Franco-Belgian vs Russian bow hold
Hi there! I have been following the discussions on V.com, and I have great respect for those of you who share your valuable opinion and advice.
I'm an adult beginner currently taking violin lessons. I use the Franco-Belgian bow hold. After practicing for about half an hour, I have to take breaks every 10-15 minutes due to the following issues I experience mainly related to my bow hand: pain in the middle of the tip of my thumb and sometimes numbness. Strain, fatigue, and weakness in overall grip and pinky. My hand also gets a bit sweaty and the pinky tends to slip. I just keep pushing through and tend to grip the bow tighter which makes my hand tense and ruins bow movement.
A couple of days ago I started experimenting with the Russian bow hold, and to my surprise, the above issues disappeared. I think that even my tone improved although I'm not 100% certain.
During my violin lesson today, I explained all of this to my teacher and asked if she would be ok with me switching the grip. She said that she isn't familiar with the Russian bow hold and won't be able to teach me advanced wrist/bow movements later. She suggested that we work to improve my Franco-Belgian bow hold. She dedicated most of the lesson analyzing my grip and helping me understand what I was doing wrong and how to make small adjustments. I immediately started implementing her suggestions and should know pretty soon if they work. In the meantime, I would love to hear your opinion and advice. Thanks a lot!
One of the things I notice is that you use the word "grip" four times in your post. I think one of the immediate changes you could make is to try and stop thinking in terms of gripping, and start thinking in terms of holding the bow. I know this perhaps sounds like semantics but what you describe suggests that you have a huge amount of tension in your bow hand, and this is likely because you are really gripping hard. Try instead to concentrate on just holding it - no more than stopping it from falling, and when you have the bow on the string, you can relax even further as the string will provide support to the bow (as a beginner, you're perhaps a little way off needing to do anything more complex).
To Tony's great response I would add that perhaps your bow needs to be replaced. I had never heard of the "Russian" bow hold but I just watched a video on it and tried to hold my bow that way and I can't picture actually using it. The weight distribution in my hand changed drastically and immediately felt better when I resumed my normal "Franco-Belgian" hold.
My two centimes d'Euro..
None of those bow holds are wrong, but tension in both is inappropriate. An improper Russian hold may also give you problems later on. Make sure the tension problems are solved before you advance further, so whichever bow hold you use five years from now helps you, rather than hinder your progress.
This little article summarizes several ways of holding a violin bow:
I suspect that the best grip and right-arm geometry is individual, and that one hold may be more comfortable and natural for a player than another.
Hi Ted. I would provisionally advise you to do as your teacher recommends. A bowhold needs to be relaxed no matter what. I can think of countless examples from my own lessons where I insisted that my teacher's way of doing things was uncomfortable, but after trying them, I almost invariably came around. I have one hold-out issue that I am not convinced on, but I've been with my teacher for 8 years.
Good advice above already. I’d just add that this might be a good opportunity for you to try both holds. Follow your teacher’s advice and see if you can sort out the issues you’re having with the Franco-Belgian hold. Eventually you can compare the two and see which works best for your style.
There are no "holds" really. If the bow is deep in your hand and the angle with your fingers is steep, we call it Russian. If the bow is nearer the middle joint of the fingers and the hand more parallel with the stick, we call it Franco-Belgian. Personally my hand is in some sort of limbo between the two—tight fingers but not too steep an angle.
I think there is already a lot said about this above. I like to add just one warning: be sure you don't mix up a russian bow grip with a straight pinky and stiff fingers. Because that is what I see happening around me. People say they prefere a russian bow grip because it is easier for their hands. But in the meantime they have trouble to bend there pinky and keep it straight, also with the other fingers a bit stiff. That is not the russian bow grip, but a stiff bow grip that gives trouble when you advance. I don't say that this is what happens with you right now, but just a little warning to give some attention to.
@ T. B.,-- My experience has been similar. The Russian hold is better for on-the-string sostenuto, slightly better tone quality, easier on the joints when playing loud. But the F.B. hold has better over-all control. I have not been able to do spiccato with the Russian hold. Whichever way you hold the bow, you should not feel very much at the thumb. It's only job is to prevent the bow from falling out of the hand! When playing loud, you should only feel tension in two spots; the first finger, and where the hair grabs the string. What is not mentioned often enough in this continuing debate is that the choice depends a lot on the horizontal angle of the violin. Those that hold the violin far to the left, for easier playing in high positions, are more likely to use the Russian hold. A quick and easy way to find your personal version; with the aid of a mirror or teacher, set the bow on the D-string, at the middle of the bow, where the elbow makes a 90 o angle, the wrist straight. Then place the first finger in front of the thumb.
If you've got a Russian grip, you should be able to easily play without the pinky at all.
I've always used the Russian hold, since it was the prevailing method taught when I was learning violin as a youngster and we all looked to Heifetz and Oistrakh. I tried the Franco-Belgian grip for a short time about 20 years ago to see if it might improve my control over the bow, but it had quite the opposite effect, so I quickly went back to the Russian. It feels more fluid and I can get a warmer tone. And as Lydia says, you can easily play without the pinky. Most of the younger violinists seem to have been taught Franco-Belgian, or something like it, but to my eyes it looks rather claw-like and awkward.
You're still better off learning what your teacher teaches than self-teaching a bowhold as a total beginner.
I agree with Christian on this. Yes, your bow hold will evolve. But for now, what seems to work best as a beginner may just reinforce bad habits. Better to learn one bow hold with expert instruction now, and let it evolve to fit your needs once you have a more complete range of bowing technique.
Strange that in videos David Oistrakh has a rather Franco-Belgian hold: four curved fingers and a lowish wrist and elbow. Quite unlike Heifetz. Most of the time..
"I literally practiced nothing but open strings and scales for three months."
I found this video very helpful. At 2:59 he explains the bow hold very clearly on video. Hope this helps.
Adrian I just had a look at those Oistrakh videos, and you're certainly right about that. At times he's playing with only thumb and two middle fingers on the bow! Incredibly fluid motion wrist & finger motion.
"When playing loud, you should only feel tension in two spots; the first finger, and where the hair grabs the string..."
I read about the Russian bow hold on this forum a few years ago. I tried it and it worked instantly, feeling perfectly natural as if I had used it all my life. I have never felt the need to return to the F-B hold or experiment with any other. I do wonder if my lifetime of cello playing has been an influence.
@Carmen,--Yes, you are right about that. I was thinking of playing loud at the upper half of the bow. At the frog, the arm weight is transferred through the middle fingers, not the first. The thumb is still not stressed there, the string opposes the force.
Thank you everyone for the great tips!