Violin bow grip
Whether you’re playing a $50 violin or a $10 million violin, if you don’t have an understanding and fine control over the muscles of the right hand, your voice and your tone will elude you.
There are two basic schools of violin bow grip; the first is Franco-Belgian, which is what Giora Schmidt uses, and the second is Russian, used by the descendants of Hungarian violinist Leopold von Auer (1845-1930) (such as Jascha Heifitz). The Russian school is reliant on the speed of the violin bow to create a transition from up-bow to down-bow.
Franco-Belgian bow grip
In profile view, the Franco-Belgian bow grip looks a bit like the letter C (image below).
It’s more reliant on pressure and follow-through of the wrist and fingers. The hand must begin as loose and relaxed as possible. Imagine your arm is sitting on a shelf, supported by an invisible force (image left).
Schmidt has his students pick up a Sharpie (or similar-sized marker) that’s a bit fatter than the violin bow. Turn your hand around, bend the thumb and make a ring with the middle finger. This forms the center of balance of our bow hold. The other fingers should rest fairly evenly on the Sharpie.
There should not be any extraneous or additional special motion of the fingers to accommodate a good violin bow grip. The feeling of relaxation is similar to resting your hand on your knee. You may even try holding a bottle of water.
A great way to introduce flexibility to the hand is to hold a Sharpie with a bow grip and extend and retract the fingers. We need not become robots when we pick up the bow. Sound is flexible, so our bodies have to be flexible while playing. Nothing is rigid in our application.
With the bow
Let’s transition this violin bow grip from the Sharpie to the bow itself. Place your thumb as pictured on the left, and then position your other fingers, starting from the index, one at a time.
The point where the index finger contacts the violin bow should be between the top two joints. You should be able to rock the bow up and down easily with just your fingers, and gravity should do some of the work for you.
Let’s place the bow on the violin and examine the motion from one end of the bow to the other. When playing at the frog, curl your fingers and bend your thumb. When playing at the tip, the arm should extend as naturally as possible. Think about how you would extend your arm without the bow.
Imagine that you’re opening and closing a door with a smooth movement of the right arm. On the opening, the fingers extend. At the closing, the fingers retract. Practice the bowing motion in the air without the violin, as if you’re moving through a thick substance. The speed we move on the down bow should be the same as on the up-bow for this exercise. Remember to maintain a letter C shape with the hand at the frog (think C for comfort, C for cushion!)
Some of us have fingers of different lengths, so how can we know precisely where to place them? Schmidt would ask the student how they shake someone’s hand. We don’t have to do anything additional to our fingers beyond what they naturally do.
The index finger is still the boss! You should be able to make a sound with the index finger alone, creating a focused beam of energy down from the shoulder. The pinky gives us a sense of balance. The middle and ring fingers act as stabilizers, contributing to the body of the sound. The thumb should remain bent and relaxed, though it extends when playing at the tip of the bow.
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