Bow Hold

There is pressure THROUGH the thumb, not FROM the thumb. As you rotate the forearm and hand counterclockwise (pronation), the index finger naturally applies pressure down as the thumb applies pressure upwards. This does not come from squeezing, this comes from rotation, and it is applying the weight of the arm into the string. My thumb is flexible, but from a position of being slightly bent. While there are many variations as to how to hold the bow, the basic principles of leverage and flexibility are common to all effective bow holds.

The Thumb and forefinger create a class 3 lever system, which allows us to apply the weight of the arm into the string.

A class 3 lever system:

object (string) force (index finger) fulcrum (thumb)


I use a grip that I learned from Antonio Janigro, and which was also used by Rostropovich, and occasionally by Harvey Shapiro and Lynne Harrell. Due to its location on the frog, it expands the size of the fulcrum, which increases leverage, and it puts the thumb against a smoother and more comfortable area of the frog than many cellists experience.

While I like this very much, and find it very comfortable, it really isn’t different as to how it functions from a traditionally taught hold, as you move from the frog towards the tip, the right forearm rotates, causing the hand to pronate. This pronation in turn focusses the weight of the arm/hand/bow into the string via leverage. What the grip pictured above does accomplish is that it increases the potential leverage by increasing the area over which the hand rotates by @21%.


top picture is of a “typical” bow hold

Bottom picture is the one I use.

Both photos were taken with the camera mounted in exactly the same position and the bow held in a fixed position (exactly the same)

In measuring the two circles in the pictures above, I found that the top example of a typically placed thumb created a circle with a circumference of 3 3/16 inches, and the second (alternative) placement created one of 3 14/16 (these measurements are relative to the scaling of the photos, not an absolute measure, but accurate for comparison). This is an increase of 21.4%. If one applies the same degree of rotation to each example (pick your number), as one does approaching the upper part of the bow, the hold in the bottom photo creates more leverage, a greater application of arm/hand/bow weight into the string in the upper bow.


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7 Responses to Bow Hold

  1. MCellist says:

    Could you please elaborate on “Due to its location on the frog, it expands the size of the fulcrum?” and in particular on *how* the thumb is located at the frog. Thanks!

  2. admin says:

    Yes, there was supposed to be a picture to show, my apologies! I will update when I can

  3. MCellist says:

    Thanks for providing the picture! On a related note, just because you mentioned Rostropovich’s bow hold: As one can infer from many pictures he also used a thumb bent *towards* the bow (and many modern soloists do the same, BTW). This is interesting because many online Cello-related discussions strongly advise against this practice. How to hold the bow seems a puzzling subject?

  4. admin says:

    Someone like Rostropovich held the bow in myriad ways, but this is where he placed his thumb. The wrist and fingers went all over the place. He was Rostropovich, so what he could do was just fine. To teach or study this aw a model, no, you start doing it the “right” way. Whether the thumb is on or in front of the frog, the system functions the same way. The further back you are, the bigger the fulcrum, the further up, the more flexible the stick. Each has its advantages, but the tendency with many who hold the bow further up also extend the first finger up the stick (to increase leverage). But this also increases tension, as the finger is unsupported and extended away from the hand. For this reason, I prefer the position that I demonstrate. As to the straight or bent thumb, it is not at all unusual for the thumb to bend and straighten a bit in the course of a bow stroke , despite the fact that to some it is a taboo! Check out Lynn Harrell’s videos on youtube, in one of them he demonstrates something of the sort.

  5. MCellist says:

    Thank you so much for these swift and insightful replies! Highly interesting. Much appreciated.

  6. MCellist says:

    As luck would have it, Pablo Ferrandez posted a video on Youtube illustrating it quite nicely: .

  7. borkbork says:

    I can confirm that Natalia Gutman and some of her students also place their thumbs on the frog, which makes sense that she studied with Rostropovich. It was taught as a bow exercise when opening up sound, with the option of using such a bow hold in performance if it worked. Fascinating blog! Found it from reddit cello.

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