Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 10/28/2005 9:47:34 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Here are a couple of recent observations from my most recent practice and experiments:

~~ backhanded vs palm down ~~

I like the precision of Peter Pringle's backhanded technique, however I also like playing with my elbows down in a relaxed position (like Pamelia). The two styles don't exactly mix because to play backhanded with the arm down means to twist the wrist and this was causing some pain -- and taking Pringle's advice, I discontinued the technique at once. Pringle plays with his pitch arm in an "up" position where one does not twist the wrist to go backhanded.

~~ smooth movement from one note to the next ~~

Listen closely to Robby Virus's smooth playing, or Barbara Buchholtz, and all the other Theremin virtuosos and then look at Exercise #1 from Clare Rockmore's method and therein lies the secret: "...sliding from one note to the other, but with great care taken not to slide beyond the note."

Well, there is more to this than just technique... turns out that an "overshoot" of a pitch is noticeable whereas an "undershoot" is not really noticed. Must be something about the physiology of hearing.

~~ articulation ~~

another discovery is that articulation is done mostly with the pitch hand (I believe this point has been mentioned by other contributors to this forum). What comes to mind is Robby Virus's sweet performance of "Star Trek" -- each note of the theme is clearly deliniated yet one can't hear him muting the glisses with the volume hand. The ear tends to fixate on the steady pitches -- you can move at a pretty relaxed pace from one note to the next -- just be sure you STOP on the notes that you want heard.

~~ just for fun ~~

Try playing "Take me out to the Ballgame" with one hand! Use a "chicken peck" for the repeated notes and just hold the others. Don't slide so fast that you overshoot any of the notes. I guarantee that you will have fun!

~~ the volume antenna and phrasing ~~

Generally, one can use volume to shape an entire phrase. Try playing an upward scale starting soft and doing a gradual crescendo to the top note of the scale then a decresendo going down. In Peter Pringle's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- on the notorious middle section (with the melody that sounds like a French siren) Peter does NOT articulate each note. He simply plays the notes -- back and forth -- and shapes the phrase with the volume hand. And that is the key, it seems -- to think in phrases rather than individual notes. There are some exceptions...

~~ walking bass for beginners ~~

Of course, if you are attempting Pamelia's walking bass then well... ya gotta articulate each note. Of course, Pamelia articulates the notes, plays 'em accurately, and adds little ornaments and fills, and does it at a miraculous speed.

I have played around with it, and I can do the volume hand and I can do the pitch hand and I can even play fast but (*sniff sniff*) can't do it all at once! If I try to do it fast my walking bass instantly becomes a three-legged race :)

So, my strategy here is to accept that I am a beginner and practice slowly and accurately. I plan to live a long life, so there is hope that I may learn it within a few decades!

~~ that's all for now ~~

Hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. I enjoy reading the contributions of many who have posted here. Hopefully many will find useful information.
Posted: 10/28/2005 10:49:48 PM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

Just watched Peter's tape. I was instinctively using the chicken peck and switched over to finger extensions.

The improvement in my relatively short two and a half weeks was dramatic on this instrument.

Posted: 10/29/2005 10:38:20 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Philip, would be fun to hear how you are playing "Ballad of the Green Berets" now that you are using Peter Pringle's techniques.
Posted: 10/29/2005 11:03:30 PM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

I am deathly afraid that Uncle Howie would disown me!
Posted: 11/20/2005 6:27:42 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

This month's contest song, the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" presents numerous challenges. This post will cover some of my thoughts about playing this work on the Theremin.

~~ classical "fusion" music ~~

The romantic composer, Gounod, utilized a baroque composition (the Bach C major Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier) to accompany Gounod's decidely romantic melody. And we are playing it on a 20th century instrument (the Theremin).

This ambiguity suggests that widely varied interpretations are possible.

~~ register, timbre, and transposition ~~

The music is equally pleasing in just about any register: tenor through super-soprano. A bright timbre seems more effective in the tenor register whereas I prefer a mellower timbre in the treble.

The decision on which register to choose has been a tough one. The choice of key wasn't as difficult... I just found the high note that I like and chose the key that resulted! Which leads to a digression...

~~ will you put it into a higher/lower key? ~~

Over the years, I have had to transpose accompianments for countless singers. Finally, I get to choose MY key!! Life is good! :)

~~ volume antenna use ~~

As we all know, one can mute the glisses between the notes with the volume hand. However, this muting can come at the expense of losing the continuity of the phrase. Thus, I have been "letting the glisses happen" on the small intervals. To do this is a balancing act -- too rapid a change from one note to the next can make the effect sound forced, glissing too slow makes the melody sound like a slide whistle. I am trying to achieve a relaxed movement from one note to the next while shading the overall phrase with the volume hand.

On the large jumps near the end of the work, I am simply muting the volume antenna, moving my pitch hand to the target pitch, and opening the volume again -- that is, with a definite break between the notes. I am using just enough reverb to fill in the gap so the effect is not overly "dry". This approach is decidedly a compromise -- I would prefer to phrase the line the same as a singer with "Maria" rather than "Mari / uh" however I just don't like a downward gliss there.

~~ nitty gritty aerial fingering ~~

The descending arpeggios are difficult, indeed. I find it easier to play them with my hand in third position -- thus while I am playing a note, the location of my thumb/index finger "marks" the location of the next note. On the last arpeggio at the end of the work, I play it descending in third position EXCEPT for the very bottom note... as in...

so (1st) --> up to re (3rd), ti (3rd), so (3rd), fa (3rd), re(3rd), ti (3rd), so (1st) --> then up to do (3rd).

One could go upward from so to do using 1st to 4th position. I prefer playing it from 1st to 3rd position and moving my hand up a step...

I find 4th position to be less precise than 1st, 2nd, and 3rd -- particularly on the Theremax which has a rather compressed treble range. 4th position is easier to manage on the Epro, though.

~~ vibrato ~~

Decided not to use it on this piece -- instead shading the melody with the volume hand to achieve interest.

~~ comment ~~

Hope that you find some of the above comments useful. Of course, there are numerous solutions to technical challenges and will enjoy hearing how you are dealing with them.

Happy Theremining!
Posted: 11/24/2005 1:41:10 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

I've been playing theremin for all of two months (though with decades of prior experience with singing, piano, and guitar). I seem to be settling into a hybrid of what I've learned from Lydia Kavina and Peter Pringle on DVD.

The two main advantages I've found in the Pringle backhand:

1) It's easier to inflect a note up or down a semitone, by simply *rotating* the wrist, and

2) It's easier to play a single note just below where you've been playing with finger extensions, by bending the wrist.

I generally keep my thumb against my index finger, though I switch to my middle finger when I want to play a cleanly intonated trill (i.e., by waving my index finger, rather than trying to execute it with my whole hand).

F'rinstance, one of the pieces I'm currently learning is the Rakhmaninov "Vocaliz." To play the trill at the end of meas. 6, I execute the trill with the index finger, and then execute the termination with a small, quick flick of the wrist and back.

Also, for what it's worth, I favor setting the pitch antenna for its maximum range. Yes, this makes it more challenging to play all intervals cleanly, BUT once you're on track, this makes it MUCH easier to execute large melodic leaps cleanly and accurately... and if a melody alternates between two distinct registers (what the academics call "compound melody"), then you can pull it off with much smaller physical motions, which will make it easier to play more quickly.

In the short run, this will facilitate playing Baroque repertoire... in the long run, it ought to help push the tempo envelope. I'm currently reading Glinsky's book, and I'm determined not to play only "lento," "adagio," and "larghetto" selections for the rest of my life!
Posted: 11/24/2005 9:12:07 PM

From: Louisville, KY

Joined: 8/28/2005

Backhand is just more natural-- you're using the way your wrist and fingers naturally hinge instead of twisting your arm. And more fluid movements translate to a more fluid sound. Also, you get a much subtler vibrato like this, because you move your hand up and down-- which is almost perpandicular to the antena-- instead of toward and away from the antena.

My understanding of aerial fingering from the Pringle DVD is that position 1 is with all the fingers aligned vertically, 2 is the pinky knuckle extended, 3 is the knuckle of the ring finger, and 4 is adding the middle finger. I have thrown this in to my bag of tricks, but still often play with my fingertips instead of my knuckles.
Posted: 11/25/2005 12:22:06 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thanks for the great posts.

You will notice that in my write-up I avoided specifics about how I am holding my hand, etc... because I am still working out details of my technique.

Basically, I am trying to avoid any stress of twisting of my arm or wrist. The resulting hand position is somewhat backhanded -- though the back of my hand is not exactly parallel to the antenna (the bottom of my hand is a little closer to the antenna than the top).

My practice sessions tend to be long (2-5 hours) and I am not feeling any pain or stress so I may be on the right track. I plan to get some lessons in order to correct any bad habits.
Posted: 11/25/2005 3:42:02 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

The only problem I found with the Pringle method is that if I am playing an interval of more than a fifth or so using his technique, then I have to move my entire hand. This is not only innaccurate, but also translates into the playing as a horrible slidy noise.

You will notice that when Clara Rockmore plays she extends towards the antenna not just by making tiny movements with her fingers, but also by 'shooting' all her fingers out simultaneously almost to their entire length. Whilst this is difficult to begin with, it means that you can apply fingering techniques to much larger intervals, and even go so far as to jump over an octave without moving the position of your hand at all, and then return to your starting note without the slide.
Posted: 11/26/2005 1:22:13 AM

From: Louisville, KY

Joined: 8/28/2005

It would seem to depend on how you tune your instrument. I tune it so that from the point where my hand is bent in paralell to the wrist to the point where it's all the way extended is an octave. My wrist doesn't have to move unless I go to a different octave.

Actually, this seems to be about the same distance whether you bend at the wrist or use the arm twisting karate chop motion. [Ooh, that DOES sound painful!]

Actually, I picked up the back handed technique some years ago from a woman who was on "You Asked For It" some time in the 50s. I got the Pringle DVD largely because I heard he uses a backhanded technique, too. That, and to finally have some Samuel Hoffman footage on disc.

You must be logged in to post a reply. Please log in or register for a new account.