As a beginner violinist, you may have some challenges with how to properly hold a violin bow.  But if you follow this step by step guide to mastering your bow hold, you will be able to hold a violin bow with ease.  With some self-discipline and patience, you’ll masterfully learn how to hold the violin bow correctly.

How to properly hold a violin bow. There is no “one way”.

There are many ways to properly hold a bow, but it effectively boils down to two main schools of thought:  the Russian Bow Hold, and the Franco-Belgian Bow Hold. You can be successful with either hold, so there is no one proper way to do it.   

The Franco-Belgian violin bow hold

The Franco-Belgian bow hold is a more popular choice in modern violin performance.  It was taught by masters of violin teaching such as Ivan Galamian or Shinichi Suzuki.

Violinists such as Joshua Bell, and Itzhak Perlman use this bow hold, which relies on a flexible thumb, active pinky, and an overall square frame.

The Franco-Belgian Violin Bow Hold

The Russian violin bow hold

The Russian Bow hold is not often seen in 21st century violinists. The hand is very pronated towards the index finger, with the pinky being straight. Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, two of the greatest violinists in history, used a Russian Bow Hold.

The Russian Violin Bow Hold

We’ll stick with the former in this guide – the Franco-Belgian bow hold – as it works well for all styles of music.

In order to help you work up to a proper bow hold, we’ll first do a beginner bow hold together, then a balance-point bow hold, and finally conclude with the franco-belgian hold.

So grab a pencil, and let’s get started!

How do you hold a violin bow?

Yes, I know. You want to hold the violin bow, but I asked you to grab a pencil. Trust me, we’ll get there.

The bow hold is very unique, and can feel unnatural at first. For beginners, it’s best to start with two training bow holds. The first is with a pencil which will allow you practice the form with less tension. Next we’ll move up to a training hold on the violin bow. And then we’ll finally properly hold a violin bow.

We’ll move through these stages, because this will help you have a better violin hold in the future, and learn it well.  My students who are taking violin lessons always have a better violin bow hold when they progress through all three holds.

How to hold a violin bow for beginners

Remember that it’s important to work through these two beginner holds before moving on to the regular bow hold.

Beginner’s Bow Hold #1 – Get started with the bunny bite and the pencil bow hold

Let’s start with something called a “bunny bite” The bunny bite is quite easy to set up:

1. Grab a pencil by the point with your left hand with the eraser facing your right hand.

2. Put your right thumb on the bottom of the pencil at its midpoint. The thumb should be turned so that the knuckle points to the tip of the pencil.

3. Drape your middle and ring finger over the pencil, and voila! You have a bunny bite. From there, we’ll finish the shape and form a pencil bow hold.

4. After the bunny bite is completed, then rest your index finger on the pencil. The pencil should sit in between the middle two joints.

5. Curl your pinky so the fingertip is sitting on top of the pencil.

And that’s all there is to it! You’ve got a beginner’s bow hold.

When learning how to hold your violin bow, it’s important to be relaxed. It’s a bow hold, not a bow grip. Think of it like holding a baby bird. We want to hold the bird so it doesn’t escape, but don’t crush the bird!

I often see two main issues when people learn how to hold the bow. Either the thumb is too stiff, or the pinky is too stiff. The thumb should bend slightly, as well as the pinky. There should be a nice arch/curl in both fingers to allow for maximum flexibility. Any stiffness can cause bad habits and bad sounds!  Remember that tension is an enemy of playing music well.

Bunny Bites or Pencil Bow Holds should be practiced daily and often. Do 5-10 bunny bites/pencil bow holds for a week straight before even starting to hold the bow itself. As mentioned before, this shape is very unique. Holding the bow can feel unusual or even uncomfortable at first. With practice on the pencil, you’ll form some great habits and perfect the technique so holding the bow is less of a challenge.

Beginner’s Bow Hold #2 – The balance point bow hold

After some practice on the pencil, let’s now move to the bow. First we’ll start with an “early bow hold”, or “balance point bow hold”.

Instead of holding the bow by the frog (the square-shaped piece at the bottom of the bow), you can grab it by the balance point. The balance point is usually about a third of the way up the bow from the frog. You’ll know it’s the balance point because if you hang the bow on your finger at that point, it will balance. That means it will stay level and won’t fall or slide off.

This early bow hold is good for students who want to practice bowing on the violin without worry of tension or poor technique. When you grab the bow at the frog, the pinky has to support much of the bow’s weight. That tiny little finger can tense up and ruin all your hard work with the pencil, so the early bow hold is a good stop-gap between pencil and true bow hold.

Keep the same shape as you did on the pencil, but be careful not to touch the bow hair! The natural oils in your hand can ruin the bow hair and make it difficult to produce a clean, consistent sound.

Here are the steps for the balance point bow hold.

1. Find the balance point of the bow and rest your thumb on the bottom side of the stick, the part that’s closest to the hair. Keep the thumb bent.

2. Drape your middle and ring finger over the stick (Careful not to touch the bow hair!)

3. Rest your index finger on top of the stick, so that the stick rests in between the middle two joints.

4. Curl your pinky so the fingertip is sitting on top of the stick.

Excellent work! You’ve done your bunny bites, your pencil bow hold, and your balance point bow hold.

The balance point bow hold is really great for teaching you how to use the violin bow before you’ve built up the strength you need for the proper bow hold. That can usually take a few weeks.

Once you feel like you are comfortable with the balance point hold, it’s time to hold the bow like the pros.

If you ever feel like you are getting tired when the standard bow hold, it’s okay to go back to the balance point hold for a rest. Remember, it will take weeks or months for the muscles in your hands and fingers to develop.

How to correctly hold the violin bow

1. Set your right hand by the frog so that your thumb is at the point where the U-shape of the frog and the stick meet.

2. Drape your middle and ring finger over the stick and onto the frog. Depending on the size of your hand, the ring finger may be the only finger physically on the frog.

3. Your index finger rests on top of the stick between the middle and top joint. There’s often a cushion called the “pad” that your index finger can rest on.

4. Curl your pinky so the fingertip is sitting on top of thes stick.

Awesome work! You’re now holding the violin bow like a pro.

Check out the following images for some more images of how to hold the violin bow correctly. You’ll also see some images of the most common errors beginners make with the bow so that you can avoid them.

The correct way to hold a violin bow.
The correct way to hold a violin bow.
The correct violin bow hold from the back view.
The correct violin bow hold from the back view.
The correct violin bow hold from the pinky side. Notice the picky is curved and on it's tip.
The correct violin bow hold from the pinky side. Notice the picky is curved and on it's tip.
Correct thumb position on the violin bow hold
Correct thumb position on the violin bow hold.
Incorrect thumb position on the violin bow.
Incorrect thumb position on the violin bow. Notice that the tip joint on the thumb is extended (bent backwards) and not flexed (bent forward, or closing) as it should be.
The fingers are not over the violin bow stick.
The fingers are not over the violin bow stick as they should be. This is incorrect.
The hand is too high on this violin bow hold.
The hand is too high on this violin bow hold. The wrist is also too far flexed.
The pinky finger is locked and not curved, or slightly flexed as it should be.
The pinky finger is locked and not curved, or slightly flexed as it should be.

How do you hold a fiddle bow?

Great news, fiddle players! You can relax, because the bow hold for a violin and for a fiddle is exactly the same. Why? Because a fiddle and a violin are the same instrument! The only distinguishing feature is the style of music you are playing on the instrument.

Why do we hold the violin bow in this way?

As with many inventions, the violin bow underwent many changes that improved both the quality of the bow and its playability. In the Renaissance Period, violin bows were shaped like a “bow and arrow”, curved opposite the way modern bows are today. Bows also had a shorter life span, and would often be thrown out when they no longer worked as intended. Compare that to today, where a bow can be consistently rehaired to give it the same qualities it had when first bought or used.

Cavarozzi's "Still Life with Violinist". Source: https://londonartweek.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/14/Cavarozzi-AN-Basket.pdf

With the massive changes to the bow over the past few centuries, how to hold the violin bow naturally changed too.

The violin’s predecessor, the viol, had no standard method to hold, and a lot of what we know today about bow holds prior to the late 1700s came from drawings or paintings of violin performers.

As society approached the 20th century, more and more violinists wrote literature about bowing and how to hold the bow.

A well-constructed bow hold will improve your tone quality, as well as reduce tension in the right hand. The thumb, middle finger, and ring finger (or “bunny bite”) establish the grip and core foundation of your bow hold.

As we saw with both the Russian and Franco-Belgian bow hold, the hand tilts towards the bow’s tip. The tilting of the hand in that direction is called pronation. This pronation distributes the weight of your arm into the index finger. More weight means a deeper, fuller sound, which became vital for performers as concert halls grew bigger and bigger. Pronation also allows for more stability and a consistent tone when bowing down, or from frog to tip.

The pinky finger works opposite the index finger. In the lower part of the bow, below the balance point, the pinky takes over and supports the weight of the bow to avoid too much weight on the string. Too much weight on the string equals a rough, scratchy tone, and we definitely don’t want that!

All 5 fingers are essential to a well-constructed bow hold . Think of your hand like a see-saw. When the index finger is weighed down, the pinky lifts. The pinky presses down as the index finger lifts. The bunny bite is the hinge of the see-saw, allowing the index and pinky finger to exchange the weight from one another.

But weight distribution can’t happen if there’s tension in the right hand. It feels counter-intuitive to be both structured and relaxed, but the balance between these two concepts promotes better sound and an exciting variety of bow strokes with top-notch articulation. Relaxed, flexible fingers also give you the “nearly” silent bow change.

Consider a paint brush, and the flexibility of each hair on the brush. When you drag the brush across a canvas, the bristles lag slightly behind the stick itself. When you change direction, there is a split second where the bristles move opposite the direction of your hand. Your fingers act as the bristle, with your arm being the stick itself.

Ways to Strengthen and Improve Your Bow Hold on the Violin

Finger taps: Using the pencil bow hold, tap each finger several times against the pencil.

Pinky taps: This is useful for placing your pinky finger accurately. Set your bow hold at the frog, and point the bow so the tip is towards the ceiling. Tap your pinky slowly and repetitively for 1-2 minutes. Make sure the pinky stays curled throughout the entire exercise.

Windshield Wipers: Set your bow hold at the frog, and point the bow so the tip is towards the ceiling. Slowly turn your wrist so the bow hair is facing towards the ground and the bow is horizontal. Rotate your wrist the other direction so the hair points towards the ceiling. Move just like a windshield wiper!

Pencil See Saw: Hold the pencil as you would hold a violin bow. Lift your pinky in the air. As you lift the pinky, push the index finger into the pencil. When dropping the pinky back onto the pencil, lift the index finger in the air. Alternate between these two motions, just like a see-saw, to feel the transfer of balance from one finger to the other.

Conclusion – You are now ready to hold the violin bow the right way.

In conclusion, a spectacular bow hold is essential to a spectacular sound and successful performance. The bunny bite establishes the foundation your violin bow hold.

The index finger drapes along the stick and the pinky finger placement on top of the stick allows for weight to distribute freely across the entire bow stroke.

It’s through pronation and supination of the bow hand that promotes a resonant and consistent tone.

The flexibility of the fingers allow for fluid bow strokes on the string, and exciting off-string strokes like spiccato and sautillé.

Holding the bow with structure and flexibility can feel quite tricky at first, so practice on a pencil first, then at the balance point to perfect the grip. With time, effort, and patience, you’ll be bowing like the pros.

Following this step by step guide to holding a violin bow correctly will definitely help, but having a Sage Music teacher examine your bow hold and check for inaccuracies will guarantee that you’re avoiding bad habits and learning in the most efficient way possible.

At Sage Music, we’ll show you what to do, like we’ve done in this article. But unlike other music schools, we’ll teach you how to learn it in the fastest and most effective way. That’s using our Arpeggio® lesson system, which is backed by learning science.

We offer award winning violin lessons in New York City, San Antonio, TX and online violin lessons for those who can’t make it into our locations or prefer to learn from home.