossings and bouncing strokes/retakes. :)
Thanks A.O. It's great to get so much help from experienced professional players on the forum. Just like the discussions I used to have with colleagues in the orchestras a few years ago.
I'm making good progress with the bow hold and will know for sure when I try the Spring Sonata (in mid winter!) with my wife in a week or two.
I've viewed all the linked videos as well as others, and find them all very interesting and informative.
Like the old saying - "your mileage may vary", I find the Russian hold essential for string crossings, bouncing strokes, and staccato. That hold makes them much easier for me.
I have a hunch that the strength of the little finger and the use of an actively flexing thumb muscle during each stroke makes the difference in one's experience with the hold, but that is a hunch - not data.
I also find, Mike, that the thunb is more bent with the Russian hold, which means more relaxed.
My thumb is bent. I'll have to call it the North-Harrow-imported-to-Vitry-sur-Seine- Cat's-Paw hold.
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November 25, 2014 at 08:18 PM · Soviet (Oistrach) and Old Russian (Heifetz) are two different bowholds. The soviet schoold gravitates towards the franco-belgian. Tried them both. It's true that you get more power with the old russian hold, but with that power comes responsibility: unless you learn to relax your hand, pronate your forearm adequately and lead the bow by it's own weight, elasticity and inertia, pretty much everything is dangerous with this hold (spiccato, the heel, chords). Yes you can bite, but it's also pretty unforgiving.