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Kallie

Violin bow hold: Use of 4th finger

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Hi there,

 

Ive been trying quite a bit to work on my bow hold lately, to achive the best sound I can when playing (still quite a long way to go). So to do this, I try to watch as much videos as I can of soloists performing, to see all the different styles. What I noticed is that Itzhak Perlman, hardly uses his 4th finger on the bow. Mostly it just hovers in the air or gets curled up while playing.

 

Is there a reason for this? Personal preference? Is this tecnhically correct? The sound he achives is quite amazing, so Im defenitely not doubting his skill or experience or anything. Just curious.

 

Here is an example.

 

 

Thank You.

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Perlman seems to adjust effective bow weight on the string a lot of the time by tilting the violin towards vertical on its longitudinal axis, rather than keeping the instrument steady nearer horizontal and using the 4th finger to provide counterbalance towards the heel.   Presumably this becomes feasible when playing without a shoulder rest though I assume this is far from 'standard' technique and not recommended for beginners (like me).

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It's only my opinion, but I believe teachers OUGHT to teach their students to establish a "text book" bow hold just to give a good foundation and understanding and direction.  After all, if a student started out with as much freedom as Perlman or Kogan, they wouldn't know what to do with it.  However, some players take their hold as "sacred" and don't let freedom develop.

 

One reason, IMO, is that we tend to think of the bow hold as a grip that guides, and is in control of,  the bow at all times; whereas the great players are "riding the bow".  The actual tactile sense coming back to the player from the bow on the string causes the player—who is somewhat like a cat, in that he automatically seeks comfort— to find what works and feels right.  A FINGER'S LIFTING here or another there, or changing an angle comes naturally over time, if we let it.  Notice I didn't say "lifting a finger" since that implies we do it intentionally; although sometimes we might, most of the time it just happens.

 

I think a lot of this kind of freedom comes from having a fine bow that gives us GOOD feedback.  I have had bows in hand which were so squirrelly that there would be no way to keep them on the string without a solid hold.  

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It's only my opinion, but I believe teachers OUGHT to teach their students to establish a "text book" bow hold just to give a good foundation and understanding and direction.  After all, if a student started out with as much freedom as Perlman or Kogan, they wouldn't know what to do with it.  However, some players take their hold as "sacred" and don't let freedom develop.

 

One reason, IMO, is that we tend to think of the bow hold as a grip that guides, and is in control of,  the bow at all times; whereas the great players are "riding the bow".  The actual tactile sense coming back to the player from the bow on the string causes the player—who is somewhat like a cat, in that he automatically seeks comfort— to find what works and feels right.  A FINGER'S LIFTING here or another there, or changing an angle comes naturally over time, if we let it.  Notice I didn't say "lifting a finger" since that implies we do it intentionally; although sometimes we might, most of the time it just happens.

 

I think a lot of this kind of freedom comes from having a fine bow that gives us GOOD feedback.  I have had bows in hand which were so squirrelly that there would be no way to keep them on the string without a solid hold.  

 

Great post, Will ! I hope you teach A LOT.

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Nice of you to say, Carl,

 

In fact I don't teach at all because I have too little stick-to-it-iv-ness, but admire immensely those who are in the trenches.  I DO like to try to figure things out, though.

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Personally i think if one has been playing for as long as Itzhak Perlam has, one does not even notice the bow hold anymore - it all just happens naturally. Its like speaking your first language. It just happens.

 

I also think some people focus too much on tecnique, and are scared to practice their own style/develop their freedom. Dont get me wrong, I believe learning the correct techniques from the beginning is very important, but at some point it would benefit you to move a little away and focus on getting the sound you want. Despite not using a 100% perfect technique.

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Personally i think if one has been playing for as long as Itzhak Perlam has, one does not even notice the bow hold anymore - it all just happens naturally. Its like speaking your first language. It just happens.

 

I also think some people focus too much on tecnique, and, as Will said, are scared to practice their own style/develop their freedom. Dont get me wrong, I believe learning the correct techniques from the beginning is very important, but at some point it would benefit you to move a little away and focus on getting the sound you want. Despite not using a 100% perfect technique.

 

Here is good advice : don't philosophize, practice and try to get better every day by just a little bit. Just a bit every day works wonders. Try to get it right from the start - violin technique is very difficult to re-work. And tell us something about you : how long have you been playing, put a clip so that we can hear you etc.

We're here to help. 

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Here is good advice : don't philosophize, practice and try to get better every day by just a little bit. Just a bit every day works wonders. Try to get it right from the start - violin technique is very difficult to re-work. And tell us something about you : how long have you been playing, put a clip so that we can hear you etc.

We're here to help. 

A little about myself: I got my first violin 3 years ago. So thats how long Ive been playing. This will be my 4th year. In the first year and a half I was able to take lessons, and made it to Grade 5 ABRSM (Royal Schools) pieces. Never did any grades though. (Played piano for around 10 years now, didnt do any grades either. Never been interested in doing that - maybe one day.)

 

Unfortunately I couldnt continue with lessons, due to moving to another town, so I carried on by myself. In this 4 years, I also developed a huge interest in violin restoration, repair, and violin making. Ive been teaching myself, with the help of books, videos, the internet, and ofcourse, Maestronet. Repaired quite a few old German (mostly) violins so far, and I do setup on many violins when needed. Im also currently making my first violin.

 

I plan on uploading videos some time in the future. When I get a decent mic to record with. Will definitely post it here then to ask for specific tips/ideas/critisizm.

 

Thank you for the advice overall. Much appreciated, as always. :)

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If there are no teachers in your neck of the woods...I'd suggest you sign up for workshops.  Plan your holidays around them...IMO you really need someone to physically show you some things.

 

I take lessons...and sometimes I don't get that 'eureka' moment until my teacher physically moves me around...lol.

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Personally i think if one has been playing for as long as Itzhak Perlam has, one does not even notice the bow hold anymore - it all just happens naturally. Its like speaking your first language. It just happens.

...and, as Will said, are scared to practice their own style/develop their freedom.

I agree with your first paragraph. I didn't intend quite what you took based on your second. However, you may well be right.

 

I'm having trouble trying to explain what I did mean, though, so I'll wait until I can to post it.

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I agree with your first paragraph. I didn't intend quite what you took based on your second. However, you may well be right.

 

I'm having trouble trying to explain what I did mean, though, so I'll wait until I can to post it.

 

My apologies. I may have taken what you said a bit out of context and away from what you originally meant.

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If there are no teacher's in your neck of the woods...I'd suggest you sign up for workshops.  Plan your holidays around them...IMO you really need someone to physically show you some things.

 

I take lessons...and sometimes I don't get that 'eureka' moment until my teacher physically moves me around...lol.

 

Also Rue, thank you for the advice. I intend to find workshops or people offering masters classes this year. It really does help to have someone next to you to show you certain techniques or show you what you are doing right/wrong.

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No apology needed on your part.

When I said "player," I was really thinking of students or beginners. However, I did know one violinist who for some reason maintained a "classic bow hold" and religiously kept his fingers on the stick, even though he admired the freedom of those who allow their fingers to lift off the bow. He actually wanted to be more like them but just couldn't. I don't know if he tried real hard to change or not. This guy was a concertmaster of a major orchestra and played beautifully.

Pertaining to students, my point is that we spend a great deal of time and effort achieving a bow hold which works and satisfies our teacher. So it's little wonder that we try to keep it, even to the extent we keep it STIFFLY in place. Coupled with that, it seems beginners tend to try to control the bow. And their bowing can remain stiff and awkward. Of course the bow is ALWAYS moved by the human. It doesn't move itself.

But a model for thinking about it, IMO, is that the player allows the illusion that the bow has a life of its own, and then he just guides—or makes "mid-course corrections"—without being in total control every second. When the player can "let go" and feel like he is riding the bow rather than CONTINUOUSLY AND LABORIOUSLY MOVING the bow, then a freedom sets in which sometimes manifests itself in a looseness of the fingers on the bow. I believe much of this happens automatically over time with successful violinists.

I think it is unlikely that the greats who let the fingers lift—and do other things as well— thought these individual things out and experimented with them in some orderly and logical way.

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Thank you very much Will for that explanation. I think it is very insightful, and agree with what you said.

 

I also think that is is unlikely that greats thought these individual things out logically, and in great detail. Rather, it came naturally.

 

I believe they, like Itzhak Perlman for example, used the correct bow hold to begin with, but adapted and changed it to fit their own personal playing style. The basic bow hold might still be the same, although it changes here and there - not on purpose, but rather naturally and sometimes even absent minded.

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I'll add one more thing.  Even if I'm right about my generalities, I have a feeling they would be lost on beginners.  I don't think real teachers would try to impart such esoteric ideas to a poor, unsuspecting student.  It would probably leave the little tyke mumbling to himself and asking to switch to kazoo.   :)

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I'll add one more thing.   :) Those "one more things" begin to add up, don't they!

 

Heifetz, who is generally thought of in certain ways, plays quite a bit of the time with the 4th finger off and away from the stick.  A good example:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXFqk7JCRJA

 

 

Galamian thinks of the fingers as "springs" and believes they must remain curved to keep the springlike nature.  We can imagine a stiffly straight finger loses flexibility.  With the Russian hold, the 1st finger becomes slightly less flexible since there is one less joint to allow freedom, and there's nothing to bend.  The middle fingers are a little more flexible.  The 4th ought to end up being the most flexible finger, particularly if it contacts the stick with its tip.  

 

A lot of us forget that the bow hold isn't only for sound and drawing, but also for how the bow is used to start and finish a note.  I've always thought the Russian hold is less useful for off-string bowings.

 

Shirley Givens, a wonderful teacher and follower of Galamian and DeLay specialized in younger students and described the fingers as if they were sailors.  I hope someone remembers exactly and can post that.  (I'll see if I can find it)  Oh, maybe it's in this.  Yes, "Captain Thumb and the Four Sailors."  I like being able to uses conceptions like this:

 

http://www.givensviolinland.com/

 

 

I like the idea of experimenting with playing with each of the fingers off the bow to see how and why they are used.  It's very telling.  Also, taking as many fingers off as possible at one time;  use a cheap bow for this experiment!   :)

 

Just some ideas to fool around with.  

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When you're Itzhak Perlman, you can hold your bow however you like. 

 

In the past, when I've had students, I try to teach them just the basics of a standard bow hold - it takes enough effort to get that right, let alone any sort of alternative.

 

So an analogy might be warranted here - when I was in college, I took a bowling (ten-pin bowling, USA) class - seems like it would have been an easy class for a good grade.  The teacher had very specific ways to hold the ball, approach the lane, release the ball, etc.  He said if we followed his technique, he would give us an above-average grade, regardless of our results.  Or we could do whatever we want, and if our score was high enough, we would get a perfect grade.  So, some people were able to NOT follow his instruction and still get a high enough score.  I chose to follow his recommendations, get a reasonable score on average, and get a reasonable grade.  Could I have done better making up my own technique?  Maybe - but following some established tradition has value also.  There's a reason certain things are done the way they are, although rules are made to be broken.

 

See also - Mark O'Connor regarding HIS bow hold (item 4 in this link):  http://www.markoconnor.com/index.php?page=press&category=02--Mark_O-squo-Connor_General_Press_Articles&display=413

 

There will always be exceptions to the rule, and the human body works differently for each individual, so one must adjust - but starting from the "traditional" or "standard" seems like the best way to me.

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I like the idea of experimenting with playing with each of the fingers off the bow to see how and why they are used.  It's very telling.  Also, taking as many fingers off as possible at one time;  use a cheap bow for this experiment!   :)

 

Right Hand Culture

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Perlman was taught and used very well the basic Galamian bow hold (Franco Belgium style). As he has gotten older he has gotten a bit 'lazy' about his 4th finger -except at the frog which is really where it is most needed and does the most work. I have not watched the attached video, but I have noticed watching him that the 4th finger comes back in contact at the frog. My teacher was a class mate of his and we went to see him play with the Dallas Symphony back in the late 70's and were invited to his dressing room after his performance. My teacher who was an assistant to both Delay and Galamian at the Juilliard School before moving to Texas, mentioned this to him in a light hearted sort of way and Perlman kind of sheepishly shrugged. I second the advice to first attain a good 'textbook' hold and then go from there.

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A lot of us forget that the bow hold isn't only for sound and drawing, but also for how the bow is used to start and finish a note.  I've always thought the Russian hold is less useful for off-string bowings.

 

 

 

I think the Russian grip is a through-back from a different era and that the most important factor in using it is that it LOOKS VERY GOOD. And this was important a while ago and worth the trouble. But to get it right, the violin needs to be at an uncomfortable angle - the franco-belgian grip has no such problem.

Both grips rely on a peculiar action of the fingers on the stick, which is very different between the two and without knowing it, they do not produce good results. In more than 40 years of following all violin, I have only once heard  ( or read ) a half description of "the secret". :).

 

My advice, which is not worth much as I haven't played a violin in decades, is to stick with whatever seems IN THE BEGINNING most comfortable while paying EXCEPTIONAL attention to the angle the strings make with the ground. A lot of bowing problems vanish if that angle is dead right. And when it's not, one needs a lot of superfluous control which affects badly the tone and reduces the range of expressiveness to...what we hear nowadays. :)

 

As usually, Will is right : Russian grip does not work well off string with one exception - the jete but it is the ideal staccato grip and they loved that one, long ago.

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 stick with whatever seems IN THE BEGINNING most comfortable while paying EXCEPTIONAL attention to the angle the strings make with the ground. A lot of bowing problems vanish if that angle is dead right. And 

Regarding the first part of this sentence, I have to laugh at myself.  When I was with my first teacher, I developed a certain way of holding the bow.  Then I went to a new "super teacher" who convinced me to change everything.  Then after some years, I happened to see a picture of myself actually playing, and I found I had reverted to what I had first learned.  It makes me think it may be hard to get away from what we first learn.  If what we learn at first is pretty good, that would be best.

 

Regarding the second, that makes good sense.  I've always been taught that the strings ought to be relatively level to the floor. I never gave it much thought, I just did it.  The only thing I remember about the idea is that if the strings angle down too much, the bow tends to slide, but is there more to it?  

 

I have also thought it may effect the left hand or arm as well.

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"I've always been taught that the strings ought to be relatively level to the floor. I never gave it much thought, I just did it.  The only thing I remember about the idea is that if the strings angle down too much, the bow tends to slide, but is there more to it?"

There is some truth to this, but do ot overplay it. Cellists manage fine with very steep string angles and very few violists hold the instrument level.  

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Regarding the first part of this sentence, I have to laugh at myself.  When I was with my first teacher, I developed a certain way of holding the bow.  Then I went to a new "super teacher" who convinced me to change everything.  Then after some years, I happened to see a picture of myself actually playing, and I found I had reverted to what I had first learned.  It makes me think it may be hard to get away from what we first learn.  If what we learn at first is pretty good, that would be best.

 

Regarding the second, that makes good sense.  I've always been taught that the strings ought to be relatively level to the floor. I never gave it much thought, I just did it.  The only thing I remember about the idea is that if the strings angle down too much, the bow tends to slide, but is there more to it?  

 

I have also thought it may effect the left hand or arm as well.

 

I spent a good part of my youth chatting to violin teachers. And one or two players. Teachers seems to have this habit of "demolishing" whatever the previous one has done. One of the most interesting I have met was a French woman who, at that time, was giving violin lessons for some 60 years and that's all she's ever done or was interested in. She was a treasure of tips - wasted on me unfortunately. :)  The idea is that the brain gets tired quicker than we think and we should constantly try to learn only one thing at the time. Keeping the strings parallel with the ground, greatly helps with tone production. Later, when more things become automatic, it matters much less. Amusingly enough, her mother was a violin teacher too. When in the 30s my teacher went to Paris to "perfect" his playing, he wanted to study with her. She listened to him for a few minutes and bluntly informed him that he's too old, too big and too talentless and she's not going to waste any time on him. He was forever in her debt : it was a serious wake up call. 

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  Cellists manage fine with very steep string angles and very few violists hold the instrument level.  

 

Means little. Bow arm mechanics are very different and they can SEE the bow at all times. 

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