Broken chicken wing bowing?

March 6, 2006 at 07:38 AM · I have been on the lookout for a violin teacher and have noticed in my search that everyone I come across teaches the modern Russian form of bowing. This bowing seems to use a fairly high arm, with relatively 'flat' wrist in all parts of the bow. I sent a video of my playing to one teacher in Sydney (I live in Australia) and he emailed me back saying that I had a very old fashioned style based on 1920's German technique that is now considered bad technique. My question is to ask if there are any teachers out there who are teaching this so called 'old' technique, as I like the sound and style of this manner of playing. I also detected a bit of snobbery from some people who have assured me that violin technique has really advanced from those early 20th century days. If this is so, why do so many violinists of those days sound so interesting and entertaining? If I look at old photographs of players from that time such as Elman, Szigeti, Kreisler, Huberman, Ysaye, Busch, Flesch, Sammons etc they all have a lowish arm and a wrist that is definitely not 'flat'. The teacher from Sydney described this bowing style as the "broken chicken wing style". This seems a rather harsh description for a bowing style that produced such excellent results. Any comments on this?

Replies (63)

March 6, 2006 at 05:28 PM · I can only speak from my own experience. I grew up a Suzuki student. In previous years, I think many Suzuki teachers taught the low elbow because that is how Suzuki himself was taught. (I believe that has changed somewhat although there are probably still some Suzuki teachers that teach low elbow.) Suzuki was a student of Klinger who was a student of Jochim who definately used a low elbow. I initially learned the low elbow. I spent MANY years trying to undo the habit that had become so engrained. What I have found is playing with a higher elbow/flatter wrist has given more power and projection to my playing. It feels more free. The low elbow feels rather constrictive to me. This is just my own feeling though. Someone will probably have a more technical explaination. Now as for the great old players who got good results with it, I'm not sure that their good results were because of that particular technique. It doesn't work as well for most people. I'd say if you can play like the great players, then don't listen to what others say. If you can't, go with what has worked for most people. You might just like the higher elbow....

That's my 2 cents,


March 6, 2006 at 05:54 PM · To me the right technique is the one that is convenient to you. You may notice a kind of fashion according to the epoch that is little to do with German, Russian or Franco-belgian school. Naturally, teachers generally teach the way they were taught but some great teachers adapt technique to each pupil. The modern violin school is a mixture of old schools that unfortunately lead to a single vision and univocal technique.

March 6, 2006 at 08:39 PM · Greetings,

what Alain says is true. There is not a lot of reason for classsifying today's players and teachers as using a modern Russian style (I on't think that is correct , to be honest. The influence of Galamain on todays players cannot be said to be Russian). The old classifications have become so fuzzy due to ease of transportation that the elements and how they combine really defies description.

If you go back to the days of Flesch tehre wa sa Russian style that could be clearlty defined but is largely a function of the way the bow was held with the stick lower down the index finger. Flesch asserted that teh future of bowing lay in the consequences of the battle between that school (mostly from Auers influence) and the Franco Belgian. On the whole the FB displced that style but in the late 20th century teachers like Galamian mixed up all the elements.So the deifntiions are maibly of histotical interest.

Except to add taht the German bow hold advocated by Spohr is not used any more simply becaus e it is irrelevenat to today"s playing. It will not produce a depth of sound.Nor is the book under the arm style of playing accepted. It doesn't work by todays standards. Taht was also the school taught by Hubay, by the way. Hence Szigeti had his problems which Flesch so dearly wanted to help him with. The good FB players of Flesch"s day you refer to may have used a lower bow arm but it is not the chicken style at all. Photographs can be misleading. Zukerman learnt that through his main teacher who was a Hubay student and then rejected it of his own accord before he went to Galamian.

In truth people raise and lower their bowarms somewhat according to the needs of the sound and music so , Zukerman again, his bow arm drags down mor einBrahms than Mozart because he concieve sof different depths of sound.

There are some good discussions of the old bowing school definitons in the archives by the way,



March 6, 2006 at 09:29 PM · Interesting discussion. I was taught what I guess would be the Russian style - moderately high elbow (not real high but certainly not low). Then dropping the hand so that it hangs down. The bow then almost naturally fits the hanging hand; just curve the thumb in a little, bring the little finger so that it is placed on the bow balancing it, and use the slightest of pressure. The fulcrum is then between the thumb, the little finger coming straight down on the end of the bow, the 1st joint from the wrist of the index finger, and the middle finger just to hold things in place (lightly). But the hand position is a more or less natural one.

Anyone familiar with Tossy Spivakovsky? I saw him play once, in around 1960 (the Sibelius; a fantastic performance). He had an unorthodox bow grip, though. As I recall, his fingers were spread out with lots of space between them, and he held his bow arm in a somewhat peculiar manner, but I can't recall the details.

Anyway, Cheers. Sandy

March 6, 2006 at 10:09 PM · I recall Spivakovsky; I too saw him in concert in Chicago many years ago. He held his bow so very high (elbow way up)and had a FAST vibrato. I think with that hold he must have readily exploited the weight of the bow more than most violinists. What a noble appearance he had, like some movie star or aristocrat, tall and handsome with ramrod posture. Had some old-fashioned slides, rather individual as I recall.

I recently got a CD of his early playing, encores... He would certainly stand out in a crowd. Especially now...since he's dead.

March 6, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

Spivakovsly had his thumb opposite or between the third and fourth finger to achive tremendous leverage. Wouldn`t recommende it to anyone else though.



March 7, 2006 at 01:20 AM · Hi, thanks for your comments. I agree that the book under the arm method is definitely bad technique. My bow arm is actually pretty high, but I do have a tendency to have a raised wrist, especially when bowing near the frog. I find it a very natural technique for myself. But I notice that on DVDs that a lot of players such as Szeryng, Milstein and other more recent players always seem to maintain a wrist that is 'in line' with their forearms.

March 7, 2006 at 01:25 AM · Greetings,

that`s right (about the straight wrist). But, I doubt if it can be attributed to any specific school or trend. It is, in my opinion, and presumably in that of the stars you mention , the most efficient way of getting a decent sound for =most- people.

Incidentally, the hooked wrist is still quite porevalent in Japan because of the residual influenc eof Shinichi Suzuki who learnt this antiquated style of bowing. Some recordings of him exist and er, if the merits of the Suzuki `method` are to be judged by its founder`s sound then it would probably not be in existence today.



March 7, 2006 at 03:17 AM · Chinese chicken style can be nice.....perhaps with prune sauce.

March 7, 2006 at 03:58 AM · Hmmm Stephen, good point but I wonder what Galamian sounded like compared to his students. I saw Suzuki's own student tour group one year at Eastman. They all had freakishly low bow arms and sounded fantastic. Actually, the weirdest thing about that particular performance was NOT the low bow arms, but the twin seven year olds playing the last movement of Mendelssohn together...

March 7, 2006 at 04:44 AM · Greetings,

I think Galamian was a damn good player in his time. The small amount of biographical material argues for a pretty decent career as soloist , except it ain`t what he wanted to do.Evaluating his playing by later tapes , you can see odd flashes but obviously a lifetime teaching ten hours a day sititng in a chair in a studio i snot going to nurture solosit level playing.

I am not saying that trhere is necessarily a linkage between level of teacher and student. Considering Auer and so forth, a greta teacher should be able to produce a new generation of `better` players . Maybe...

The low wrist is also interesting. I mena Szigeti was just fantastic in his early days with that ridiculuous configuration, but as he got older it (among other things) ended his career. I know some of the original students of Suzuki and they have all developed problems with bowing as well as the difficulty with sight reading.

I also wonder where those students you saw at eastman are now? Top soloists? There aren`t any top Japanese solosits playing that way as far as i know. Sitting in orchestras? Maybe but if they are in western orchestras they aren`t sitting at the front unless their bowing arm has been redone. Maybe they are sitting in Japanes eorchestras but those hardly have a soiund in the same ballpark as American/European/russian etc. orchestras.



March 7, 2006 at 08:37 AM · The so-called German method is not right as it uses only the wrist to bow. The Franco-Belgian and Russian methods are far superior as they utilize the whole arm (usage can be arm, elbow and wrist whenever the player wishes). For the German method, tonally you cannot make a big sound and it looks very cramped. Galamian did not play well in a teaching video that I have seen. Perlman even said that he had a very slow vibrato and made fun of his 1st USA teacher in a UK TV show (The South Bank Show) ages ago. Regards.

March 7, 2006 at 10:46 AM · Greetings,

veyr true about the German stuff. Surprised it even gets entioned these days.

Galamian was way past it in his videos but the book I ention highlights reviews suggetsing a pretty fine soloist and he certainly had the pedigree, studying with both Mostras and (I see to recall) Capet.




March 7, 2006 at 01:37 PM · I'd like to suggest to Mr. Galamian's critics that they should try teaching his schedule, producing his results and leaving his legacy.

If he didn't sound great in later what? He certainly produced great students and changed the landscape of violin playing. You know, when one grows old, does it mean they have nothing left to offer? I think that is shallow thinking.

March 7, 2006 at 01:40 PM · Hey Buri,

All those kids I saw are now probably doctors and lawyers, having had pretty good violin careers between the ages of 3 and 17! Seriously though, it's an interesting point and I'll try to find out where they are now. As for the low bow arm, I agree that there may be longterm problems for those players from that style of bow technique. In my somewhat russian style bow arm, I definitely use the arm's entire mass to move the string at times, and it's hard to imagine how you'd do that with the arm so low- kinda like boxing with your wrist bent 90 degrees...


March 7, 2006 at 02:55 PM ·

Ouch, David!

I'm not a "Galamian critic", just pointing out to the Suzuki critic that Suzuki's bad recordings don't necessarily mean that he was teaching students to play badly.

March 7, 2006 at 05:14 PM · I have to say I can't stand the suzuki bow arm. It's so difficult to get my students to correct.

March 7, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

although this is a perfectly friendly discussion with some good points being raised I have to admit that in some ways I find it just a little disappointing.

There seems to be some slight misreprenetations being made about what I said. I never implied/stated g that someone who is not a first rank player or is old is not going to produce fantastic students.

Second I do actually resent being called a critic of either Galamian or Suzuki. It is actually a litlte bit rude. If we are not allowed to make objective comments that we can support with reference to recordings, rational standards and opur experiences with the studnets of the people cocnerned then this list has no purpose. Ther eis no longer any place for thoughtful or useful discussion of players.

Was Suzuki a lousy player by today`s and even yesteryears standards? Yes, he was.

Did he leave a fnatastic legacy that people all over the world continue to benifit from ?Yes.

Was Galamain one of the greatest teahcers in history? Yes.

Was his playing anygood late rin life? Of course not for the reasons I took the trouble to point out.

I really wish that when @points are made about players those points are addressed rather than just a rather knee jerk bandying of the word `critic ` around.



March 7, 2006 at 11:50 PM · Wow! Guys! I never meant to criticize either of your comments. Was reacting more to an earlier remark (posted by someone else)about Mr. Galamian which I felt was rather thoughtless.

Of course there are many varieties of bow arm. Many work, some are more efficient than others. This is a great place to discuss their merits and drawbacks. That is useful.

The Suzuki legacy probably should be recognized for the beautiful thing it is... a wonderful beginning to many children. There are many who still teach that low elbow and a straight thumb, but that really is secondary to the larger impact of the method (in my opinion). It is hard to 'undo' these elemenys at times, but many are able to change successfully into something that projects more and offers more color varieties.

Obviously, I teach the Galamian bow arm, but in fact, I will not quarrell with SOME variations of it, if it does not create inefficient playing.

But the point is: Mr.G dedicated his life to teaching students to play well. He did so for most of his life. I still think his work should be judged on their playing and not his own. After all, he made the choice to teach, not perform. That is all I wanted to say... and to neither of you in particular! Sorry for the confusion.

March 8, 2006 at 02:56 AM · Since my bow arm is my greates struggle right now and I realize until I can get it working for me I am at a standstill in my violin playing-- Don't stop this discussion on the pros and cons of the various postions of the arm! What I have not been able to figure out, with the help of various teachers, they have tried, is how to keep the arm raised without tensing the shoulder. When I tense the shoulder the bow no longer is resting on the strings but is lifted somewhat. I also use too much of my whole arm when playing instead of just the forarm--having that impulse to come from the elbow. After two years of playing I finally got a teacher that would help me in this area, but after another two years habits still are not broken--boy do they die hard!

March 8, 2006 at 03:38 AM · Stephen,

What's the saying? If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen...but just because you CAN take the heat doesn't mean you have to eat my borsht. Here in Washington DC, rude, unprincipled and nasty arguments are the norm. I myself have even had beer thrown at me in the course of an argument, only to laugh with my erstwhile enemy as I buy him another beer and keep on arguing (Emil can attest to this). So OF COURSE if you are less than enthousiastic about somebody's very beloved and uniquely special approach to teaching, you shouldn't be surprised if they then call you a critic, a hooligan, an enemy of good violin playing, misrepresent your opinion etc... It's just all part of the fun, don't you think? So sit down awhile and have a beer...


March 8, 2006 at 03:43 AM · No offense taken, David. I was worried I'd offended you!

Actually, I'm sorry I never got a chance to play for Galamian or meet him. I made it a point to visit his studio at meadowmount when I visited one summer. (At least I THINK it was his studio... Come to think of it, I suppose the lady could have been lying to me and taken me to Alan Bodman's studio instead! I mean, how would I have known? )

Anyway, at that time, I was studying with a former student of Galamian's and had heard many stories of my teacher's lessons with him, so it was really interesting to see his studio there.


March 8, 2006 at 03:35 AM · Caroline,

There may be a difference between "tensing" the shoulder and lifting the shoulder which should be looked at. Lifting the shoulder is not good for anything except your chiropractor's bank account.

However, flexing of the muscles at the shoulder is a natural consequence of holding your elbow level with you hand because your hand is no longer supporting the weight of the arm-the shoulder is. This is different from being "tense", but the muscles will definitely contract. Could this be what you are thinking of as tension?

March 8, 2006 at 05:35 AM · Caroline,

I sympathize. I too feel my bow arm is my biggest weekness. I had a lot of trouble with raising my wrist and dropping my elbow a little. What greatly helped me is to pronate the hand a little more. By turning the balance of my hand a little more towards my index finger I am able to keep the proper wrist and elbow level. Instead of having my wrist parallel to the floor, it forms more of a 45 degree angle with the floor. Instead of thinking of raising your elbow, (you're fighting gravity when you do this which can cause some tension) you might try just rotating the wrist a little. I've found it is impossible (well at least for me) to have a low elbow if my hand/wrist is pronated properly. Hope this helps!


March 8, 2006 at 07:48 AM · I can see now I shouldn't have used the terms Russian or German. I did so because I read some CD notes that mentioned such terms, and because a teacher in Sydney mentioned "German bowing".

I don't bow with a Joachim type bow hold (fingertips and straight thumb) or a flat upper arm (book under the arm), so the 'German' charge was perhaps inaccurate. I'm not a professional performer so I'm no expert.

Out of interest, is it possible that Itzhak Perlman does not really bow with an 'in line' wrist at the frog? I haven't looked at a DVD of him playing for a while so may be wrong.

March 11, 2006 at 02:02 AM · I've discovered that it is quite easy to adapt my bowing to an in line configuration at the frog, rather than using a hooked wrist. I notice an improvement in sautille bowing straight away. I think I've made a real discovery for myself. The teacher in Sydney was a great help after all.

Thank you for your excellent opinions and advice.

March 11, 2006 at 10:09 PM · Speaking of Spivakovsky I remember reading a book almost 25 years ago entitled The Spivakovsky Way of Bowing by Gaylord Yost. Anyone out there ever read it?

May 18, 2006 at 10:07 PM · I myself am a product of the Suzuki method and my very first teacher was a student of Dr. Suzuki's. I have tried both the russian and german bowing styles. I personally like the German because it is a lot easier to play melodic passages. I have also found the russian style to be very uncomfortable.

May 18, 2006 at 10:32 PM · Jon, Aaron Rosand teaches this style.

I learned so much from him. Every time I pick up the violin, I silently say "thank you" to him for having helped me so much.

Another early teacher of mine taught me this method too, and he was a student of Oscar Shumsky who used that style. Today that man is in his 80s, like Rosand.

Occasionally I'll meet violin teachers in my job who are visiting from the Midwestern United states. They've often trained with old school Germanic instructors.

I've noticed a difference between the classic German school violinists and the Auer guys, Auer being a offshoot of that method. To me, the biggest stylistic difference is in the virtuoso emphasis while the biggest mechanical difference is in the angle of the violin as held under the chin.

May 18, 2006 at 10:37 PM · Greetings,

the German style of playing is dead. Flesch stated this 60 odd years ago. does anyone really play with a book under their arm, holding the bow by the fingertips? Let`s get real. Talking about a prune hold would have as much relevance to modern playing.



May 18, 2006 at 10:55 PM · For the longest time, I didn't realize that there was more than one type of German bowhold.

The type described by Stephen I've seen, and he's right about it in terms of modern violin playing.

There's also a German bowhold that looks almost identical to an Auer "Russian" bowgrip. Or one should say that the "Russian" bowgrip looks like the old German bowhold since that's basically where Auer got it from himself. Sometimes I'd see a violinist using the "Russian" hold and inquire about his teacher, hoping to unearth some Auer lineage. I was always surprised when they consistently told me that they learned it from their German-trained instructors.

Nonclassical fiddlers use all sorts of bowgrips, and it's interesting to see both German bowholds being employed in performance as well.

May 18, 2006 at 11:14 PM · Interesting, informative thread - thanks for starting it, Jon.

And Buri, I love your eloquence.

May 19, 2006 at 12:33 AM · Greetings,

Kevin, maybe its a Prussian thingy,



May 19, 2006 at 02:25 AM · Like many people, I was taught the "one and only correct way" to hold and move the bow. My wrist stays relatively flat, and I go from one string to another by raising my arm from the shoulder so that my upper arm is parallel to the ground when I play on the G string. I hold the bow with my hand just exactly the way the photos in Suzuki Book One show. I make a circle with my hand with my thumb opposite my middle finger. My pinkie just sits on top of the bow for balance, and I can make "rabbit ears" by lifting my index finger and pinkie from the bow. I don't exert any pressure with my right hand. The weight of my arm from my shoulder down gives all the pressure I need. For me, the value of holding the bow the way I do is that my right hand stays relaxed, and I have the most control when I'm the most relaxed. In recent years I've come to appreciate the "different strokes for different folks" approach. I teach my students to avoid the death grip of the bow. I have found a lot of bodily differences among my adult beginner students, whose bodies show some wear and tear of age. For those who experience a lot of tension in or near the right shoulder, a different approach works better -- keep the bow arm low and hook the wrist. Different methods of holding the bow work better for different bodies.

May 19, 2006 at 04:02 AM · Greetings,

keeping the bow arm low and hooking the wrist becaus e of a stiff shoulder is actually avoiding dealing with the stiff shoulder and setting up new stress on the wrist because it is not held in its natural position. it is not a question of different strokes for differnet folks. The most efficient and safe method of playing is to have the joints/muscles in the neutral positon which hooking certainly isn`t. this is explained with great clarity in Kepmner`s book on teaching muscles to learn. She is very highly schooled in the Suzuki method. Very few competent players successfully use a hooked wrist to produce a good soudn and reliable bowing technique. The last greta soloist to do it wa sSzigeti and , as Flesch pointed out, it hastened his violnistic demise. He belated the fact he never had Szigeti as a student and thereby had a chance to correct it.



May 19, 2006 at 02:30 PM · [quote author=Buri]

I know some of the original students of Suzuki and they have all developed problems with bowing as well as the difficulty with sight reading.



Can you think of the reasons why the problems emerged?



May 19, 2006 at 03:35 PM · I don't know Buri's situation with these students, but I can easily imagine some of the difficulties they faced because I faced them myself as a young Suzuki student.

I started the violin at 6 and didn't learn how to read until I was 11 or 12. After I learned what the notes were, it took me about 10 additional years to catch up on sightreading and I'm STILL way below a professional orchestra player in that regard.

I learned in the beginning strictly by imitating my teachers and recordings, which was really tough trying to play along with David Nadien's excessively fast Suzuki recordings. Don't get me wrong, it worked really well for learning songs quickly. I couldn't keep up with Nadien as a 6 year old kid (I wouldn't today now that I'm a professional concert violinist), and thus the whole thing soured me pretty badly to fast playing because I didn't hear those songs the way Nadien did then and especially not now. That served me well as far as learning by imitation goes, but it really hurt me in terms of learning how to think for myself. I had to become an adult before I could muster enough guts to listen to my own heart even if people were screaming in my ear not to.

Side note: Maybe the reason I'm so into the baroque violin for baroque songs is because of Nadien's playing on those Suzuki recordings. I can't deal with his continuous modern vibrato going through "Twinkle", though I intellectually know that it's "correct" by modern standards. In the same regard, I really can't stand listening to modern opera stars because their vibrato oscillations are too wide for my taste.

I can't speak for the Suzuki students that buri knows in Japan, but the training I received emphasized power bowing. That's great for concert hall projection in certain songs, but I couldn't stand the inability to get real dynamic shadings when I wasn't playing a fast song or power ballad. The last thing I wanted was to sound like the ubiquitous modern classical violinist that everybody is expected to be nowadays. I didn't solve these problems until I went to Aaron Rosand and his chicken-wing bowing a few years ago and he set me straight. Even so, it took me to nearly the present day to grow into the technique and figure out all the little tricks I needed. There's no way I could've figured it out on my own without his help.

I can think of only two living classical stars today who use the Auer style bowing to the fullest extent: Aaron Rosand and Itzhak Perlman.

Those guys have these wicked little wrist and finger motions in their right hands that give them subtlety and expression and ease. If a person isn't doing that, his bowing becomes hard and angular despite using a Russian bowgrip. To me, one must absolutely feature that right hand flexibility to be doing "Auer" bowing in my unsolicited estimation.

Neither of these two violinists uses a "pure" Russian bowgrip, which is interesting because Aaron Rosand taught me the "pure" version and not the hybrid one he uses himself! As far as I can see, Perlman's grip is almost identical to Rosand's and that's why they have similar effects as far as bowing is concerned.

When I was a student, I was so enamored of this style of playing that I vowed to learn from Rosand how to do it. I didn't know that I'd be taught the right hand more than the left hand, but that's how it turned out because Rosand knew exactly what I needed.

As a drill for this "broken chicken wing bowing", I'll regularly play Suzuki's "Twinkle" variations using almost no shoulder, elbow, or wrist - only my right hand fingers. Of course, I'll have some minimal arm involvement just to change strings.

May 19, 2006 at 03:46 PM · Buri,

What exactly IS that Hubay-style, "book-under-the-arm" way of playing? Szigeti mentioned it in his book but I had no idea what he was on about.


May 20, 2006 at 04:53 AM · Greetings,

Maura, the Hubay school (and the old German) often taught staudents to play with a book under the arm to keep it as low as possible and the wrist hooked. Spohr also advocated tying it down with a piece of string to a waistcoat button, or soemhting like that. tehreason it is so dangerus iis that with the hooked wrist the tendency is to move the hand from side to side on alateral plane which it is not menat to do repeatedly. This action has ended careers. That is why I am so blunt about the hooked wrist problem. Incidentally, I have tried opening The Way they Play books at random and checking photos of the greta palyer sof history. =Not one= is using a low bow arm and hooke dwrist. Zuxckerman explicitly states in his interview that he learnt this from Fheyder, his fisrt teacher in Israel (a Hubay stduent) and rapidly rejected it.



May 20, 2006 at 03:36 PM · Blech! Poor Hubay students! How could they even play chords? For heaven's sake, how could they play at all?!

May 20, 2006 at 05:10 PM · To be fair, many a tall violinist over 6 feet tall (i.e. Szigeti or Ysaye) HAS TO occasionally lower his elbows just to bow straight. Given the long arms of many of the German trained violinists, that's hardly surprising.

Besides, I've seen plenty of modern day violinists do fine with a bent chicken wing elbow. As long as the contact between bow and string is there and the direction is reasonable, they get all sorts of stuff out of the violin.

June 1, 2006 at 02:12 PM · Good point Kevin. One element that had been missing from this thread is the relativity of all things. The smaller a player is relative to the violin, the more neutral the wrist (and all the joints) should be - the more efficient the bowing must be. So Perlman can bow almost entirely from the forearm and allow his hand to hang from his forearm (a 'high' wrist doesn't necessarily imply a 'hooked' wrist - everything is relative). But then his hand probably weighs the same as the average forearm ;) And someone with very long arms can allow her forearm to dip well below the level of the stick while playing at the tip without necessarily jamming the wrist or losing sound. At the opposite end, the player with the longer arm can afford a very high elbow without straining the shoulder, although Primrose never found the need to do so.

The book under the arm trick, while archaic, can help to immobilize the upper arm from swinging at the shoulder socket so that the forearm motion can be isolated, although it might be impractical to do this on the G string, and preferable to rest the elbow on a cabinet instead, and really only useful if one were to open and close the elbow rather than moving the hand side to side. What may be more useful is the sensation it provides of playing at the level of the E string. I've seen too many students strain the shoulder foreward by keep the elbow at an A string level while forcing the hand to the E string.

But what about Aaron Rosand? How could he possibly bow in the manner Perlman does? He holds (and teaches to hold) the violin to the front rather than to the left side over the shoulder, effectively increasing the relative length of his bow arm (a position also promoted by Auer and the old German school, and Kato Havas in recent times). How each part of the arm moves relative to it's other parts depends on how the violin is held relative to the bow. Everything's relative.


June 1, 2006 at 11:12 PM · Greetings,

I agree with your reasoning about Perlman. Typically heavy arms have a slighly lower elbow and more lowered hand. Oistrakh was the same. It takes the excess weigth off the instrument. Lighter armed players have to go in the opposite direction. IE Kogan.

>The book under the arm trick, while archaic, can help to immobilize the upper arm from swinging at the shoulder socket so that the forearm motion can be isolated,

Which is one reason I am opposed to it. I think isolating the forearm is a somewhat unhealthy way to talk about bowing sicne there is necessraily a reaction in the upper arm unless we want to create rigidity. Amittedly there is a difficulty inthat beginners hack away with the upper arm and a frozen elbow joint, but I have found that young playerscan be taught that there is mobility in all parts of the arm extending over to the back and that from this udnerstanding a student can learn that, as you say, everything is relative and the proportions of movement can be guided into a sensible s(semi) isolate dmoveemnt of the forearm.

all books I have read on the subject concur that one should not compromise on the neutral position. There is a compreheniosve discussion of this in `Playing Less Hurt.` The neutral posiiton is not actually a straight wrist so I don`t think this contradicts anythign you are actually saying.

However, using a hooked wrist is incompetent irrespective of arm length and aprt form loss of sound, muscle and tendon overuse, such players are a liabilty in orchestras because for example, they can`t do smooth bariolage as found so frequentyly in Beethoven and Brahms symphnoniesm,



June 2, 2006 at 01:11 AM · Although I agree that the low elbow high wrist might work for some (as I stated in another post in another thread, I saw Kavakos perform Bartok this way)I think you have to have a VERY good reason to do it as it doesn't work for the majority. It is a habit that dies hard, so any of you who teach, PLEASE do not let your students do it. Nip it in the bud so to speak. If they have a valid reason later on to try it, so be it, but they should be ABLE to play with a level wrist and elbow first. The key is helping students to understand which hinge or hinges are utilized in crossing strings. All to often I see students trying to get to the G string by crossing strings from the elbow joint rather than the shoulder socket.

I may be totally wrong on this, but since I had to spend a long time trying to undo the habit and learn the wrist-elbow-in-alignment way of playing, I feel strongly about it. It actually annoys me to see the low elbow way of playing. I had to close my eyes at the Kavakos concert because it was distracting me from his beautiful playing. That may be intolerant, but it just drives me crazy!


June 2, 2006 at 06:04 AM · Greetings,

that makes me wodner if Kavakos was not dropping his elbow for a specific kind of sound....



June 2, 2006 at 03:09 PM · Hi Buri,

To add to my earlier post, I completely agree with you - especially in regard to the hooked wrist (I was suggesting that just because a wrist looks high to the observer, doesn't necessarily mean that it is rigid; on the flip-side, just because a wrist looks neutral, doesn't necessarily mean that it's flexible, or capable of its full range of motion). I've never used the book under the arm trick, but I do often suggest the cabinet method, or better still, when with the student, I'll offer my hand as a rest for the elbow. I do think, though, that it is helpful to isolate joints (for the brain), not in such a way that the rest of the arm becomes rigid, but so that the student can learn to focus on and feel the proper motion(s) for that joint. Once that's perceived, the student can then 'zoom' out, so to speak, and become aware of how that joint coordinates with the others. This manner of organizing motions (I think this is similar to Conable's Body Mapping idea, as applied to instrument specific motions) is useful for those who can't get the coordination all at once. For example, some students can't feel the releasing of the shoulder in Galamian's pumping motion (elbow swings forward as bow moves from middle to tip). You get them to punch forward, or even diagonally to the side, and this is done effortlessly (like reaching for something). Whereas 'bowing straight', which involves the same coordination of the different parts of the arm, is impossible for some. I believe this is because the brain has not yet mapped that familiar motion for 'bowing straight', and/or the brain has mapped 'bowing straight' with the feeling of a rigid shoulder socket. So I find that isolating the shoulder by swinging the straight arm-with-bow-at-tip back and forth by releasing the shoulder socket helps to feel proper alignment at the tip. Or pushing the elbow back (often against my hand, or to a wall at home) while bowing from tip to middle gets the student to isolate, for the brain, the proper swing of the upper arm, releasing at the shoulder socket. In the end, 'neutral' can only be determined by self-awareness - how it feels rather than how it looks (flexibility is so variable) - which is why (I think we agree on this) training in Alexander Technique, or developing that kind of inner awareness, is so useful for violin technique.



June 2, 2006 at 06:56 PM · Hi Laura,

How low is low? Just trying to picture this as I've only had the privilege of hearing Kavakos' magnificent playing. Have you seen Primrose's bow arm (I'm assuming we're talking about bowing at the frog)? Primrose (in Dalton's book Playing the Viola) suggests that the low elbow at the frog helps to counterbalance the weight of the bow (which is particularly important for violists and those of relatively smaller proportions). Of course, I think this only works if the player feels a strong connection from pinky to elbow through the wrist. An excessively high elbow can be just as damaging to the shoulder as the 'hooked wrist' is to the wrist. By raising the elbow in a completely (geometrically) straight line through the wrist, one tends to have to raise the shoulderblade-collar (especially for those with relatively short upper arms), which in turn raises the shoulder socket bringing the ball joint out of alignment. With repeated motion in such a position, there is a greater chance for the ligament to be impinged and tearing of the rotator cuff muscles (as for pitchers - check with your physiologist). Buri mentioned that neutral is not geometrically straight - neutral allows for moderate bending. Is that what you mean by "wrist-elbow-in-alignment way of playing"?

(Aside: just so were all on the same page, by 'hooked wrist' do people mean an excessively bent wrist, so there is great pressure through and stress on the wrist joint?)

I share your concern on these issues because of their career-ending potential. So I think it's important that we're as clear as we can be through our limited interaction.



June 2, 2006 at 04:13 PM · Jeewon,

Well put on the isolating joints issue. As for the wrist in alignment, etc. it is relative of course. I don't think that "lifting" the elbow is ever right as that causes tension behind the shoulder blades. This misconception is why it took me so long to figure out the role of the elbow in bowing technique. If your hand/wrist is properly pronated a little towards the index finger (enough that your hand faces away from you) the elbow and wrist will be at approximately the same level. However, I think the hand should drop down very slightly otherwise you have an uncomfortable feeling of pushing the wrist down, at least that's how I can describe it. What needs to be avoided is having the wrist look like a mountain peak with the elbow and hand both dropping down.


June 2, 2006 at 04:23 PM · Buri,

Kavokos is AWESOME so I'm sure it's for a specific sound. When I saw him play Korngold he didn't drop the elbow unless my memory is faulty.


June 2, 2006 at 06:53 PM · Thanks for the reply Laura. I think we're all on the same page here re. hi/low wrist/elbow issues. JK

June 17, 2006 at 03:10 AM · This is a benign thread, fairly risk-free I think. Don't know if anyone's still interested in the topic but I am about to mention *that* player: I won't mention any names but his initials are Jascha Heifetz.

Just been watching a DVD of this marvellous violinist and, boy, am I getting confused. He seemed very clearly to be demonstrating a BCW style of bowing at the frog in many parts of his performance. The way I saw it, he was bending his wrist at the frog most of the time.

Related to the discussion in other threads, he also was holding his violin 'up' (the scroll level with his chin), and his left hand thumb was mostly supporting the violin in a way that teachers have advised me not to do.

He is great, yes. But violinistic simpletons such as I (comparatively speaking) can use similar techniques, surely.

June 17, 2006 at 02:03 AM · Yeah, but Heifetz is Heifetz, go figure. Szigeti looked like he was playing in a phone booth the whole time, Ferras had the opposite problem, and let's not even get into Spivakovsky's bow hold. Basically, whatever works is what works, but I wouldn't suggest trying to copy anyone else's bowing style. :)


June 17, 2006 at 02:22 AM · You're right Maura. Just do what works.

June 17, 2006 at 04:38 AM · The gist of all of this is that basically I'm stubborn. I'm gonna do it my way, to quote Sinatra.

My lonely, teacherless walk continueth unabated...unrequited...

June 17, 2006 at 06:48 AM · Have you ever seen Oistrakh play? I am not sure exactly, but I am pretty sure he plays with the low arm up bows and bent wrist. I had a fantastic teacher a few years ago who modelled her teaching on Oistrakh's playing and in turn she lowered my arm and I started playing with a bent wrist near the frog. The change reaped \huge benefits for my sound and after every performance people religiously commented on my tone . Tone is one of the top three most importante on my list so I appreciated the change. I must say though that along with the lowered arm, you must remember to lead from your elbow in the lower half while playing up bows otherwise bow changes are very difficult to disguise. I don't think there is only one way though. As the saying goes: 'there are many different ways to skin a cat"

Hope this helps :)

June 17, 2006 at 02:41 PM · I'm playing with a somewhat lower arm than usual (but not Hubay-style or anything!!) and it seems to be helping my tone. Hmm...

June 29, 2006 at 09:25 AM · I agree with Buri. If we look at all the joints of the right arm as compass points, the shoulder, elbow and wrist are always comensating for one another to reconcile the circular movements of our joints with the straight lines required for proper bowing. ON THE OTHER HAND,practicing finger and wrist strokes as Kevin outlines is an indespensible tool for developing freedom. It seems to me that you all bring up parts of a whole regarding the right arm. I truly believe, as a member wrote earlier, that the positioning of the arm should be result driven and that it can change.

My 2 cents


June 29, 2006 at 01:18 PM · Malavika,

You are right about David Oistrach...Vladimir Spivakov, Vladimir Lancman (Outstanding in the 60's), Phillip Hirshorn, Sitkovetski, Kogan, Kremer, Mullova ,most of the Yankelevith and Stoliarski students all use more or less the same bow technic as Oistrach...It is very different than the Galamian school, and they emphasise speed and lightnness of the bow for sound, instead of bow-pressure...Free wrist and finger stroke ect. Low arm but not as much as Szigeti...suspension of the wrist at the frog avoiding index pressure and using more the small finger for balance.


June 29, 2006 at 01:43 PM · I would add that I strongly believe that Hilary Hahn and James Ehnes ,in the way they play, did a reconciliation of both schools (Galamian-Stoliarski), because they sound so much different than the generation before in America...Two great ambassadors of the violin!!!

June 29, 2006 at 01:54 PM · Marc--

It's interesting to heear your comments about speed and lightness of bow with Oistrakh because it confirms my observations of the tapes as well as my own quest for that sound which seems to demand lightness at the frog plus LOTS of bow. Also Buri made a comment about the floating shoulder which somehow makes sense to my body if not to me and it all combines into a sound that is round and which is becoming fuller. Though somehow it is easier to use in literature than in my Kreutzer--different mindset I guess. i also don't use portato in Kreutzer.

June 29, 2006 at 02:02 PM · Jay,

May I add That Kreisler was using the bow in a similar way as Oistrach did...We all know about the beauty of the sound of Kreisler and he was a strong supporter of David Oistrach...


June 29, 2006 at 02:06 PM · And I also agree with Buri about the "floating shoulder...

June 29, 2006 at 11:38 PM · Greetings,

the quote about `floating shoulder` is really interesting so I will tyr and track it down. It does, as Odin notes, integrate all the aspects of playign if I reclal it correctly. The gist of it was that there is a brief moment in time when whatever finger, wrist action suits you is `suspended` (during the change) and then continues. Somewhat liek the BBC saying `normal SErvice will be resumed as soon as posisble.` I suppose...



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