Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gilbert on Facility vs. Technique

Quite a few years ago I attended a Gilbert Masterclass in which a flute student (now principal in a major orchestra) played a show piece that, at the time, we all thought was brilliant!
Geoffrey Gilbert was heard to say, disparagingly, that this person processed a
facility for playing the flute rather than a true technique. I have often wondered about what the criteria is for "True technique" and what constitutes facility and ultimately which is better.

The above question was posted on Galway Chat yesterday.

I replied:
I think that true technique is proved when as a flutist, you get a last minute call to sub, and have to arrive and suddenly sight-read some of the trickiest chamber or orchestral literature.
The questions are: How perfectly musical does it sound? How technically perfected does it sound when the player hasn't seen the music before, or hasn't had a chance to prepare? That's the true test. Mere facility is not sufficient; though it
can get you through the gig, it may not win you a call-back.

The quality high level musicians are looking for is more than just "fingers", it's beautiful tone colour, as well as fingers.
There's also adapting, blending, and playing "in style."
When you're suddenly forced to perform for a great musical ensemble, but on very short notice, the minimum you must have is finger technique.
Of course this means at least five years of scales, scales in thirds/fourths etc., and arpeggios are already up to speed and can be played at any
dynamic, with any articulation pattern.

If a flutist is prepared in this way only then they can concentrate on blending, intonation, musical nuances and making the music truly come alive with expression and meaning.
If a sight reader can even assist their fellow players, and inspire, rather than simply "get through the part" then they have technique AND musicality.
Jen adds:
I wrote the above paragraphs even before checking for Gilbert's own words in "The Gilbert Legacy" by Angelita Floyd.
On the front page of chapter 9 I later found this quote:

Floyd on Gilbert:
"According to Gilbert's teaching there is a definite distinction between facility and technique; facility being the ability to move the fingers quickly, whereas technique includes this ability to move the fingers in combination with proper sound and expression. Consequently, when practicing for facility, flutists should concentrate on the technique of SOUND as well. Gilbert explained his concept of technique in an article in FluteTalk.

"We would all agree that possession of a virtuoso technique is absolutely necessary for those who aspire to be virtuosos.
(Masterclass Gilbert Quote)"

Gilbert's Flutetalk Quote:
"Almost every student aspires to be a virtuoso but they don't have a virtuostic technique. Too often students try to learn the flute by just playing pieces. If they would spend more time acquiring technique by playing articulated scales in all possible forms and arpeggios before they come to a piece, it would save them hours of time. Then rather than wasting extra time learning a difficult passage, they could spend more time on improving tone and intonation". - Geoffry Gilbert

This chapter 9 of "The Gilbert Legacy" then goes on to outline what a true "technique" is, and a great deal is devoted to maintaining tone, intonation and nuance while increasing the amount of daily technique practice.

I highly recommend this book for understanding Gilbert's ideas.
Floyd has included quotes and samples from all sorts of teaching situations of Gilbert's.

I'll be interested to hear more about this topic from others, too. :>)
And for young flutists looking ahead to getting "The Gilbert Legacy" and the technique books suggested in it, may I suggest that a very useful book for starting technique practice is Brooke's Flute Method. I have an old second-hand copy of volume II here from a used book store, and combined with the tuning CD, (droning on the tonic) it's a fabulous resource for interesting scale patterns that you can endlessly vary.

Best, Jen Cluff
Comments (2)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Jennifer ...First of all, this comment doesn't relate to your posting, but it seemed like the simplest way to contact you. I've been recruited by a friend to teach flute lessons through her "schoolhouse of rock". In keeping with the mission of the school, I purchased a book of Jethro Tull flute solos, which was a nifty find. However, do you have any suggestions for where to go to find other sheet music for famous flute passages in classic rock and pop songs? I'd love to work on something like "Nights in White Satin" with a student. Thanks for reading the long post!

Sunday, July 01, 2007 4:05:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Beth,
You can address emails to:

But the fact is, that many folk look for these solos (in written form) and just don't fine them, as far as I know.
There are Rock Flute books and so forth, which you can find at under Pop Sheetmusic for Flute.
But to transcribe exact solos from specific well-loved pop and rock tunes, I think you still have to do it yourself, and then modify them to be readable for students at various levels; change key; indicate bars rest etc.

Good luck,

Sunday, July 01, 2007 4:23:00 PM


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