A little confused on where to start with complex fingering

Posted: 12/17/2007 8:57:29 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

I've got a got ear for pitch on the theremin and I've just reached an impasse in continuing with "hunt and peck" style playing- somewhere between Hoffman and basica aerial fingering. I wrote last week of a severe forearm and bicep pain that appears to be tendinitis.

I've always counted on practice and my ear alone to lead toward more successful and enjoyable playing. But now I really want to learn four-position playing without a lot of "complicated" reading, or is this an impossible wish. Eyck's written music scares me, to view samples on her website. I haven't looked too closely at the Rockmore PDF. The Pringle Dvd will be in shortly which may offer answers.

I played drums for twenty-five years and toyed with a digital keyboard for over fifteen years before getting into the theremin just a year ago. So I can read drum music and simple keyboard music. I understand scales and modes, blues scales, intervals, seventh chords, ninth chords. All of this has helped me with instinctively playing the theremin by ear.

Can I venture into serious, effortless(looking) fingering by some method other than book reading? Do I sound like I have an unecessary fear of the reading? I just need a few words of advice. Thanks!
Posted: 12/17/2007 9:04:48 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

I meant to start off by saying "I've got a good ear... not a got ear!"
Posted: 12/17/2007 10:16:20 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Hi, DV--

Rather than link to the previous thread, I'll shamelessly re-post a rather long reply to Alan-in-CA earlier this year. Please excuse if this is information you already know.

Any aerial fingering technique exploits your ability to control the movements of small muscles (e.g., in your fingers) more precisely than those of large ones (e.g., in your arm).

Within any one position of your arm, the range of available pitches is defined by two extremes:
a) The lowest pitch is produced by closing your hand; this represents arranging the mass of your hand farthest from the pitch rod (that is, farthest without moving your arm or wrist).
b) The highest pitch is produced by opening your hand; this represents extending the mass of your hand closest to the pitch rod (again, closest without moving your arm or wrist).

That much may be intuitively obvious. One of the major non-obvious aspects of the technique (whether you opt for "four," "nine," or whatEVERrrr) is that if you literally open your hand, extending all your digits, then four of them (the fingers) move closer to the pitch rod, BUT the fifth (a.k.a. your thumb) is moving away from it. Ergo, for consistent control of pitch, it's important to keep your thumb and forefinger together. So, absent photos, let's refine the above:

Within any one position of your arm, the range of available pitches is defined by two extremes:
a) The lowest pitch is produced by closing your hand--not into a fist, but with your thumb and index finger forming a circle, and the tips of the other three fingers (let's call them "the active fingers") resting comfortably on the base of your thumb.
b) The highest pitch is produced by opening your hand--not completely, but by maintaining that thumb-and-forefinger circle, while extending the active fingers toward the pitch rod, so that your hand forms the traditional "Okay" gesture.

So, them's your extremes. Intermediate pitches are produced by extending your knuckles, without fully unfolding your active fingers. Try moving your active fingers as slowly as you can from closed to open position, and back. Your next step is to find the intermediate positions that correspond to the pitches you want to produce, and then to train your muscles to go to those intermediate positions instantly.

I think it's safe to say (and I trust others to correct me as needed) that the above features are common to the aerial techniques we've been discussing. The fundamental differences lie in how you calibrate the pitch control field of your instrument.

Opting for the "four"-position technique means setting your control field so that moving from closed position to open position (without moving your arm or wrist) would produce the first two notes of Wagner's wedding march ("HERE COMES the bride..."), a.k.a. the first two pitches of "Shenandoah" ("OH SHENANDOAH, ..."), a.k.a. the first two pitches of "Loch Lomond" ("OH, YOU take the high road...").

Opting for the "nine"-position technique means setting your control field so that moving from closed to open position (without moving your arm or wrist) would produce the first two notes of "Over the rainbow" ("SOME-WHERE... over the rainbow..."), a.k.a. the first two notes of "Bali Hai" from South Pacific, a.k.a. the first two notes of "Singin' in the rain" ("I'M SING-in' in the rain...")

I hope this helps. In particular, I hope that you can better follow what Kevin demonstrates in his videos, especially the one where he demonstrates how to handle large melodic leaps using a "four"-position technique (this video provides an excellent, protracted close-up shot of his pitch hand).

P.S. The number labels come from the basic seven-note scale that underlies most European music (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do, a.k.a. "only the white keys on a piano keyboard"). I put the quotation marks around them, bec
Posted: 12/17/2007 10:21:56 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Also, if you'd rather not use a book, there are plenty of videos available: in addition to the Pringle en route, Thomas Grillo has generously posted instructional videos on YouTube, and Kevin Kissinger has posted videos on his site.

I haven't taken the time to look through them all, but I would recommend that you take a peek. In particular, for each player, observe carefully:

1) When the arm moves, and when it doesn't (i.e., how many notes are available purely through knuckle or finger extensions?)

2) Whether the wrist moves, or not;

3) Which parts of the hand move (and how far), and which don't.

Posted: 12/17/2007 10:23:13 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

P.S. Oh, yes: Kevin corrected me previously, hence my note above: In Clara Rockmore's four-position technique, it's only the knuckles that are extended, never the fingertips.
Posted: 12/18/2007 9:21:51 AM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

That is marvelous. Thank you. I have watched Thomas Grillo's work on Youtube. We have written each other on various topics in the past. I find his technique to be awe-inspiring. I guess I haven't watched his lessons close enough, because I've never seen him put this technique accross in video as you have done so well in print. To watch him play in his videos is to die and go to heaven. He is so fluid and spot-on. Funny what a little practice can do. ;)

Posted: 12/20/2007 8:23:14 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Being legally blind, I had the toughest time learning Pringle's and Rockmore's method of knuckle extensions, untill I learned to use the knuckles only to go up, and down a couple of notes, and to use my arm to move through the majority of the progressions. Sometimes I go Eyck-mode when I'm reaching out close to the antenna.
Posted: 12/21/2007 1:21:41 AM

From: Fresno, California USA

Joined: 3/26/2006

Ah, that's helpful. Thanks.
Posted: 1/23/2008 1:53:36 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

By all means watch everything you can to see what other thereminists are doing.

My only addition to the mix would be to tell you to experiment with your own hand and discover what it can do. Too often you can jump right into trying for the end result or the perfect technique without allowing your own body to tell you what it already knows. Literally find out what happens if:

You move only your index finger
you move only your middle finger
and so on

Try approaching a rise in pitch with both back, front and side of your hand

Open and close your fingers against your thumb and do it at whatever the natural "without thinking" distance that feels right, then see what musical interval it results in. you'll find which movements work best for various intervals. Your comfort is essential because anything that feels right from the outset will benefit you (if you can find out what it's good for) more readily than trying to adapt to something that feelsless natural.

Make a fist, then rapidly flick/fan all your finger out toward the antenna and listen to the "steps" it creates.

When you're practicing a song and you succeed in getting it to sound right, immediately try to reproduce it well WITHOUT using the same pitch hand movements. This will encourage you to find many more options.

Stay open to every possibility. Eventually you'll have created a hybrid of the techniques inspired by others, plus your own discoveries.
Posted: 1/23/2008 6:27:06 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Nice responses, thanks guys.
Yeah, finding options and alternatives is essential in any musical technique.
Playing an entire song just with a closed fist to using finger spelling like intonation shapes is helpful because you not only need to think of the note you're going to next, but where you are and what the note after means.
e.g. you may move to a note differently when you next have to go down than if you'd be going up, or if you have to make a tiny or massive move to the next one.
It's great you're embracing the adventure!

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