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.
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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.

A very profound class. Thank you for sharing!

I am a violist and I learned many interesting and useful concepts which apply to both violin and viola. For me, the most important items had to do with practicing techniques. Todah rabah, Mr. Perlman! .... mel g. (Dayton, OH)

Itzhak has his logical way of explanation in his instruction that makes sense to engineers like me. I have been learning this online 2 years ago.

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


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.

A fellow student

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

Elisabeth M.

How amazing that Mr. Perlman takes so much care to explain the basics of bow technique. Very well done. Beautifully explained! Aiming for the core of the sound was the main thing for me to be remembered from this lesson. Thank you!

Leah H.

Invaluable information and demonstrations and I'm relieved to know I had been taught these fundamentals correctly :-)

bonnie S.

A very welcome review of what I already have been taught but Mr. Perlman also included very important "hows" and "whys" both in explanations and demonstrations. I enjoyed this lesson very much!

Tracy Y.

It s the first time i heard playing the bow in “8” shape pattern . I always thought playing of the bow should be straight up and straight down

Arthur B.

On the figure 8 movement: where does the figure 8 movement come from? Is it in the wrist, the shoulder what brings the bow toward and away from the body?

A fellow student

I think the idea that sound must always have a core holds true for large concert halls but not so much in smaller settings, or when recording with a close mic. Adding the "air" into your sound is a great way to add color/timbre. But I would say all beginners should focus completely on getting that rich "fudge-like" tone because just doing that consistently is difficult to master.


Hey @Masterclass, is it possible to TURN OFF auto plays, sometimes you want to comment and cannot in time, it's very annoying. Thank you. Just this lesson alone will shave months of violin scratches to start getting a good pleasing sound!

A fellow student

Thank you, Mr Perlman! Could you tell us more about bow pressure and about arm weight?