Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 2/13/2006 11:40:26 AM
Jason

From: Sammamish, Washington

Joined: 2/13/2005

Seems to me this is the point at which you reach theremin Zen-nirvanna... when you can play the theremin with your eyes closed and still hit the notes. I'm still a touch-typer when it comes to theremin playing though - I can't quite look away from the "keyboard" without everything going sour and coming out all jumbled. Bravo on your progress!!
Posted: 2/14/2006 7:56:04 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

This is something I am trying to achieve.

I find it helps to recall and envisage certain rare moments in my life - excuse me while I go all purple prose, but they're kinda special to me.

- I was 14, standing on a tall stool changing a light bulb. I wobbled, the stool went from under me. As I fell I watched the bulb falling and picked it out of the air while I hooked the stool with my foot and moved it aside. As I alighted on the other foot, outstretched in readiness, I noticed how a spider's web was casting a shadow in one corner of the ceiling. A moment of perfect co-ordination.

- Talking with a close and theoretically compatible friend, a moment was reached in the conversation, a look was exchanged and extended, words went unspoken, choices were silently made and understandings reached in that held glance, and we shared the experience of feeling good about making the right decision, and also knowing that, had circumstances been otherwise, there was a mutual other option. A moment of perfect clarity.

- The first time I [i]didn't[/i] kiss my wife, but stopped a centimetre short and likewise held only the air around her shoulders and looked in wonder and passion into those eyes and the air around my fingers became electrically charged. We breathed together and the world fell away from our perception. A moment of perfect emotional intensity.

Well I guess you get the idea.

Gordon
Posted: 2/14/2006 8:57:01 PM
kkissinger

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

~~ to see or not to see ~~

Jason, to look at your hands is a crutch... a security blanket that secretly hinders while giving comfort.

Try playing with your eyes closed. With your eyes closed, visualize the position of the notes and go for them.

To break the habit of looking at your hands may appear impossible at first -- for a few practice sessions, force yourself NOT to look at your hands. Once you are able to let go of the security blanket, you may find yourself able to play with more security than ever before.

Bear in mind that the Theremin IS a bio-feedback device. However, it gives you feedback sonically, NOT visually. The sound: namely the pitch, the vibrato, the shading -- is the only feedback the Theremin gives you. Visually, the Theremin gives you no data, so don't waste time and energy looking for it!

~~ listening to the Theremin while you play it ~~

Have you ever listened to aircraft radio transmissions? The pilot makes his intial call, then controller responds with, "N12345, cleared as filed, turn to heading two-three-zero, maintain four-thousand, sqawk one four two three" and then the pilot reads it all back! Amazing, isn't it! How do they do this? And, what does this have to do with the Theremin?

Pilots are trained to be "ready to listen, ready to copy". When the pilot calls the controller, the pilot is completely prepared to listen and to copy (write down) everything the controller says. This preparation is a mental "readiness to listen" state. This mental focus is part of a pilot's training. Furthermore, pilots are trained to copy the clearance WITHOUT thinking about, or visualizing what is being said! Yep, that's correct! Just read it back, syllable for syllable. Focus on the task at hand. Then look at your chart if you aren't sure where a certain waypoint is located or call the controller back for clarification if needed.

On a keyboard, at least a piano or organ, one simply hits the note. Once the correct note is hit, the job is done! No need to "listen" to the note at all! As long as you hit it right and keep your finger on the key, you can forge merrily along, thinking about or listening to something else.

On the Theremin (ah, do you know where this is going?? :) ) starting the note is like the pilot's initial call to the controller. Starting the note is merely step one of an active process. When you, the Thereminist, play a note you want to be "prepared to listen and take appropriate action". This is a mental state of focus. Like the pilot who is prepared to copy everything the controller says, the Thereminist is prepared to listen to everything the Theremin says and actively make adjustments to volume, pitch, vibrato, or whatever and then keep listening, refining, adjusting.

The Theremin has much to tell you if you listen carefully. Turn the lights down low, close your eyes, let the Theremin whisper to you, and hang on every word.

(I know the last paragraph is a little over-the-top, but hey, today is Valentine's day!)
Posted: 2/16/2006 1:18:27 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

This is my current opinion on the idea of 'positions' in aerial fingering, mais, je suis une vraie girouette ('I'm a true weathervane' - a lovely French idiom for a person whose mind changes like the wind).

I am not sure if anyone will second me on this, but I personally find the idea of
'positions' in aerial fingering to be rather clumsy. Aerial fingering is of course an excellent method - and playing with a locked hand position is about as practical as playing the piano wearing gloves whilst blindfolded. It's still possible of course (and indeed Dr.Mortimer Mortensen made an act for himself doing it), but it provides an unnecessary challenge.

I never find myself thinking about positions, or 'fingering' as such, an I find that my playing sounds far less mechanical if I allow myself to play moving my hands in a way that feels (and most importantly *sounds*) correct - I 'go with the flow.' Listening to what I'm saying, even I will confess that it all sounds slightly odd now I come to think about it (only because it sounds odd in reference to any other instrument - all of which provide tactile references), but applying four 'positions' to an instrument on which no fixed positions can be ascertained seems slightly contradictory and superficial.

The linearity of the instrument changes continously - you cannot readily predict that tonal change that any fixed motion will generate unless you start playing, and by that time it's too late. I cannot help wonder whether Clara ever thought in terms of 'positions' before she attempted to explain her methods to others? Certainly I find the idea of a 'position' to be pretty useless whilst playing. You will *never* find yourself playing the same piece with exactly the same motions anyway, due to all the variables of the instrument, and yet assigning positions suggests that this is indeed the norm.

I sometimes find that whilst changing 'positions' (for want of a better word), I move my entire hand slightly - this gives me a greater range I can concentrate on (and retain a memory of the note spacing within), and also seems to sound nicer to my ear. I never change positions whilst holding a note - I do it whilst moving to another note. If done quick enough you can just about disguise both the change of 'position,' as well as the slide between multiple notes. You kill two birds with one stone.

I suppose that's enough to be thinking about for the time being. Any reactions?
Posted: 2/16/2006 2:00:47 PM
Ernesto mendoza

From: Mexico city Mex

Joined: 1/7/2006

When i started to play theremin i had no idea about some techinque. I was thinking that theremin must be played closer pitch anntenae and the pitch tone was found from below to up¡¡ A little experience with lap steel guitar, give me some idea about find pitch tones without frets¡¡ (Like in bass guitar) So, since there, i play comfortably from left to right. It is more easy to me and i am learning and developing accuracy and velocity and realtive quick passages (i need more practice). Maybe It doesn´t the "proper" or the "elegant" technique, but it works¡¡
Posted: 2/16/2006 2:03:36 PM
Ernesto mendoza

From: Mexico city Mex

Joined: 1/7/2006

Sorry i mean "Like in double bass" or fretless bass.
Cheers¡
Posted: 2/16/2006 4:27:42 PM
omhoge

From: New York, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I find lately once I know a piece fairly well I'm hardly thinking of the actual "fingering" or "hand shape" position at all except in two cases when it always seems to pop into my mind:
1 - when I sense it will affect or prevent my motion to the next note
2 - when I have to substitute position on a note to prep for the next one.

Posted: 2/16/2006 9:18:11 PM
kkissinger

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hello to all!

As many have noted, articulating pitch on the Theremin is a matter of listening and adjusting rather than mechanical stretches to proscribed positions.

However, I can think of two features that aerial fingering provides:

1) Aerial fingering results in hand/muscle movements that are very efficient. A finger or knuckle stretch is more efficient than moving ones whole arm for every note and involves less twisting than techniques that involve turning or bending the wrist. Of course, other techniques are used however aerial fingering al la Peter Pringle or Clara Rockmore would rank among the most efficient methods.

2) Aerial fingering provides a shorthand so that folks like us can communicate! For example, I could explain the first phrase of "Over the Rainbow" as "I keep my fingers together on the first note, than move my arm while extending my fingers to the second, then I kind of slowly bring my fingers together and back apart again for each note" -- or -- I could say (C, 1st) (C, 4th) (B, 3rd) (G, 1st) (A, 2nd) (B, 3rd) (C, 4th). Even if you don't use aerial fingering per se, if you are familiar with the concept, then we can communicate about how we handle tricky passages.

To be honest, I don't conciously think about my fingering unless I encounter a problem passage in the music -- in such cases I have to work out my motions and fingerings. I would imagine others do this, too -- perhaps not thinking in terms of position numbers, but none-the-less working out the moves.

At times, if I find that I am having trouble playing passages that normally don't trouble me, I will slow things down and make sure my moves are solid -- for me personally my move to 1st position is critical.

Aerial fingering, while never a substitute for ear training or musicality, is a tool that can contribute to one's Theremin technique.

Keep your comments coming. Thanks!

-- Kevin
Posted: 2/17/2006 2:08:33 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I suppose that's the best way to explain aerial fingering. The whole idea of 'positions' is there merely to aid explanation - not to be taken literally.

Thanks.
Posted: 2/17/2006 8:01:30 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Even I have to concede that there is a bit more to it than that.

If you want to play classical theremin, or indeed any style that calls for precise, repeatable notes and clear articulation then the results speak for themselves... Clara, Lydia, Peter, need I continue?

My personal opinion is that the theremin's strengths lie elsewhere, and part of me wants to shout, "Oh, for Pete's sake guys - if you want to hit the notes that precisely why don't you get y'selves an instrument with frets at the very least?" but fortunately I have a weekly dose of Spellbound to set me straight on that issue.

:-)

Gordon

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