Geoffrey Gilbert and the Use of the Body: Taking a Look at “The Gilbert Legacy” for Tips

May 27, 2011

I’ve been re-leafing through The Gilbert Legacy by Angeleita Floyd, and now armed with my ever-growing understanding of the body through my Body Mapping and Alexander Technique lessons, I’m realizing how much Geoffrey Gilbert thought about the body and gave very clear and detailed indications that every flutist, from student to teacher, can benefit from.  I’ve already benefited from re-visiting this marvelous resource, and below I’ve included some items from the book’s chapter on Principles of Fundamental Technique that particularly resonated with me.

  • Regarding placing the flute to the mouth:  “Gilbert stressed that, when playing, it was necessary to create some space between the body and the flute.  Hold the instrument straight out in front of the body and bring it in towards the body with the left hand.  The right arm should be further away from the body at half extension, creating a right angle between the forearm and the upper portion of the arm.”
  • Regarding the position of the body:  “Stand away from the copy…at least a flute’s length away from the music…the nose should be aligned with the center of the copy (music) with the flute and the stand in a parallel line.  The feet should be placed about twelve inches apart, with the left foot forward and the right foot back.  The player’s weight should rest on the right foot.  Remember that the flute is parallel to the stand, and the player’s body should be turned to the right, allowing the shoulders and hips to create a 45 to 60 degree angle with the stand.  The shoulders and feet should also be in line.”
  • Furthermore, “flutists should stand straight, without leaning forward.  Leaning forward may hinder breath control as a result of either dropping the rib cage or pressing on the diaphragm.  One of Gilbert’s favorite demonstrations was to have a student stand straight, with back and heels against the wall.  The shoulders and upper body remain against the wall as the right arm pushes the flute away from the wall and parallel to the stand.  Gilbert often stated…”Pushing the flute forward (away from the body) will often free the sound” and “Pulling the right arm back toward your shoulder is very crippling.”
  • Other body related suggestions include: “flutists should keep their heels on the floor…elbows lifted and held away from the body…the head should be held up and tilted slightly to the rightthe right shoulder should be lower than the left, in line with the natural slope of the flute and the head.”

From the Breathing chapter, I’d like to mention Gilbert’s way of explaining breathing through four simple steps–it seems one of the best and easiest ways of really explaining all we need to know about breathing!

Step 1:  “Exhale, leaning forward, allowing the rib cage to collapse and air to escape.” (the photo in the book helps here, but imagine your arms hanging heavy in front of you)

Step 2:  “Place the fingers beneath the rib cage, inhale while straightening the body, expand the abdominal region, and left the rib cage.  Inhalation is more efficient when dropping the jaw and not disturbing the upper lip.” (again, the photo in the book helps, but your hands should be above your “belt-line”)

Step 3:  “Begin to exhale, pressing against the sides with the fingers to assist contraction of the abdominal muscles.  Try to maintain a balance of resistance from the abdominal area without quickly collapsing, keeping the rib cage lifted.”

Step 4:  “At this point it is possible that the rib cage may collapse as in Step 1.  For efficient breathing, practice taking a very quick breath, inhaling and expanding before the rib cage is allowed to drop.”

This highly recommended book is jam-packed with marvelous information, with chapters devoted to areas of importance for flutists, such as breathing, embouchure, technique of sound, dynamics/tone/color/vibrato, articulation, practicing and more.

I’d be curious to know if you find the above reminders and explanations helpful in your playing or teaching.

The book’s full title is The Gilbert Legacy:  Methods, Exercises and Techniques for the Flutist, and is available on Winzer Press by Angeleita S. Floyd.

Happy fluting!


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