From Itzhak Perlman's MasterClass

The Bow

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

Topics include: Sound Always Has a Core


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

Topics include: Sound Always Has a Core

Itzhak Perlman

Teaches Violin

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[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.

This was one of best Master Classes and I would love for more violin lessons. He is an exceptional musician and teacher. Thank you

I don't play violin, but do play in a small orchestra and found the course just wonderful. Good practice techniques and understanding your instrument is universal. A joy to watch.

A very profound class. Thank you for sharing!

I've made my way through the first few videos and they are great! Mr. Perlman is a fantastic teacher and there really is something for all levels here


Ye P.

“Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” How do you guys understand this idea? If he himself is not doing what he say, why say it? I love this masterclass but I’m confused right here. In about 5:00.


I am so pleased with this course. I have been playing the violin for 60 years, but studied only into my teens. I play extemporaneously with friends now and then, but am frustrated at times when my brain knows what to do, but my hands have forgotten. This is very much like sitting with my teacher and discussing nuances that can make me a better player. Of course, for every lesson there must be hours of practice and experimentation (and ideally, correction or guidance again). Will you recommend pieces for each of the techniques you describe as you go? I have one question about the PDF accompanying the Bowing lesson - the example of supination shows the 'pinkie' farther up the stick than I am used to. Is the drawing a good representation of the bow hold you recommend?

Mark L.

I found it interesting as well that Itzhak talked about the figure 8 style with the bowing. I was not taught that method as a child,as my teacher focused on the bow being absolutely parallel with the bridge. Going to give the figure 8 bowing style a go to see what difference it makes.

A fellow student

I was delighted to see this class become available! Thank you!! I have a question regarding bow pressure. Can you explain how you produce the bow pressure? Also, do you have any suggestions for someone who has neuropathy and lymphedema from chemo/cancer in the bow hand? For example, it seems to take me a while to be able to sense the bow in my grip, so warmup suggestion? Also, I have to wear a compression sleeve and glove...I found the glove truly limited my ability to play, so just use the sleeve, but notice it appears to perhaps affect elbow movement.

Janet C.

The explanations are very clear. I have a better understanding of the bow. I know it will take time and practice for it to become “second nature”.

Richard C.

Kudos to the entire crew. This is flawlessly shot and recorded, sensitively edited, and the transition graphics are a joy to behold. Best work I have seen on this site in two years.

George B.

I've had a violin for about a year now and I've never really played it due to the fact that whenever I picked it up it wouldn't make a sound, I'm happy that this Masterclass is able to show me how to actual get a sound out of it XD

Neil O.

So far, fundamentally there is no substantial difference between what Mr. Perlman is saying about bowing techniques and my violin teacher (he plays Violins 1 for the Philadelphia Orchestra). HOWEVER, the additional camera angels are what makes this a standout. Finally I can see what my teacher wanted me to see instead of guessing, because the camera and the edit are right there. So glad I took up this course. Wait... what do you mean I have to start my day job right now?! There's violin techniques to practice!


Love this, another excellent lesson. Can't wait to try out the figure eight!

Alex S.

It was indeed a wonderful lesson. I enjoyed the camera angles, especially the one from above. Very helpful! The bow is the most complex aspect of violin playing. It is very difficult to master and it is best not to overwhelm the beginning student with too much detail. The "figure eight" bowing, in my opinion, is a subtlety best left for intermediate and advanced players. But I'm glad he brought it up because it is one of the secrets of the masters. And Mr. Perlman's mastery of the bow is both unquestioned and unbelievable. He really is a magician of the bow. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen him explain that his pinkie only flies up in the air when he is bowing in the upper half or tip of the bow, where the pinkie is not needed. However, the tip of the pinkie needs to be on the stick (curved and relaxed) to serve as a counter-balance when bowing in the lower half of the bow as you approach the frog. But I congratulate him for remaining pedagogically-correct in telling us to keep the pinkie on the stick. I would have also liked to have seen him explain the interplay of the upper arm and the lower arm as the bow is drawn from the frog to the tip and then back again. Other aspects, like the slight tilt of the bow when it's on the string, how much the bow hair ought to be tightened, "pulling" the bow on a down bow and "pushing" the bow on the up bow, etc., may (or may not) come up in a later lesson. In summary, there's something for everyone in this lesson, regardless of the skill of the player. Thank you Mr. Perlman!