Violinists hold the bow in a very particular way, and for good reasons. If you can set up your bow hand and train your muscles correctly, you can develop flexible but strong fingers and a relaxed way of holding the bow that allows you to play everything from Bach to country fiddle music.
The bow-hand I teach - and that is most frequently taught - is based on the "Franco-Belgian bow hold." (There is also a "Russian bow hold" that works well for many violinists, but I'm going to focus on the hold that I use and teach.)
The way we place the fingers on the bow is just a start, and you'll learn how the balance works as you play more and learn more bowing techniques. Over time, you'll make it your own and optimize it in small ways for your body, to be most effective.
Here is a video demonstration, and then I have explained the details below in writing. Below that is more information about the history of this bow-hold. It starts with reviewing the parts of the bow; skip to 2:09 for just the bow-hold explanation.
Parts of the bow:
The part of the bow that we hold is called the "frog." (Know one knows quite why.) The pointy end is called the "tip." The wood part of the bow is called the "stick," and the bow is strung with horse hair (no worries, just a bit from the tail) and then rubbed with rosin to make it sticky. If there is no rosin on the bow, it will not make a sound! The shiny silver item at the base of the hair, connecting it to the frog, is called the "ferrule." The round decoration on the bow is called the "eye." On the stick, by the frog is the metal "winding," and on top of that is the "leather" or "grip." The "screw" tightens or loosens the hair.
Importantly: I do not call this a "bow grip," as the word "grip" implies a strong and inflexible way of holding. It's a "bow hold." And the placement of the fingers is flexible - the fingers will look different at the frog and and the tip of the bow.
The placement of each finger is based on its "role" in holding the bow. Here is a rundown:
THUMB: The thumb is placed on the stick, between the frog and the leather. The thumb should be bent, touching the stick near the top right corner of the thumb nail. The thumb should not be poking through. The thumb should not be locked straight. When bowing back and forth, the thumb will be bent at the frog, and it will straighten somewhat at the tip - but it should never become locked straight. Note: very young beginners often start with the thumb on the ferrule, to create a nice round shape. They move it inside to the stick after a fairly short period of time.
MIDDLE FINGERS: The middle finger, plus the finger next to it (by the pinkie) "hug" the stick of the bow at the top joints. The middle finger itself is across from the thumb.
POINTER FINGER: This finger rests on its side, between the middle joints, on the stick. It does not hook around the stick, and it does not "hold" the bow. It is used primarily for leverage, to "lean" into the string and create "weight" or "pressure." It can also help guide the stick on a straight path.
PINKIE: The pinkie should be curved, with the tip of the pinkie resting on top of the stick. TO be very specific, it rests on the second octagonal from the frog (see the video for where this is). The role of the pinkie is to hold the weight of the bow when lifting it off the string. It also carries the weight of the bow at the frog.
Winding and unwinding: When you get out the bow, wind up the hair until it is about 8mm from the stick. Make sure the stick still bends a bit toward the hair. If the stick is completely straight or bending outward, then the hair is wound too tight. When you put away the bow, unwind it until the hair is touching the stick.
Rosin: Rosin the bow about 10 swipes whenever you use it to play.
Re-hairing the bow: Depending on how much you are playing, have the bow re-haired every six months to a year for optimum sound.
History of the Franco-Belgian bow hold
The Franco-Belgian bow hold was taught be some of the 20th century's most important teachers, including Josef Gingold, Ivan Galamian and Shinichi Suzuki -- and that means that many of today's most accomplished violinists have this bow hold: Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman are just a few. The Franco-Belgian hold involves a bent/flexible thumb, a pinkie that is curved and active, two middle fingers draped around the stick, and the pointer touching the bow stick between the middle two joints.
The Russian bow hold was very famously used by Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. It involves a bow hand that is very pronated, leaning toward the pointer finger, with a straight pinkie.
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