Hand - elbow - arm positions.... argh.

Posted: 12/31/2010 1:14:53 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

I am having a hard time to figure out how to position yourself when you play the theremin. i've watched plenty of videos of all different people playing - and they all do it differently.

Lydia raises her elbow on the side and when she goes through her hand positions, her fingers points to the antenna.

While Carolina Eyck seems to play with her fingers pointing up and elbow slightly lower than Lydia's...

Which position would help me, as a beginner, so it would help me more in my journey?

Thank you in advance...
Posted: 12/31/2010 2:11:39 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

'Which position would help me, as a beginner, so it would help me more in my journey?" - Amethyste

Everyone is different. The simple answer is...the one (position) that feels most comfortable to YOU, results in the least tension, and allows YOU to achieve your goals.

It has been noted in the past* that the technique that Lydia and others use results in significant muscular tension, and she has at times experienced pain and discomfort because of it.

It has also been said* that the specific articulation (fingering) method you choose should depend on whose playing technique results in the kind of sound you wish to emulate most.

You will have to determine these things for yourself.

(* by Peter Pringle AKA coalport)
Posted: 12/31/2010 2:13:59 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[accidental double post deleted]
Posted: 12/31/2010 2:13:59 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Woo! Slow down...

First things first. The theremin is a weird beast. So many variables to consider. What I think will help is

1. Stance. Your whole body affects the theremin, not just your hands. Find a comfortable position that keeps you steady. Martial art positions are good - Peter Pringle favours a tai-chi-esque posture - see some of his videos - http://youtube.com/copperleaves, Barbara Buchholz has a karate stance (feet below shoulders, pointing forwards, knees locked, lean forward a little) - which works for you is going to depend on your centre of gravity.

2. A grasp of how the playing fields work. Here's a description I came up with a while ago...

The fields are not static, they change as you move; both your hands and the rest of your body. Consider a jug mostly full of water. This corresponds to, say, the pitch field (the volume field is the same.) The top of the water corresponds to the lowest note, the bottom of the jug to the highest note. Notes are spaced relative to these two points. So a particular note is, say, two thirds of the way down the water. To play that note requires you to reach into the jug, which causes the water level to rise, so the note is always two thirds of the way down, but where that is exactly depends on the mass of your arm - a larger volume (corresponding to an object that can accept a lot of charge) causes the water to rise more, spreading the notes out, and a smaller volume alters the water level less, moving the notes less. So, for example, very slow, controlled, minute changes in pitch are best made by extending one or two fingers only, after moving the body closer to the rod. The field around the pitch rod is roughly cylindrical around the rod, with a hemispherical dome over the top like a glass dome clock, and with the notes arranged like the layers of an onion, or a Russian doll, the higher notes being closer to the rod.

In a little more detail, the field pinches in towards the top and bottom of the rod, so it is usual to keep the pitch hand mostly at a height about half way up the pitch rod. In an idealized theremin the notes would all be evenly spaced within the field, like the notes on a piano keyboard – this is called linearity. In practice there is always some deviation from linearity, with the notes getting closer together the higher in pitch they are, like a stringed instrument such as a violin or guitar.

Additionally the notes get closer together around the very lowest notes. This is because the audio oscillator of the theremin derives its tone from the difference between two radio frequency oscillators, one which generates a constant frequency, and one which is varied by the proximity of the pitch hand to the pitch rod. As the frequencies of the two RF oscillators become closer the audio frequency gets lower and the two oscillators interact and pull towards the same frequency (which ultimately results in silence – this part of the pitch field is called the zero beat zone.)

The field around the volume loop is likewise composed of concentric layers, with the loudest sounds being furthest from the loop. This time the layers are oval, like a rugby football planted point up in the volume loop. The key feature to note is that the layers are more widely spaced above the volume loop, allowing more subtle control of volume, and more closely spaced to the side of the loop, allowing more rapid changes in volume.

3. Hand to Ear coordination. Spend time exploring the pitch field in particular, just moving your hand and arm within the field and listening, not worrying about the next stage - hitting specific notes - just acclimatising yourself. Think of it like the very first stage of learning to ride a bicycle - the first thing is to learn how not to wobble - you can't *think* fast enough to correct it, it needs to be autonomic...

Posted: 12/31/2010 2:18:13 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008


There are many different theremin techniques and the one you end up using will determine the "flavor" of your playing. The biggest mistakes that newcomers to the instrument make is to decide to "wing it" and figure it out for themselves as they go along, or to watch what other skilled players do and then take the things they think will work for them, reject what they think doesn't work, and synthesize a method of their own from what's left over. No one would do that with the violin or the cello or the French horn, but people do it with the theremin all the time.

I have repeated this often to newbies: The best thing to do is to imitate as closely as possible the theremin technique of the player whose music you enjoy most, until your own style naturally kicks in. This can take weeks or months. The important thing is to enjoy what you are doing and to stick with it.

Since everyone in the world of the theremin is an expert, it is important NEVER to take any advice on technique from someone you have never heard play, or whose music you do not enjoy.

You are a very good musician and if you want to be, you can be a very good thereminist as well. You have the sense of pitch and musicality you need to do this but it is not easy to do it well. P.P. (alias coalport)

"People expect to go over to the theremin and IT PLAYS. No! It takes hard work, sensitivity, sensibility....attention to detail. You have to learn it and it's not easy. The music comes from the heart, the mind, and years and years and years of the study of music." Clara Rockmore
Posted: 12/31/2010 2:33:50 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

Oh my!
THank you everyone for your kind replies...
Gordon, your example makes a lot of sense... I needto re-read all of your answers and assimilate...

Coalport - Are you really Peter Pringle? I am really touched that you took the time to reply! I have to admit, of all the thereminists I have watched on YT, your playing is the one I most covet. Your rendition of Rachmaninov's "How fair is this place" is one of the most touching I have heard! I did order your DVD a week ago and I hope it will reach my mailbox in the next few days!

I am flattered by your words when you say I am a good musician. I do compose music and sing on the compositions. It is true that the use of the voice is another instrument that you cannot "touch" like a theremin, but to me, i can "hear" a note and replicate without problem - the response is instant. As for the theremin, there is the thought, then the hands find the spacial placement to give life to that thought, so it is an added step that mastering will be a fun journey :)

I need to be more patient with myself - wishing i didn't have to work 12 hours/day so i could be devoting more "quality" time to the Theremin. Doing practice when you are exhausted is not always return the best results...

THank you all again so much!

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