# of notes played without moving arm.

Posted: 3/19/2010 4:15:02 AM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

How many notes of a in a twelve tone equal tempered scale
should I be able to play by sliding my knuckles before I need to move my arm to reach the next note?

Maybe there is no “right” answer. But I was hoping some type of guideline was available to help evaluate
my present fingering technique as well as if I am tuning the theremin correctly.
(Tuning does seem to affect spacing of notes.)

Searching Theremin World yielded nothing so far.
Posted: 3/19/2010 5:07:44 AM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

The common answer is: "That depends" ;-)

If you follow the system by Clara Rockmore where you extend your knuckles but not the entire fingers, you should be able to go from C to F or F#.

Carolina Eyck's system uses knuckles up to about the same range, but continues by extending the whole fingers, so that you can go through a whole octave, i.e. from C to C starting with a closed fist and ending with 3 fingers fully extended towards the pitch antenna (thumb and index continue to form the classical ring). Slight differences in octave spacing of the theremin (most times somewhat bigger in the lower range) are compensated by adding slight wrist movements.

The latter system works actually not too bad for me. But I discovered that (and Lydia Kavina confirmed it during last weekend masterclass) the more extended finger positions are somewhat weaker and ask for more tension in the wrist which may prevent a smooth vibrato. So, following Lydia one should not always look for a maximum of finger use while minimizing arm movements, but to move the arm so that one may realize the musical passages with the appropriate finger positions.
Posted: 3/19/2010 8:58:57 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Dave H asks:

How many notes of a twelve tone equal tempered scale
should I be able to play by sliding my knuckles before I need to move my arm to reach the next note?


Depending on the size and dexterity of your pitch hand, a major third or a fourth.

The most important thing to consider, however, is where you must aim for the next note you are required to play. Let's say you are playing the following notes in ASCENDING ORDER on the theremin: C, D, E, C.

Using a Rockmore style aerial fingering approach, you may be able to play your first three notes (C, D, and E) with simple knuckle extensions without changing your hand or arm position, but since you must go from your E up to the C above it, you should play your E with a closed hand which will necessitate a change of hand position for your E, even though it is only a third above the note you started on. With practice this will become quite natural and you won't have to think about it.

Beware of techniques that require thrusts of the wrist or extension of the fingers toward the pitch antenna. Many people, including some who actively promote these methods, have had all sorts of carpal tunnel and other stress injury problems as a direct result of these kinds of approaches. If you choose to experiment with any of these methods, stop if you feel any sort of pain or irritation. There is a lot of tension involved with playing in this way, and you can often hear it in the music.

The secret of good technique, regardless of the instrument you play, is RELAXATION. The best way to play, is to use the method that requires the least amount of effort to achieve the desired effect.

As you point out, tuning affects linearity (spacing of the notes). Tune so that when you stand about 20 inches from the pitch antenna, with your arms at your side, there no sound (null).

Unfortunately, the self-taught thereminist is often also the judge of his or her own success with the instrument. We end up being student, teacher and examiner rolled into one, and that just doesn't work.

Posted: 3/19/2010 9:05:54 AM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

@coalport: ...just discovering that we were telling more or less the same, but that you with your experience and better mastering of the English language could explain it in a better understandable manner. BTW: M.E.G.Anhalt's last posting on levnet sang from the same hymn sheet...
Posted: 3/24/2010 4:15:18 AM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

Thierry, coalport,

Thank you both for your detailed answers. I am copying and pasting these comments
into a document and printing them and keeping them close by during my theremin practice.

Thierry don’t worry about your English too much. I have always been able to understand and appreciate your comments.

Start quote: “The secret of good technique, regardless of the instrument you play, is RELAXATION. The best way to play, is to use the method that requires the least amount of effort to achieve the desired effect.” end quote

coalport: Your comment above is almost the exact same words that my violin teacher stressed. (No longer having her as a teacher when I moved to AZ. was one of my greatest losses.) I printed the Chinese Symbols for relax and kept it in front of me during practice. For what ever reason I did not think of doing this when practicing the theremin.
(But I have now pulled out this sheet of symbols and put it on my Ethervox.)

Posted: 3/24/2010 7:12:11 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

People rarely consider the tension it takes to play the theremin because there is no object involved on which tension must be exerted. The tension is isometric, with the triceps and biceps fighting each other. The trick is to get the muscle group you are not using to relax when you are using the other one.

With an operation like vibrato, the back and forth alternating tension and relaxation exercise (whose cycle must happen several times a second) can easily lead to a gradual overall tension build-up that will be quite debilitating if you allow it to continue. This is why Clara Rockmore wrote in her book METHOD FOR THEREMIN, "You don't need hammers to work with air....Think of your fingers as delicate butterfly wings and you will get much further than if you use strength."

In your quest for maximum relaxation in your playing, what must NOT be sacrificed are dynamics. The relaxation must not be allowed to make the music colorless. One of the most challenging things for thereminists is to get passion into their playing and unfortunately most theremin performances are lackluster. In the quest for precision, the playing becomes boring.

Personally, I would prefer to hear a theremin performance that has a couple of "iffy" moments pitch wise but that has genuine emotional impact, rather than a pitch perfect performance devoid of passion.

Technique without passion is as useless as passion without technique.

Part of what makes it so difficult to get the thrill into theremin playing (presuming of course that the thrill is already in the player and that he can HEAR it in his musical imagination) is that it all has to be done with phrasing and vibrato. Unlike the violin, the theremin cannot change tone, it cannot play connected notes and it lacks overtones and harmonics.

Many people have pointed out in the past that the theremin is a "one trick pony". They are right. The trick, however, when it is executed with real skill, is spectacular. It is truly magical and unlike anything else in the world of music.

"First have music in your soul. If you have that, then you will find a way to do it." Clara Rockmore
Posted: 3/24/2010 7:38:09 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[i]The trick is to get the muscle group you are not using to relax when you are using the other one. [/i]

This is analogous to karate (and, I assume, other martial arts) where for maximum speed and accuracy the muscles remain relaxed during the execution of a move right until the blow is delivered - only then is force momentarily exerted and speed becomes power.

I am sure I am not the only theremin player who limbers up before playing, tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn, and then taking a moment to centre myself before commencing. (I do resist the temptation to bow to the theremin though!)
Posted: 3/28/2010 3:22:35 AM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

coalport: Thank you once again for taking the time to write such a detailed, helpful message.

There is something interesting to me about theremins. Traditional instrumentalist can add “emotional impact” not only by using their larger musical palette but also by using physical emotion in their playing style. Their body movements I.E. Janine Jansen, their facial expression I.E. Yo Yo Ma and other physical movements. Thereminist are barely able to breath without changing pitch.
(Sometimes looking almost dead in their distant unemotional stare due to intense concentration.)

GordonC: Your comments serve as a good reminder. As directed I would do some warmups before starting practice on the violin as well as warmups before performing my weekly studies for my teacher during a lesson. But for some reason I did not think of doing any type of warmup before practicing the theremin.
(I need to organize my theremin study to be more like my violin study.)

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