Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 10/10/2005 6:30:30 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

Well, I'm makin an assumption that Ethermusic 2006 will also feature Lydia and Pamelia. They're icons of the instrument - I can't imagine another festival without them :)

I seem to recall that Lydia had a few different "tunings" during her shows at EM2k5. Depending on what she was performing, she'd either adjust the zero beat to be right at her body, or far behind. It's impressive to me because it's hard enough to learn one tuning on the theremin, let alone several.

I have a photo collage I'm working on illustrating all the fingering techniques I saw at EM2k5 - I'll work on getting that online this week. Not all are equally effective, but it might help give you some ideas for techniques that work particularly well with one song or another.
Posted: 10/10/2005 10:33:11 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

That would be neat to see, Jason.

I am always fascinated by the techniques people come up with for playing instruments.

For instance, when I play bass I pluck with my thumb a lot more than my fingers.

It's not the "correct" way to play but it is how I learned and I feel comfertable that way.

When I am thinking about it I make the effort to play with my fingers but then I always lapse into the thumb thing during gigs.

I got my Etherway used and it did not include the video so I am going to be ordering it from Moog. I am also going to get the Pringle DVD.

That way I can stop any bad theremin habits before they become ingrained.

Posted: 10/10/2005 8:34:48 PM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

I studied the Etherwave pro DVD and Pamelia's technique further and can see the wide scale/small-movements approach makes sense - I have tried it and it's gone quite well.

I also noticed once or twice after going up just 1 or 2 notes in the scale she'll play the next note up closed-hand again (she does it in one excersize toward the end of the demonstration - ie she's going back to closed hand every couple of notes up the scale. - gives more flexibility for where to go next - plus it is less hard close handing after only 2 notes than after an octave.

Coming down seems to be more a wrist thing with mouseface nibbling motion with the fingers.

I also think she was nervous in the DVD coz she doesn't risk much outside an octave - even in the jam with Makoto Ozone.
I think if I knew this CD would go out forever with each Moog Pro sold I might play it safe too.

Lydia on her Moog video does miss the odd note here & there, even on an excersize. Gives hope to us all :-)
Posted: 10/10/2005 10:01:32 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

I cannot thank each one of you enough for sharing your tips and knowledge on Theremin technique. My playing and confidence has taken quite a jump as I have experimented and applied the tips given.

I am no longer trying the left-right motion thing and, in fact, I am playing with my elbow at my side. In order to reach both antennae I am standing at a slight angle towards the pitch antenna. With a straight-on camera angle, one might get the illusion that I am moving my arm from left to right however I am moving it straight to and from the pitch antenna.

I think Pamelia's DVD may have suffered from that illusion.

To tune now I place my hand in the position that corresponds to "middle-c" for me... that is my pitch arm parallel with the ground and fingers in first position (fingertips resting on the thumb).

From there, I can play up two octaves plus a 4th to F3 and go down two octaves to Low C thus acheiving a 49 note range (that top 4th is not easily playable. To play in the Tenor octave I have the option of moving my hand (and elbow) back OR moving my arm upward in an arc towards my neck (to move to my shoulder introduces stress). As I have experimented with the walking bass playing in the arch -- each note in first position seems SO natural!

Incidentally, this places the zero-beat point slightly behind the front plane of my body -- around 3" -- just that if I rock back slightly I reach zero beat.

Clara Rockmore has scale exercises wherein only first second (and sometimes third) position are used. Going up is a little easier than going down. I found that in going down, I first practice moving downward in thirds in first position. After that, then I start on C3 in first position, then move my thumb down to A while at the same time, opening my hand to second position (resulting in 'B'), then closing to first position for 'A'. It took some practice, however I am able to play good downward scales this way.

It seems that Pamelia is playing her walking bass primarily in first position and inserting the little embelishments by rapid motions to 2nd or 3rd position.

Pamelia even mentioned that one may hit a few wrong notes and that the trick is to 'end up' in the right place -- I guess that means that if you can nail your "target" notes in first position that the fills in between can be a little off!

Anyway, back to the tuning issue...

Having worked this out on the Epro I decided to go back to my Theremax -- and by golly, I was able to use the same procedure for tuning middle C. On the Etherwave I also get a 4 octave + range however the "sweet spot" for easy playing is around 30 to 37 notes -- in the bass and treble the notes are closer together. Also, the Tmax's antenna is more sensitive to up and down motions -- to create a wide vibrato takes less motion on the Tmax than the Epro. I am considering a different pitch antenna on the Tmax to obtain a larger playable range. The Tmax's volume antenna works ok "as is" for me.

The PO was closed today so maybe my Peter Pringle DVD will arrive tommorrow.

As I mentioned, I am standing facing slightly towards the pitch antenna with my left shoulder abeam the center of the volume antenna at a distance that allows me to access the volume antenna without stretching my left arm away from my side.

Which leads to yet another question: How/where do you position yourself at the Theremin?

Sorry for this LONG post. Each and every one of you has already contributed greatly to my (and many others') progress. Thanks again and keep the tips coming!
Posted: 10/11/2005 12:01:02 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Here's my playing technique in a nutshell. A rather large one:

Firstly I should say that my playing technique changes slightly from day to day, and I'll never end up playing any piece the same way twice. The vagueness of Clara and Lydia's numbering systems makes it clearly obvious that they just instinctively *know* where to move their hands and when to swap positions. It seems to just comes to them in their heads, and I wouldnt expect they often stumble thinking 'Oh drat! I should have swapped to position four or whatever.'

The rather confusing number system was a non-starter for me- I just sort of cut and pasted loads of different ideas from thereminist whos playing I liked, and formulated own strangely impressive looking (if not yet as impressive sounding) technique of fingering. I prefered in general the techniques that involved interesting looking hand gestures and sweeping arm motions, so it was those that I combined, trying at the same time to retain an element of logic in the equation. I doubt my method will work for anyone else. These styles of fingering seem to be as unique as handwriting.

To get my lowest note I stand with my clenched fist against my sternum, finger and thumb together. I then use my entire fist to establish a rough range of notes, and my individual fingers to find the individual pitches. My hand normally is in a state of the 'OK-sign' between entirely clenched fist for the lowest notes, and entirely open fist for the highest notes. I do however always keep the index-finger and thumb together. My little finger is always closest to the antenna, and my palm of my hand is vertical, with my elbow poiting out the right.

By contorting my hand I produce the notes. I suppose my technique is a sort of crossbreed of Lydia's and Clara's (it looks most like Carolina Eyck's claw-like 'grasp the ether' method), but going somewhere like EM2006 would really put things into perspective.
Posted: 10/13/2005 9:26:54 PM

From: Louisville, KY

Joined: 8/28/2005

I have a salad bar approach to technique. I started with a standard Etherwave and the Kavina video. I also studied Rockmore, the Sexton book, and picked up backhanded technique from a woman whose name I forget who was on You Asked For It.

First of all, I only worry about zero beat if I'm playing way down in the Geiger counter end of the bass range-- which I sometimes do for bass lines. Generally, I concentrate on the octave that I want to play the melody in, and try to make the hand upright to outstretched about an octave. I find the hand more articulate than the arm. I pay attention to anchor notes, and approximate the in-between ones.

I actually pivot my fore-arm at the elbow, and stand so it swings out towrd the antena. I find trying to move the hand in a straight line towards the antena gets me off key if I'm not constantly looking at the antena. Swinging the arm with the back of the hand toward the antena just feels more natural, and gets relatively predictable results. I also play seated on a stool, which helps.

I hold the thumb and first finger together, and pinch them when I want tension for a nervous sound. Usually, the arm's relaxed.

Pamelia's plucking volume antena technique has been a revelation. I touch my fingers to my thumb, though, and I find myself alternating between using my first two fingers for the plucking motion. I tend to pluck one note and slide to the next. But again, it varies.

I just got my E-Pro a few days ago and I'm totally addicted to it! It will probably change my technique over time.
Posted: 10/13/2005 10:17:23 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Dr. - Not to change the subject, but can you tell us what the serial number of your Etherwave Pro is? It's on the metal plate on the bottom of the instrument. Thanks!
Posted: 10/13/2005 11:23:27 PM

From: Louisville, KY

Joined: 8/28/2005

0232. Do I win something?
Posted: 10/13/2005 11:37:42 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Sorry, no. I was hoping to get an idea of how many E-Pros have been produced and sold. Actually, I believe they are over the 300 mark right now. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
Posted: 10/14/2005 8:45:44 PM

Joined: 10/14/2005

I have # 0053- my first theremin, and have really found this forum useful. Thanks!

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