Thumb position for bow hold

Edited: June 7, 2020, 4:24 PM · Do you put your thumb bent on top of the leather or near the curve part of the stick ?
I put my thumb on the curved part, not sure if it’s right but it feels most comfortable there.

Replies (17)

Edited: May 24, 2020, 9:38 AM · I'm not sure what you mean by "curve part of the stick." Do you mean higher up in the bow, or are you referring to the frog?

The thumb goes under the stick just next to the frog. If the leather has been properly placed, the thumb will eventually wear away the edge of the leather (not a big deal--leathers are replaceable). If you stick your thumb too far through, it will be impossible to keep it properly bent. I have only the side edge of the tip of my thumb with a bit of the nail in contact.

Like many if not most professionals today, I use the Franco-Belgian bow hold; my college teacher was a Galamian student.

Edited: May 24, 2020, 9:44 AM · I used to jam my thumb between the frog and the leather like most people seem to, but I decided that was dumb and uncomfortable and moved up to the middle of the leather. It is called the "thumb grip" after all.

I remember my teacher showing me the bow she used as a teenager years ago. I was taken aback by the frog—the tongue of the slide near the grip was totally flattened and polished perfectly smooth. I asked if it was a botched repair, and she simply said "no, that's how hard I pressed when I got angry".

May 24, 2020, 4:18 PM · Most teachers will tell you to place the thumb on the leather, and slightly bend your thumb. There are some players such as Aaron Rosand who stick the thumb into or close to the mouth of the ebony frog. One of my teachers who was concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, held the bow in the old Russian manner, and collapsed his thumb at the top joint, especially when applying pressure. It seemed to work out for him. He also had one of the greatest upbow and downbow staccatos I’ve ever witnessed. I place the thumb on the leather, however I cannot really bend it because I have freakishly long fingers. There’s more than one way to peel an orange.
May 24, 2020, 4:26 PM · The thumb typically rests between the edge of the thumb grip and the thumb projection of the frog. As to whether to bend or not, that depends on the style of the hold—if you use the more common Franco-Belgian hold, the thumb should be curved. If you use the Russian grip where the fingers are stretched out and the bow is held at greater distance from the palm, the thumb tends to be straighter. The key is for the thumb to be free to move and not locked; a locked thumb will make the bowstroke clumsy and inarticulate.
May 24, 2020, 9:46 PM · The thumb goes in the gap between the leather and the frog.
May 25, 2020, 4:09 AM · Then there are the many varied bow holds that fiddlers use playing old-time or Celtic fiddle music, as well as other folk fiddle music from around the world.

What has your teacher told you to do about the bow grip? If you're having a hard time holding the bow the way your teacher has told you, you should discuss it with her/him.

Edited: May 25, 2020, 4:30 AM · I am referring to the frog @ Mary Ellen Goree
So is there no correct way to hold the bow? As long as the thumb is free?
I’m finding now that I bow more freely when I have my thumb on the leather and my hand more up towards the stick.
May 25, 2020, 10:20 AM · There are a few correct ways to hold the bow and an infinite number of incorrect ways. I would suggest googling “Franco-Belgian bow hold” to find images and text describing the most commonly used.

There was a lengthy discussion here awhile ago about proper placement of the bow leather. In my opinion if you have space for your thumb on the stick between the edge of the bow leather and the frog, the leather has been incorrectly applied.

May 25, 2020, 10:25 AM · I agree with Mary Ellen: I had the gap she mentions, and over the years the corner of my thumb nail has worn a dent in th stick..
May 25, 2020, 12:05 PM · This is why you put your thumb on the leather! My anecdote shows how much damage you can do to the stick over time. The leather is easily replaced, even at home by an amateur.
May 25, 2020, 4:09 PM · This is really interesting I was searching YouTube and online and there are so many people that say the thumb goes in the gap?
But for me it feels more comfortable with my thumb on the leather as it’s more flexible that way.
Also, I never knew that your thumb nail could wear out the stick.
May 25, 2020, 4:33 PM · The placement of the leather on the bow is determined by the position of the frog’s thumb projection when placed on the stick with the eyelet in the top of its track. As hair stretches, the gap between the leather and the thumb projection becomes greater, especially with higher humidity. This is why it’s good to have your bow rehaired regularly.

The thumbnail can definitely wear into the stick, and this is something that’s visible on many old bows. It’s good to keep an eye on the thumb leather to catch it when it wears thin. Cutting your fingernails regularly helps too.

May 27, 2020, 6:24 AM · I think as long as my hand is flexible and comfortable on the bow it should be fine? It’s a lot more comfortable for the thumb to sit on the leather than cramped up on the gap
May 27, 2020, 6:51 AM · Todd Ehle has a YouTube video on bow hold. I suggest watching it.
May 29, 2020, 7:51 AM · Nate Robinson made reference to Aaron Rosand sticking his thumb into the "mouth" of the frog. Sadly, I was only 19 when I inherited a F. N. Vorin bow from my father, who had owned it for less than 20 years. At that time the bow had to have been at least 70 years old. The "mouth" of the frog was so worn by prior players that I was able to stick my thumb in there too, so that was the way I used it. It was one of only two bows I had for the next 30 years so I played it a lot.

Sometime in the last 20 years I finally noticed that the upper part of the frog's mouth had worn down to the metal underslide, so I stopped using it. I debated having a new frog made but finally I made an epoxy putty patch that I matched to the frog's black color. Those of you who know, know that a significant fraction of the value of such a classic bow is in the original frog.

Another reason for not sticking your thumb into the frog (as well as on the wooden stick).

June 7, 2020, 4:25 PM · Here are images of my bow hold. I put my thumb on the black curve.

June 7, 2020, 4:59 PM · Jo J, That's probably the thumb position that wore down the frog of my Vorin over the 70+ years before it became mine.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Sejong Music Competition
Sejong Music Competition

Watch Gilharmonic on
Watch Gilharmonic on

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine