(click on jpeg to enlarge and sing along with the Bb song...)Dear Flute Lovers,
A discussion has come up this week on one of the flute teacher's email groups about which B-flat fingering to teach first and why.
Here's a concise and well reasoned article on that very topic:
To Thumb B-Flat or Not to...
by Dr. Lisa Garner Santa
One of the disconcerting factors that was mentioned was the case where band teachers have said to their flute students that "using the B-flat thumb key is "cheating".
One teacher described a recent flute solo contest where the adjudicator took marks off for a flutist who "cheated" by using that very Bb thumb key.
This is a misguided pedagogical notion.
After all the modern flute actually has the Bb key choices actually attached to it. They need to be used.
Also, there are many straightforward repertoire examples (ie: Chaminade's Concertino, Berbiguier's 18 Etudes) where the B-flat thumb key is mandatory for very fast work. Why is it that there is somebody out there who thinks one should not use it?
As one teacher aptly pointed out, clarinets and bassoons are not "marked down" in competition for using a particular fingering for a particular situation are they? Why then the obsession with flute judges on using a particular Bb alternate fingering on the flute? Do they not know of the applications?
On the other hand, as all private flute teachers know, early confusion arises when a beginner flutist is only taught the B-flat thumb key in band, and plays in flat keys for so long that they don't even know what a B-natural is.
It's not uncommon that the same student then tells the new private flute teacher that the B-natural thumb key is "uncomfortable" since the student has never used it before, and that they can't get used to the 1&1 B-flat as it's too much work (!)
This can be avoided by first teaching 1 + 1 as the basic stabilizing fingering.
This is covered in part 1 of this article:
Why Work on the Standard B-flat fingering?
You'll also find a link to a very good article on right hand index and how it helps balance the flute for beginners. This is great reading for inexperienced flute teachers.
But as a student advances, further confusion can arise when a famous flutist answers an intermediate flutist's query online, ie: "which Bb should I use?" by saying:
"I use the thumb B-flat almost exclusively because I've become very adept at sliding my thumb."
Yet, sometimes the thumb cannot possibly slide fast enough in particular phrases of music. (see pdf musical examples below.)
So how do we solve this confusion?
My first Bb fingering article contains a pdf of musical examples from the intermediate and advanced repertoire where all three B-flat fingerings must be used equally adeptly.
Why Work on the Standard B-flat fingering?
And any teacher can play through this pdf with its intermediate to advanced flute etude-repertoire
examples to demonstrate the best use of all three Bb fingerings in context here:
Musical examples for flute showing all three B-flat fingerings in use: PDF
These articles and samples should be sent to band teachers and beginner teachers who have some confusion about teaching all three Bb fingerings to their students.
My opinion is that if the student has a use for all three fingerings, they should be taught all three.
No adjudicators should ever penalize a fingering until they can actually play the given passage at tempo themselves, on the flute. Then such a band leader or adjudicator will see immediately why a particular fingering has been chosen. There are no hard and fast rules except to learn to use all three B-flat fingerings and to discover which fingering works where, and why it works. If prepared, then later if you're ever sight reading with an advanced group of musicians, you will spontaneously use B-flat flute fingering solutions already worked out in practice.
And now for the really advanced and new excerpts for adeptness at all three B-flat fingerings:
Today's musical example is from extremely fast and complex orchestral music for advanced players.
Have a look: NEW!
Shostakovich & Schoenberg require Index Finger B-flats. (pdf)
In these two works (by Shostakovich and Schoenberg), the index finger 1 + 1 standard B-flat fingering is THE ONLY CHOICE. (sorry, I don't mean to shout.) (ha)
The handy dandy B-flat side lever that is so often so useful, is not an option here, because of the notes that come before and after the Bbs which preclude side-lever use, and of course, the thumb B-flat doesn't work because you cannot ever slide fast enough in these pieces.
Try the above excerpts at tempo and see for yourself.
You can use the system of pencil marking too, which is fun practice, to remind yourself of how to mark parts for Bb fingering choices.
Happy 1 + 1 practicing.
No doubt the whole "Bb thumb is cheating" shenanigans came about after some illustrious orchestral flutist finished a week of Shostakovich, and turned to his students and said:
"Whatever you do, do not become over-reliant on thumb Bb. It's so easy you don't need to practice it. Practice the Bb fingerings that are not naturally easy at first. Those are the ones you will truly need to know best."
(And you thought that once you'd mastered the 'thumb Bb' and the 'Bb side' lever that you could say goodbye to dexterity with the 1 +1? ha ha ha. Not when you get to the highest levels of flute 1 orchestral writing. Just say: Eeek. Just say Shostakovich-Schoenberg six times really fast. :>)
Hope this helps. Let all those adjudicators with inflexible rules for flute students have a good read of these ideas.
And if the person saying "you're cheatin" cannot play the passage at tempo themselves, then they should be advised by someone who CAN play them and mark parts for future reference.
Oops, there I go ranting. :>)