‘I was most embarrassingly wrong’: A shocking discovery about the flute for Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson

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When Ian Anderson, then an itinerant guitar player, decided to focus on the flute, he did it in a largely self-taught way. As a result some unorthodox elements found their way into his style — not that you could initially convince the Jethro Tull frontman of that.

“I was a huge success as a flute player, playing it entirely wrongly,” Anderson tells Ken Bruce, in the video below, laughing heartily. “I discovered, when my daughter was learning to play flute at school, that she was using different fingering for some of the notes. I told her: ‘This is wrong; it should be like this.’ She said: ‘No, it’s not; look, it says so in the book!’ I had to come to the unnerving conclusion that she was right, the books were right, and I was most embarrassingly wrong.”

So, Anderson ended up settling into a scholarly pursuit of his signature instrument in the early 1990s — well after Jethro Tull’s initial heyday of Aqualung and Thick as a Brick from some two decades before.

“Being self taught, and never having had a lesson, I was playing a lot of the notes using incorrect fingering,” Anderson says. “I had to relearn it again, in about ’91, I think. … It taught me to take a little more seriously. In relearning my own repertoire, it was a good lesson in mid life — not quite a crisis, but damned close to it.”

Anderson continues a series of “Best of Jethro Tull”-themed dates this month in Iceland, Italy, England and Japan before bringing his “Thick as a Brick” tour to the U.S. in July.

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  • BenGleck

    Ian sounded better playing the “wrong” way. His peak was the solo on the studio version of My God. No contest. Nothing he plays today comes close. He sounds more like James Galway now. Now, James is fine for what he is, but he could never give us the breadth of expression in My God. It’s more like listening to a trained monkey than like Ian’s solos in the early to mid ’70s.

    I recall, when taking a course on classical guitar, how I enjoyed learning the fingering but found it unsuitable for rock. (Did you know that, technically, your thumb pad is supposed to remain behind, and not over, the guitar’s neck?) And when I showed my professor standard “tricks” like pull-offs, hammer-ons and bends, he would ask, “How’d you do that?”

    Sometimes erudite, academic “learning” is actually unlearning.

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