Music & Entertainment

The Bow

Itzhak Perlman

Lesson time 20:46 min

Mr. Perlman starts with discussing the bow and its mechanics, including speed, pressure, and various bow holds.

Itzhak Perlman
Teaches Violin
In his first-ever online class, virtuoso violin player Itzhak Perlman breaks down his techniques for improved practice and powerful performances.
Get All-Access


[MUSIC PLAYING] ITZHAK PERLMAN: Let's talk about the bow, but let's do something simple. I have a pencil here, and you know, I mean, the thing is that if for some reason you don't have a bow handy, but the pencil is basically sort of similar to the bow as far as holding the position. So when I was first starting the violin, when I was five, my teacher was of Russian background. And the bow grip that she taught me was a Russian bow grip, which was like that. You know, like some of the fingers were kind of together and the wrist was up. So I'll show it to you with a bow, so like this. [PLAYING NOTES] Like that. That's the way I would play. Now, when you think about that particular bow grip, pretty good bow grip used by some nice fiddle players, like Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Nathan Milstein, and so on. So that was the Russian bow grip. The bow grip-- the accent-- the beauty of that bow grip was that they used a lot of bow speed. A lot of bow speed in the bow grip so that if they wanted to play something, you know, they would go, oh. [PLAYING NOTES] So all right, so that's the way I was brought up. And then the first-- this was about the first eight years when I was studying the violin in Israel. And when I arrived in the United States, my teachers, both Ivan Galamian and then Dorothy DeLay, taught with a different bow grip. And that bow grip was instead of that, that. So what you do is that you want to make sure that there are spaces between the index finger, second finger, third finger, fourth finger. The spaces should be fairly even. You know, some people go like that. That's bad because you want to make sure that everything here is relaxed. And so that bow speed-- [PLAYING NOTES] --gives you, shall we say, it accentuates the pressure of the bow. And it's not just relying on bow speed, but so that particular grip, I recommend. Now the other thing about that grip that's very important is where the second finger is opposite the thumb. So as you can see, the thumb and the second finger are across from each other. See? So you can also do it you know so that if you were going on a train, and you are not particularly feel like opening the violin case, can do it with a pencil. So it goes like that, you know, and there is your index, your second finger and your thumb across from each other. Now, very important that the thumb should be slightly rounded. A lot of kids play like that, where the thumb is flat like that. See, instead of like that? So it's like this one or that way. I always like it to be rounded so that there's always like a little-- now you can see a little circle between the second finger and the thumb because it just gives the hand a little more freedom. You know, the minute you go like that, there's always an intensity that you don't want. So that's more or less the Franco-Belgium. Make sure that the pinky finger relaxes, that it doesn't go like that. Sometimes I do that, and people say, oh,...

Play with passion

The world’s reigning virtuoso violin player, Itzhak Perlman performs for presidents, royals, and classical music lovers around the world. Now the beloved Juilliard instructor and 15-time Grammy Award winner brings his passion for teaching to a wide audience for the first time. Learn fundamental techniques, practice strategies, and how to add richness and depth to your sound. Give your most dynamic performance yet.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I loved every second and I do not like classical music and I cannot play an instrument. The way he plays the fiddle brings tears to my eyes. Just brilliant!!!!

it has inspired me to practice more effectively and musically. I also know better, what it takes to become a great artist, and how to deal with some of my barriers.

A very descriptive class with lots of information. The content is easy to understand. Mr. Perlman is an excellent teacher!

It was clear and on point. Also his insights were so helpful for me


Wen-Bin T.

Loved the lesson and how he's a fan of food analogies! He also explained a wide range of basics. Personally, I don't agree with his term 'bow grip' - I consider the correct term to be 'bow hold' as GRIP implies tension which you don't want. This may be just linguistics, because I was told the German term was Bogengriff aka bow grip.


Also, I've heard the figure-8 advice for bow tilt more than angle, so I'd be interested to hear what he has to say about tilt. He seems to tilt heavily on ups and go close to flat on downs. It seems to me that Mr. Perlman's technique is pretty idiosyncratic (and he's aware of it with that "do as I say not as I do advice, ha), watch say the video of him playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, his bow looks positively crooked but sounds great.


It's interesting what he said about not playing over the fingerboard. I've definitely heard the "play closer to the fingerboard for airy softness" advice before. There's the difference between playing in the practice studio and playing in a performance hall, methinks.

Liam H.

I really enjoyed the lesson and learnt a couple of things that neither of the two teachers I've had have told me about. Understanding does make things slightly easier. I especially enjoyed your comparisons. Thank you, Mr Perlman, I'm looking forward to viewing the second lesson... And to practise again, this time paying very close attention to my bow direction and point of contact.

A fellow student

I followed Mr. Perlman's method of bow grip, and I've improved! Thanks Mr. Perlman!


Oh.. my! Beautiful and unique demonstration and explanation.. I particularly love the way he uses food to perfectly describe the sound in a way only a true artist can!! In this lesson he puts into words so many things I had spent about a whole year feeling and figuring out - and made it all make perfect sense - in about 20 minutes. Very eager to hear what else he has to say - I know it will take my technique to a whole new level of proficiency, not just on a mental and physical level.. to those who can relate, he imparts a profoundly personal understanding of the soul of musicianship as expressed through the violin. What a treasure.

A fellow student

Today September 2nd is my 66th birthday. I remember seeing Mr. Perlman when he was on The Ed Sullivan Show playing Flight of the Bumblebee . I was mesmerized, so wonderful! My birthday present is this MasterClass series. I am so excited and grateful!!

A fellow student

Nobody explains these concepts better than you Mr. Perlman. As a 56 year old beginner, this is exactly what I needed. Thank You.

A fellow student

I am humbled. What an experience being part of this masterclass. It is as though he is talking to me in a live lesson.

Simone S.

Fantastic explanations of some “basic” technical elements from such a high caliber artist. Very useful.