Jesus Florido: Balancing the Bow

March 1, 2012, 11:01 AM · "With this violin, you will change the world."

Jesus Florido took that statement to heart when he received his first violin at age 8, when he joined El Sistema as one of the first generations of students in Venezuela's now-35-year-old system of music education. Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, never did anything small. For those first students, he didn't just give the kids the violins, he called on then-President Luis Herrera Campins to present the children with their new instruments.

Now living in the United States, Jesus has taught Latin fiddling at Mark O'Connor camps, and he teaches and performs in many styles. Jesus also is one of the earlier members of Violinist.com, having joined in 2004. So I was happy to hear that he would be teaching some group lessons at a "Seminario," held at Pasadena's Longfellow Elementary School -- so I could meet him in person and see him teach!

Laurie and Jesus Florido

The "Seminario" was held in early February for three El Sistema-inspired programs in Southern California: Santa Barbara ICAN Music Program, San Diego Youth Symphony Community Opus Project, and Pasadena VYMA Music Project, which sponsored the event. Teachers came together from all over the area to hear a speech by author and educator Eric Booth and to participate in conversations with the Abreu Fellows and Tricia Tunstall, author of Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the Transformative Power of Music. Also, more than 100 students ages 7-10 came from as far as 120 miles to take classes and then play a version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" together at the end of the day.

I attended Jesus's group class about the bow hand, with about 40 kids.

Ah, the bow hand! It's supposed to feel natural and work with ease, yet teachers tend to fall into over-analysis and confuse their students. Puzzled, students wind up clutching their bows in some weird, compromised hand shape that pleases neither student nor teacher.

Jesus knows how to cut through the confusion. He described how the hand balances the bow in a way that was direct, simple and obvious. Check it out:

I wasn't able to get his description of each finger all on the video, so I've listed those descriptions below. Basically, each finger has a "job." You need to hold the bow in a way that allows each finger to do its job, never in a way that works against those jobs.

In a nutshell: The thumb is the anchor and point of balance. The ring finger is the main counterbalance, and the middle finger re-enforces the ring finger. The main job of these three fingers together is to hold the bow. The pinky is the main balancing finger, especially when playing in the lower half. The index finger is the driver of the bow -- it steers it straight. The index finger is also the pressure controller -- but never hooked on the stick. The index and pinkie are in charge of balance and direction, not of holding.

If you can put together a bow hand that allows each finger to do its job, it will work well for you!

Replies

March 1, 2012 at 07:16 PM · Thank you Laurie! The children wrote about what they learned from the seminario and so many of them talked about the bow hold session with Jesus! Thank you Jesus for a great class!

March 3, 2012 at 09:07 PM · Thank you Laurie!!

March 4, 2012 at 03:20 AM · I have been doing the bowing exercises from Fischer's "Basics" and Fischer appears to assign different roles to the fingers. For example, his exercises on balance see-saw between the first and 4th fingers. Can anyone comment or compare/contrast? Thanks!

March 5, 2012 at 12:39 AM · I am not a teacher but was a performing musician all of my life . But as far as the bow balance is concerned , it is not that simple . The change of string comes from the shoulder in all places of the bow and the fingers and hand do play a part .And, at the frog a combination of arm hand and fingers. Also there is a difference in finger hold from the whole bow down, to the whole bow up and vice versa. The fingers are more flexible in slower bows but as the tempo or notes get faster the fingers become steadier. But, to make this short and sweet , the fingers and hand have more to do then just bow balance . staccato , spiccato , Detache , legato . The fingers also have to do with change of bow without breaking the sound . There is too much to say about fingers of the bow . My Teachers were Tibor Varga and Lucas David .

March 5, 2012 at 06:18 AM · Hi Anthony, you are absolutely right, and I'm sure experienced violinists, including Jesus, would agree. But keep in mind, he was talking to a classroom full of 40 elementary public school beginners. I think his illustration worked well to help them visualize some of the reasons why we teach them this "bow hold" -- instead of having them hold it like a club! ;)

March 6, 2012 at 02:20 AM · Dear Francesca, first let me tell that I do love Simon Fisher's Basics. Now, even though our approaches differ the goal is the same, a balanced bow hold. I actually use his exercises with my approach. The main difference is that my approach is easily understood by 5 year olds.

Holding the bow is a lifetime endeavor and I am sure every violinist in the world had has his/hers changes and battle with it.

Now regarding Mr. Fusco's comment I have to way that I was only talking about bow hold and not sound production, of course you are right about the whole process of making sound and crossing strings but my approach is intended for very young beginners. I studied with Joseph Gingold and he loved the idea of creating a balanced bow hold at very young age, when I showed him this he called it "very creative and approachable"

Please keep the discussion going!

March 7, 2012 at 06:26 AM · Thanks very much for your reply, Jesus. As an adult learner, my particular problem is getting a relaxed grip and flexible fingers, which I understand isn't a problem for children! So I'm afraid I'm not in a position to add to the dialog.

But I do admire Joseph Gingold greatly. Did you read what Arnold Steinhardt had to say about him in "Violin Dreams"?

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