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What is the difference between French and Russian bowing?

November 13, 2004 at 01:14 AM · Could someone explain the main difference in Franco-Belgian bowing (grip, angle of hair, speed, bow divions) and "Russian"? thanks!

Replies (35)

November 13, 2004 at 01:43 AM · Greetings,

nick t, that has been done in considerbale detail in some archive articles. Trouble is, I"m not sure how you find them. Worth experiemnting with though.



November 13, 2004 at 01:58 AM · Franco-Belgian bowing is the most flexible and "springy" so to speak. It really is the Italian bowing, but Viotti brought it out of Italy. (This is the bow hold which the Devil, Paganini, used as his own).

The fingers gently curve over the stick, and the bow contacts the first joints of the fingers. Also, those of us who make use of the Italian bow hold use very taught hair.

The Russian bow hold is less flexible, and more of a push-pull grip. Nonetheless, it is not to be discounted, as Heifetz and other students of Leopold Auer made good use of. It isn't very springy, but can creates a large, robust sound with proper technique. The bow on the index finger lies on the second joint, or between the second and knuckle. The hand tends to be very flat, with the fingers spread apart. Russians use loose hair.

Hope this helps,


November 13, 2004 at 04:47 AM · The archives dealing with it are in discussions of April 2004. I looked through it a few days ago. "Russian bow grip" or "Russion bow hold" will get you there, I think.

I have a strong feeling that the type of bowing my teacher uses and teaches is Russian though I think he referred to two countries together. The left hand is Auer style for sure (I asked after seeing a description here). Most of what Max sets fits, except for the loose hair - I've never been told to play with loose hair. I'm not sure that it is less flexible, but the playing and movement do seem to come from different areas of the arm, hand and wrist and the wrist and forearm to move along slightly different axes. My son and I have talked about it: he is a powerful player with strong build and has moved on to something franco-belgian because for one thing he does not need any more powerful sound than he already has - and it would seem that there is something very subtle about the hand that is harder to catch: it looks like a jellyfish to my eyes. Another important point is that the hand is quite pronated, because the first fingers are so deep in the stick that the fourth is relatively so much higher up - I think there's even a danger of the fourth being straight if you're not careful. The bow arm is higher and the whole thing works together - I mean the bow arm height, hand etc.

I am closer to beginner than expert with my barely 3 years but I have been forced to compare. I didn't realize I was being taught any particular style or that there were "styles" out there and so by reading and looking I mixed and matched. Some principles don't fit together very well while others are universal. At one point I consulted a coach about a particular left hand problem that couldn't be resolved and incidentally mentioned the "wonderful trick" that I'd learned of moving the upper arm back: and that led to a bowing lesson in learning to bow from the forearm. The problem was that the coaching was with the lower elbow and different angle all around, and my bow hand changed as I tried to fit it to the new bowing. It was at this point that I started sorting out what I had been taught and really understanding how these things all fit together. Eventually I realized I had to choose one style or another, and for the most part I'm going back to what I was taught. The brief stint with the different (more pronounced?) hand/wrist motion made me very aware of that part of motion, because from my vantage point it's like an exaggeration of a subtler motion which I didn't see that well before. I'm still in transition since this whole process started the end of June and I've been caught between the two worlds until a few weeks ago. I'll probably end up in the best of both worlds for me, with a slant toward one of them.

I'm not sure about the fingers being spread apart, but with that pronation they like to try to bunch together.

Does anyone know whether a feeling that the elbow/upper arm are pulling back and going toward "bowing from the shoulder" might actually be part of this bowing? It might just feel like I'm heading toward a wrong direction because I was working on the other style for a while. I don't mean when I'm actually bowing from the shoulder, but when the bowing seems to be heading toward it without actually doing so.

About speed: speed over pressure is emphasized. And in FB? (If Russian bowing already has a lot of sound, that would make sense?)

November 13, 2004 at 05:53 AM · Thanks for the descriptions--

Buri, I have been reading various discussions and your columns on the site and in archives but there isn't one clear place where the two approaches are systematically compared.

November 13, 2004 at 01:33 PM · Greetings,

Nick, you just ain"t found it yet. Somethign to enjoy in your old age maybe?



November 13, 2004 at 03:01 PM · It is in the archives.

Prof. Emery Erdlee's book _The mastery of the bow_ has photos of the (obsolete) German, Russian and Franco-Belgian holds. Another source would be Flesch's _The art of violin playing_. The player in Erdlee's book bends his fingers inwards in some photos, which is disagreable.

The basic criterion to distinguish the styles was the contact point of the index finger on the bow (IMO a bad idea). Other criterions were bow tension (low for Russian, high for FB), elbow height (low for German), degree of pronation, etc.

After experimenting w/ these different "holds" and getting nowhere (still an intermediate player for the forseable future), I strongly reject this kind of classification on purely logical grounds. If the center of any bow hold is the pincers created by opposing the thumb and the middle finger, the other fingers should be allowed to fall wherever it is more natural for them to be, regardless whether the result looks FB or Russian. The contact point of the index finger on the stick (middle joint for FB and base joint for Russian) is not as essential to the hold as the constant maintenance of the thumb-middle finger pincers. Fischer in _Basics_ shows how the index must move over the stick in the martele stroke. Having said that most players today seem to adopt something similar to the FB hold. Galamian had his own proposal of having the index finger stay somewhat higher up the stick.

November 13, 2004 at 03:16 PM · Even the bow hold that I have been taught is not set in stone. How fingers move away - closer to each other - where the stick "travels" thanks to a certain looseness or relaxedness we need - degrees of depth etc. are all variable. I would call them "variations of a theme" but the theme is nonetheless a different one. Even in the relatively short time I'm playing, and I supposed I should start considering myself "intermediate", I'm coming to the conclusion that there is a fundamental difference that goes beyond small differences in depth, angle or elbow height. Having had instruction however briefly in the one case from teachers of both schools and finding my way around both, I'm concluding that there is some kind of real difference in the functioning and interrelationship of the various components that make up bowing. Of course there has to be common ground: it's the same instrument and the same human body. Ask me in a few years and I'll be able to come from a more knowledgeable place.

November 13, 2004 at 04:26 PM · True, Inge, nothing is ever set in stone on a violin, but the classification systems offer a general outline. For example, when (you are Russian, correct) would you move toward the far joint of the index finger and have such a high wrist as the Viotti school would use? Sure, it may happen in certain instances, but it would probably be a rare occurrance.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that these classifications are also used as avatars for the various schools, like a mascot almost.



November 14, 2004 at 01:51 AM · Hi Max. No, I'm not Russian. Through circumstance I seem to have run into a second system which seems to be the more common one, and get the impression that the primary one was the "Russian" one. I think you're saying the same thing that I am -- that there is a general and recognizeable difference between the two classifications. I was responding to something that Tristan was saying; that within those classifications there must be variations - even when one player has a certain bow hold he is going to change it according to what kind of sound he is producing etc.

For anything else I'm going to simply lurk. There is still so much to learn.

November 14, 2004 at 01:51 AM · Having made the change from Franco-Belgian to Russian I can point out some physical as well as aural differences.

In the F-B bowhold:

The stick is placed between the First and second joints the fingers spread out from there.

In the Russian hold:

The stick is placed starting between 2nd joint and the knuckle. The fingers are close together(not far apart!) The wrist is flat and the hand become naturally pronated when the stick is tilted at a 45 degree angle.

To get a great sound with the FB you have to tilt the index finger into the bow to apply pressure(you are pronating the wrist) and pull a full bow across the string,using lots of speed.

The russian bow hold creates a greater prussure naturally so you don't have to use a lot of bow.

The difference in bow speed,I feel, gives the russian hold the advantage. People who use a russian grip tend to have a more focused tone. And a completly lose wrist and fingers are required with the russian hold. If one was to play fast detache or sautille with the russian hold, a lose grip is the only way an articulate sound will occur- in FB the forearm comes into play-Heitfetz was able to play fast because used the more economical russian grip(less parts moving)

November 14, 2004 at 02:36 AM · Gary,

Thanks! That is really clear and just what I was trying to figure out.

I really appreciate it.

November 14, 2004 at 06:51 AM · Gary, I may want to ask you some questions since you've moved from one to the other and I accidentally "visited" and was influenced by the other and am mid-stream in a number of things things. Would that be o.k.? The stage I was at, I should not have crossed over to another style, and didn't know I had done so.

November 14, 2004 at 08:39 AM · Thanks Gary for the concise explanation. I'm pretty sure I'm learning Russian right now and did not learn Russian when I was a kid. I'm being told to flatten my hand, as well as total relaxation of fingers and wrists. Elbow has to stay high, and movement is from the forearm/elbow joint. No bowing with the wrist, or pushing down with index finger. If I want sound, then move the bow faster. I'm glad to hear there are advantages. My childhood bowing was never very good anyway.

November 14, 2004 at 08:10 PM · Hello all,

Anyone can ask me anything about these bow grips because I know both well and have performed with orchestras as soloist using both.

November 14, 2004 at 10:21 PM · Hi, Garry, a couple of questions:

1) how do you do spiccato w/ the Russian hold?

2) what happens to the fulcrum formed by the thumb opposing the middle finger?


November 14, 2004 at 11:15 PM · We musn't forget the newer school, the Galamian.

November 14, 2004 at 11:38 PM · Greetings,

I have somen doubts about claiming Galamian`s bowing as a new school oir even a school at all. The hold he used is a combination of Mostras, Capet and his own ideas. But frankly there is nothing really distinctive about it unless oyu count the extended forefinger which most players tend to use less and less or just on special ocassions.



November 14, 2004 at 10:53 PM · Hi Garry,

My questions will probably come in fits and spurts as I work through this. I formed a lot of the newer elements of my sense of bowing while I seemed to be hovering among "systems" and that's what I'm trying to sort out. For perspective: In the first year I probably had a semblance of the real thing as far as the bow hold was concerned, but guided by my teacher to be doing the bowing with the higher elbow and along the direction tht the bow would travel; tight fingers and hand, little wrist movement, expressiveness through the gross arm movement and incidentally, accented sounds through a little "elbow flip" where I would see violinists use more of a flick of the wrist.

So first question that comes to mind: is there anything going on with the Russian bowing that might move some wrist-things further back toward the elbow? (Though I think not: that was just my beginnerish style mixed with a desire to play expressively.)

My bow hold at the time tended to almost pinch the hair between the fingers and the thumb joint - it was a very "firm" hold - I know it was definitely not ideal. But would it lead to any such tendency? Also, with some experts saying no, no, no - never have the thumb joint touch the hair ribbon: is that part of it, or just the instruction that I'm getting?

There was a bad period in the middle and by that time my whole playing frame had gone askew, carrying bowing angles and such with it. I sought outside help - mostly for left hand problems - and was also given suggestions for bowing: to have my arm loose like wet noodles and the fingers kind of just hanging from the bow. I couldn't really make much out of that imagery but in the next lesson it seems that my tone had come back somewhat. I think the same instruction fits together with the idea of spreading the weight of the bowing pressure across more of the hand. I know that Suzuki, for example, even has students bowing with the first finger off the bow entirely to develop something called thumb power, whatever that is. ** This would be incompatible with Russian bowing?

How do these principles fit/not fit with Rb?

Still during the period of recovery it was discovered that I had gotten into the habit of bowing from the upper arm and didn't have the sense of using the forearm from the elbow. This was shown with an elbow that was lower down and in general I was guided through the arm movements as Galamian describes them. It was a brand new sensation to me -- I thought because I had been doing it wrong all along -- and I began being aware of wrist movement. My bow hold, which had been relatively neutral and had drifted to the fingers hanging more straight down the frog rather than at a slant, started to change as the bow wanted to be in different areas of the hand and choose different contact points. I was working on a piece that had a lot of fast string changes and the way the hand moved around like a miniature arm along the wrist just blew me away: I could do so much with that part of the piece.

So: is there something going on with wrist movement, or things coming more from the wrist in one case, and coming more from elsewhere in the other -- certain types of bowing and technique being more effective with FB and its derivatives and others with Russian?

I'd only had the coaching in an emergency and didn't pursue it. When I was back with my teacher, some of the things translated well and others didn't. If he guided my elbow higher, I "felt" as though I were starting to bow with my upper arm.

Is there something more upper armish going on? If not, I was still doing something wrong which is quite likely.

And oh yes, in FB would the bowing tend to be going more in a "forward" direction, and more "sideways" in Rb?

With me now adjusting my bowing hand often, my teacher reshowed me the bow hand that he teaches and this time I determined to not take short cuts but do it right. It came out funny, with the 2nd finger protruding under the frog and only two days ago did I realize it's because I didn't have that slant back toward the end of the bow. I spent a short time yesterday on it and my hand looked like my teacher's hand, it seemed as though the bow hold itself guided the arm and elbow to their proper level, my sound was back and better, and I felt totally natural and comfortable for the first time in a long time in my whole stance.

But in the meantime I have been working through so many things bowingish: I have built up a set of interactions and it all feels foreign. I mean, I'm looking for certain sensations that I've built up to know that I'm on the right track. Are FB and Rb as different in their extremes as I think they are?

Some first impressions:

- In "my version" of FB, I had more a feeling of actively moving my fingers and here it's almost as though the bowing itself moves the fingers and they respond in some strange way.

- I feel at the same time "secure" because everything is in there, somehow, but claustrophic, as though my hand, wrist, and fingers are no longer free to move.

- Is it, that some of what the wrist did, the finger now do?

- If I pursue this hold and bowing, will it be more difficult to learn/do spiccato etc. (I have a bit in my piece for the concert)?

- Back to the "loose like cooked spaghetti" bow arm with the weight of the arm falling on the strings: is this more a case of the "friction" through the pronation plus the higher arm (doing what?)

If my large bowing has always been easier than bowing using smaller parts of the bow, is this by any chance a reflection of this kind of bow hold and arm, that (from what I gather) uses less wrist? Or a lack perhaps of not using fingers.

Fingers replace wrist or in a different proportion in some ways?

I feel like I'm in this big weeding and replanting process. The huge difference and increasing control in the last few months is a heady feeling, making it worthwhile.

November 15, 2004 at 12:05 AM · Greetings,

I have also concluded that the only difference between French and Russian bowing is that you wear either a beret or a large fur hat in the practice room,



November 15, 2004 at 12:18 AM · Which would make my questions rather ridiculous if all I need to do is change hats, though I have been known to wear a beanbag teddy bear to check my posture. I'm sure that a lot of my questions are nothing more than signs of a relative beginner taking on more than she could handle at a certain stage and then getting tangled up. However, the reference points were sufficiently different, with much in common between the two teachers following a more modern bow hold/arm (not to mention most of what I see in books and the Net) that I suspect there are some differences. I may be looking at two extreme versions, who knows? I know one person who dropped the Rb for FB because of the different advantages and disadvantages that he found. There is probably no "pure" one or the other - the beret is probably fur-trimmed.

November 15, 2004 at 12:49 AM · Is it really necessary to determine whether a bowhold is Russian, F-B, German, Galamian or whatever? Can't a violinist use a hybrid of any or all of these techniques? Inge mentioned a need to be one or the other, but I don't see why this should be the case.

November 15, 2004 at 12:23 AM · It is very difficult for any teacher to form optimal posture for beginners... So, what I do: I try to notice, where students hands located when their arms are hanging down relaxed. If hands during relaxing touch body, I prefer to be close to Franco-Belgian bow hold; if hands are not touching body (usually people with bigger mass...), I would prefer posture closer to Russian bow because those sudent's elbow level will be naturally higher.

November 15, 2004 at 01:14 AM · Inge S:

I thought your comment "the beret is probably fur-trimmed" was excellent! Thank you for that.

November 15, 2004 at 04:51 AM · Having been exposed to both, I suspect that it's not just a case of lower or higher elbow, more or less pronated fingers, deeper or more shallow hands - but of a slightly different "system", function - something along that line. I don't know enough to say that someone might have hands more like the Russian bowing hand without necessarily doing that style of bowing (though the hand shape might impose it) but I almost suspect that something like that is going on. Like a dialect rather than a new language.

Rita Livs, within my teacher's instruction there is wide room in variation due to body type, temperament etc. As I'm getting much deeper into more subtle movements involving fingers and wrists, the first impressions I've formed through the two exposures have to be sorted out. Someone further up noted that when they were retaught the Russian hold, wrist movement was cancelled out for example. I know that wrist movement still exists, but it seems different in some way, and perhaps the fingers take up some of the wrist action, or another part of the arm ... something is not the same. I have a myriad of impressions floating around, and getting the impressions from someone with some expertise in both sides of the fence will help me make sense of mine.

Tim, I'm glad you liked the fur-lined beret. I suppose it's a way of saying that the two are not absolute opposites -- after all we're still playing the violin using the human body with standard body parts.

(Sometimes I feel as if after the first year of the violin I fell into a patch of burrs and have been spending a lot of time pulling them out. This seems to be one of the last batch of burrs. Another metaphor.)

P.S. I may be following a red herring, but better to know it's a red herring and put it behind me and then go on from there.

November 15, 2004 at 01:43 PM · Inge, did you check on this issue of holding the bow? They don't use the terms Russian or Franco-Belgian, neither does Fisher in _Basics_. Erdlee's book has a good suggestion to sort this out. Play long legato notes w/ thumb and 2nd finger only. That is the "fulcrum" of the bowhold, regardless whether Russian or FB. Whatever hold you choose, you must always have this "pincers" functioning and flexible. Then you can add the other fingers, which might as well float in certain circumstances. There are other finger combinations (thumb opposed by: 1 & 4, 1 & 2, 1 & 3, 2 & 3, etc.) Erdlee (and Fisher btw) suggest to sensitize yourself to their role.

I'm not sure it's advisable to look at the photos of the bow holds and try to force your hand into a chosen shape. Another danger to avoid is overintellectualizing these issues, which is what I think Buri was trying to suggest w/ his comment on the hats.

Thanks to Erdlee's exercises I managed to solve most of my bowing problems and I ended up w/ FB looking hold. But that is the end result, not the starting point, it's how it looks after the fingers have found their place. I'm only asking Garry about spiccato because I never quite understood how it's done w/ the Russian hold.

November 15, 2004 at 02:53 PM · Hi Tristan. Your suggestion regarding is an excellent one and I consult it and Fisher's Basics often enough. I used that trick of the thumb and first two fingers only last week when I was rehearsing a fast piece with varied bowing, accelerando, the works and felt my form slipping --- we played a tempo throughout and in the middle of it I lifted three fingers and slowly put them back without missing a beat, the hand now in proper position and kept going. It's a handy device!

My questions are going toward something else, and they're the result of the accumulation of bits of advice, descriptions, guidance and stuff resulting from there - like that huge list I made up. I'm in a kind of "house cleaning" stage. Very often when I have a niggling of this sort following vague red herrings, then there is something to it and it usually leads to resolving all kinds of seemingly unrelated things. The trouble is, when you follow a nigglig, you can't be specific --- the whole point is to try to locate that "something". Last night I finally found a "something" regarding the left hand that has been evading me for 2 1/2 years; a simple misconception that changes everything. My gut feeling is telling me that I'm dealing with two different methods or systems or whatever of bowing and certain concepts or approaches or something are different enough that they don't mix well. I am quite open to the idea that I am wrong, or that I didn't get one of the two right in the first place.

My questions are like the Princess and the Pea story. She tossed and turned and couldn't sleep all night because there was a pea under the tenth mattress. She couldn't just go out and remove the pea, because she didn't know the source, and so you would have seen her throwing mattresses about. You might have concluded that her goal had to do with mattresses but she was looking for the pea, without knowing what she was looking for. I think there's a pea lurking about, or maybe a couple of them.

Before I get even more obtuse I better sign off.

November 15, 2004 at 03:18 PM · Inge, maybe it is better to just get back to playing and eventually these intuitions will clear up by themselves.

As adult learners we do want to understand everything we are doing in minute detail. This is good, but don't let it take over. Imagine if you did that driving your car. You would marvel at your ability to coordinate so many mvmnts.

That's why we need supervision of a teacher, because while playing it is better to concentrate on the music.



November 16, 2004 at 02:49 AM · Oh, anything I've tried to write after the first post doesn't come out right. I do have a good reason for the questions I asked. I'm not aiming for some kind of perfect bowing in x style - just to get some insight into some things I have encountered so I can orient myself a bit better. At the moment I feel foolish for having asked.

November 15, 2004 at 05:31 PM · Tristan,

Thanks for your clarifications about the pincer as the basis for either FB or Russian. There was so much discussion about these different approaches by the advanced players and for a beginner or intermediate player I needed to sort it out and understand the very essential thing: pincer of middle finger and thumb, or ring, and how to get the bigger sound.

A bow hold by any other name...

November 15, 2004 at 11:19 PM ·

November 16, 2004 at 11:02 AM · Dear Inge, I regret it if I made you feel embarassed. That was not my intention. Please do post your questions. Learning to become verbally articulate about these technical difficulties is the first step in solving them.

Nick, I have tried the Russian hold because one of my teachers plays that way. But I have difficulty doing colle' and spiccato, and I feel tension in my hand. I find the FB more "congenial" to my hand and easier to control.

November 16, 2004 at 02:51 PM · Thanks for the encouragement, Tristan. Maybe "embarrassed" is the wrong word. When I look at my two posts, they look so scattered and confusing that I'm slightly "embarrassed" about them. Without painting a huge picture about how I got to ask those questions, well, they look stupid. Perhaps something in my "everything under the kitchen sink" list rings a bell with someone who has done both (systems?) (Garry?). If suddenly my internal reference points about wrist, fingers and so one make sense again as I go back to the mature version of what I was originally taught I'll post a eureka.

November 16, 2004 at 04:04 PM · I am always concerned when people speak of a specific school of bowing (i.e. russian or FB). To me, a bow hold is more of an individual matter (just look at the video the art of the violin), and there has to be some flexibility at all times. Great violinists are flexible and their bow holds are flexible.

There is a detailed explanation of all the bow holds in the early pages of volume 1 of Carl Flesch's The Art of Violin Playing. For me, the bow hold determines really how you balance the bow and weight of hand and arm on the string (it's not really a question of pressure). Also, if you do look at violinists, the position of the violin in relation to the right arm (and it's length) is also responsible for the bow hold (i.e. heifetz holds his violin far to the left, oistrakh far less so, elman has short arms, etc., etc.).

Personally, I believe that not matter what "basic" approach you use, one has to be flexible and adapt his right hand position to what will allow for the best balance of weight for the part of the bow required or the stroke required.

November 16, 2004 at 06:00 PM · It's more a question of sorting out certain impressions and sense of bowing that I seem to have picked up along the way from either camp -- not from books but actual instruction and explanation. If anything I wrote in my first post is familiar or rings a bell,good. If not, I seem to be moving ahead day by day anyway. It would have been nice to have a few less nigglings during my violinistic housecleaning.

Best wishes, everyone.

November 16, 2004 at 06:19 PM · There is a lot of really helpful discussion on about all of this. I think it does help to be aware that there are different approaches and not just one, and only one way to bow right. Thx everyone.

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