Training my ear - Would you suggest this...?

Posted: 4/21/2008 9:56:27 AM

From: Columbia SC

Joined: 4/6/2008

Greetings all,

I have admired Theremins for a decade and finally jumped head first into a Moog Standard.

This is my first musical instrument ever, and I have been reading a lot about pitch, tone, and beginning the steps to learn it all! lol.

I had an idea I wanted to run past you knowledgeable folks....

Would it be a smart idea to buy a quality tuning devise and rest it on top of the theremin?

So while practicing, I could see the notes I am reaching and begin to train both my hand positions and *ear* to strike a proper C, et all...?

Naturally, I would place the tuning devise so it would not interfere with the theremin's operation :)

Or should I take Clara's advise and take piano lessons? lol

Posted: 4/21/2008 11:15:50 AM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

There's a bit of a myth being perpetuated in these circles that pitch recognition / accuracy can't be trained or developed. Although this is true of the Absolute Pitch phenomenon, it is a fallacy that your sense of pitch can't be heightened and refined to astonishing degrees.

Tuners aren't so good for this, though. I highly doubt that your ears will improve from looking at a display that tells you you're playing the right note because your reference point for pitch will always be aural, not visual.

You're better off, yes, playing a piano, or any other tuned instrument so you can familiarise yourself with the intervals. Try playing to a drone and listening out for "friendly" notes that jar less with the constant note.

And sing. A lot.
Posted: 4/21/2008 3:59:00 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

I would suggest taking violin lessons before. This would give you training for your ear, for the feeling of moving vs. pitch, and for the tone quality (vibrato).

AFAIK Clara Rockmore was violinist before playing the theremin and Carolina Eyck is currently studying violin and viola in Sweden.
Posted: 4/24/2008 8:29:29 PM

From: Lugo

Joined: 4/24/2008


this is my first week with an etherwave standard too...
and y thought you´re idea was very funny, cause...
this is the first thing i did!!! X-D

After having the experience i can tell you that
i was getting sick trying to get the center of the notes watching my electronic tuner... and i found a new method for me: i try to practice scales while listening to a continuous note (played for ex w/ a synthesizer) or try to play over a song i´m hearing (on a cd...or when a friend is playing the guitar)...

I suppose that playing the theremin is just like learning to sing...with your hands... just open your ears and and practice in a natural way...

Posted: 4/25/2008 11:17:40 AM

From: Santa Rosa, California USA

Joined: 7/25/2005

In three years or so working hard on the theremin, my hands have learned some wonderful things. I take a flutist's pleasure in playing fast passages and I've found lots of tricks to facilitate that. Well, now I've ubndertaken to shore up the foundation a bit, and I've been working with a tuner in just the way that was mentioned in Post #1.

While it's certainly true that the imposition of a visual stimulus on an aural phenomenon is a difficulty, it's not insurmountable. I mean, you want to condition your pitch correcting to the SOUND not to the red or green light or the angle of a needle--BUT you can learn primarily to listen to the sound while peripherally (so to speak) eyeing the tuner.

I practice intervals and simple melodies with the tuner for maybe 15 minutes a day, and it's clearly increasing both my sensitivity to nuances of pitch and my enjoyment of pure consonance. There is a wonderful pleasure just in the sounding of notes when they are cleanly harmonious--I never realized that so fully before this practice.

ALSO-- to hold one pitch steadily (in the green) for half a minute is a wonderful experiment in POSTURE! You learn a lot about the tiny adjustments your body is making, all of which you have to learn to control or to compensate for if your going to play reliably.

I have a lot of training as a mime--and so all this feels very familiar to me! For example, one of the central principles of mime is "fixed point," to hold one part of the body quite still while the rest moves.


Posted: 4/26/2008 12:08:44 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

I would just add that the tuner's response time is CRUCIAL.

I tried using an inexpensive guitar tuner with theremin, and discovered that the lag between what-it-registers and what-I'm-actually-playing-at-that-moment resulted in absurd discrepancies (e.g., the tuner showing me that I was playing in tune, at a moment when I most decidedly wasn't).

As I understand it, best to use a strobe tuner that will register instantaneously.

Posted: 4/26/2008 12:10:38 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

P.S. I'll try to remember sometime this weekend to post one of the drones I've used for practice.

(I created several of only three minutes' duration, only to discover that they're a tad too short... but I'll post a link to the one that's five minutes long.)

Posted: 4/26/2008 12:47:47 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Okay, as threatened: here's the URL for my website:

In the navigation menu at left, click "Performance." From the submenu that appears, click "Theremin."

Toward the bottom of the page, under "Study," is a "Burbling Drone." Practice holding a steady theremin note over its nervous activity. Or play scales (keeping in mind that this track is based on Phrygian mode: essentially, a "natural minor" scale with a lowered 2nd... or, in movable-do solfege, a scale that runs from "mi" to "mi") up and down over it. Or just make up your own melodies.

Bon appetit,


Posted: 4/26/2008 1:13:35 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Take piano lessons. Any violin teacher would tell you to take piano lessons before beginning a stringed instrument, and the theremin's really no different. Clara studied the piano before the violin because it provides a basic grounding in musical understanding.

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