Music & Entertainment

Learn About Violin Bow Hold: Best Bow Technique and Itzhak Perlman’s Tips for Bow Technique

Written by MasterClass

Jun 6, 2019 • 4 min read

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Itzhak Perlman Teaches Violin

Practicing the proper bow grip is integral to learning to play the violin. Bow technique impacts a violinist’s precision and ability to coax tone and emotion out of the instrument.

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Itzhak Perlman's graphic of a violin bow

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What Are the Parts of a Violin Bow?

  • Tip: The pointed end of the bow (sometimes referred to as the point), the tip of the bow is where the hair connects to the bow.
  • Hair: The strands of horse hair that are strung across the bow and which rub the violin strings to create sound.
  • Stick: The main structure of the bow, most often made of pernambuco wood. The bow stick can also be made from brazilwood or synthetic materials such as carbon fiber.
  • Bow Grip: The leather pad and metal winding where the hand grips the bow.
  • Frog: A carved piece of wood, usually ebony, where the hair connects at the base of the bow. It also houses the mechanism for tightening and loosening the bow.
  • Eyelet: A small brass piece inside the frog that allows the bow to be tightened and loosened with a turn of the screw.
  • End Screw: A screw used to tighten or loosen the hair of the bow.

Learn more about the parts of a violin in our complete guide here.

How Do You Hold a Violin Bow?

There are many ways to hold a violin bow. The two most common are the Russian grip and the Franco-Belgian grip.

  • Russian Bow Grip: The hand is extremely pronated, with the fingers close together and the wrist up. This grip was used by famous violinists such as Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, and Nathan Milstein. The Russian bow grip allows for a lot of bow speed.
  • Franco-Belgian Bow Grip: The middle finger is opposite the thumb. The thumb should be slightly rounded/curved. It’s important not to lock the thumb. The index and ring fingers are resting on the bow with even spaces between them, and the pinky rests on top, slightly curved. This bow grip gives you more control and allows you to use more bow pressure from the natural weight of the arm.

Where Is the Bow Placed Between the Fingerboard and the Bridge of a Violin?

It is best to place the bow somewhere in the middle of the fingerboard and the bridge. If it is too close to the bridge the sound will be scratchy, if it is too close to the fingerboard the sound won’t have focus.

Grammy Award-winning violinist Itzhak Perlman compares this to jumping on a mattress: If the mattress is too hard, it’s difficult to get any height because the mattress isn’t springy enough. The “hard mattress” is that area right next to the bridge, where the string has the most tension. If you take your finger and push on the string right next to the bridge it won’t move much. Likewise, the bow will really have to work to get the string vibrating that close to the bridge. Then there’s the soft mattress—you won’t get a lot of bounce on one of those, either, because there’s too much give. The “soft mattress” is what the string is like over the fingerboard. Press there with your finger and you’ll see that the string gives easily under the pressure. With the string so loose, the bow can easily distort the vibrations unless it is applied very softly.

The ideal place, in the middle, is like that “nice trampoline,” where there is just enough tension and just enough give. When you bow in that area, the string can easily vibrate in just the right way to create a good sound.

What Are Bow Speed and Pressure?

Speed is how fast you move the bow, and pressure is how much you press the bow to the string. Bow pressure doesn’t mean tensing up the muscles in the bow arm, but by relaxing the natural weight of the arm into the string. The more pressure you use, the faster you must move your bow to avoid scratching. The less pressure you use, the slower you can move your bow and still make a good sound.

How to Practice Holding a Violin Bow

To work on finger flexibility in your right hand, hold a pencil like you would hold your bow (make sure your fingers match the finger position on your bow). The pencil can be either straight up and down, or at a slight tilt. Flex your fingers, including the thumb. Then relax the fingers, allowing the hand to drop from the wrist. The goal is not to drop the pencil. You can also practice “teeter-tottering” the pencil over your thumb, keeping the thumb somewhat bent as the index finger pushes the pencil down to the left, then the pinkie pushes it down to the right. The benefit of this exercise is that you can do it anywhere—when you’re bored in a class, say, or watching TV. Once you get good at this, try the same exercises with the bow.

Learn more about the violin in Itzhak Perlman’s MasterClass.