Brief one-off lesson in London?

Posted: 7/24/2008 4:24:12 PM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

I should start by saying that this input isn't from an experienced thereminist, but just someone who has been learning since February. However, the points you raise all sound familiar to me, as I was struggling with them myself just a month or two ago.

I agree that consistency in everything is absolutely key. Until I got the hang of daily tuning to a consistent interval, progress was almost impossible. As you'll know, the weather in the UK can change from heatwave to frostbite in 24 hours, and, as this effects the tuning, I found that aerial-fingering/muscle memory that had worked well one day could be inaccurate the next day. Whenever that happened it felt like I was starting over and having to relearn, and, even if I managed to retune the theremin, it often hindered my practice and dented what little confidence I'd gained. It was only once I got used to daily tuning to a precise interval that I felt able to make any (small) advancement at all.

From what I've observed, it seems that, despite certain "schools" of aerial-fingering, no two thereminists appear to have an identical style of play. I guess everyone champions the method they prefer leading to inevitable ongoing debate. Personally, I wonder if everyone has to find what "fits" right for them as an individual, so there's probably no harm in experimenting in the early stages; I know I did. Personally, I found knuckle extending didn't work for me, although it's probably one of the most efficient ways of playing. My problem was that I broke my little finger several years ago, and it has an annoying habit of "popping" from fully bent to fully open; this is beyond my control, and cannot be rectified by practice, (despite the fact that as a lifelong pianist I used to be able to move it entirely independantly of my other fingers). This "jumping" litle finger made the knuckle-extending method unworkable for me. I also tried an open-handed method, which, although I found it easier for larger intervals, was much less stable generally. Over a period of time, I settled into a style of aeriel-fingering that felt natural and seemed to work ... although I still have much to learn.

Finally, you mentioned about playing at a slight upward angle towards the antenna. I've observed that people play both at an angle or straight, but I guess whatever you chose, (or feels right) you must be consistent about it. With non-linear theremins, (where the notes intervals are narrower closer to the antenna) I personally find that there's a line or path of optimal play which, for me, seems to curve upwards towards the antenna, in a way that allows me to use more or less consistent fingering over narrower intervals by adjusting the angle of play, (if that makes any sense; I've possibly not explained myself very clearly).

Above all things, I'd say that the most important is to enjoy yourself, have fun, and don't let anyone discourage you!
Posted: 7/24/2008 7:21:52 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I would jump at the opportunity to have Steven Hawking help my kids with their homework. That would be brilliant. Especially if it was physics. :-)

Hi, me again. I don't do that aerial fingering stuff - I'm exclusively experimental, wilfully ignoring 12TET (I do however [i]get[/i] that if you're playing classical theremin you should apply the same standards of intonation that would apply to any other orchestra instrument) - but people keep telling me my pitch is improving nonetheless. Aren't they lovely. So my first observation is - it'll get easier as you acquire the particular hand-ear coordination required, which is inevitable with practice.

And that's the second thing - don't give yourself a repetitive strain injury, whatever technique you choose, be sure you're comfortable and relaxed and not pulling on anything.

Third thing. Dead reckoning drift. If you're navigating by relative pitch, you need a reference to play against to avoid wandering. Practice to an accompaniment of some form.

Vibrato - you want a flexible vibrato that you can control the speed and extent of. It's an expressive tool - a fixed vibrato sounds mechanical after a while. Also don't forget your volume loop. It's easy to get totally focussed on the pitch and forget to vary the volume to suit the music, and again the result is monotonous. (Especially don't forget to play silences from time to time - an infinite bow is, uh, unrelenting.)

Record what you do and listen back dispassionately. It's rather easy to be a brilliant thereminist in your own mind.

So, pretty much like playing any other instrument, I guess. :-)
Posted: 7/25/2008 4:19:42 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Christopher, I shall be in Twickenham to do recording work this coming Thursday and Friday, and will be free for tuition some of the time. Will you be in London then?

If this isn't a good time, and you're willing to travel as far as Bristol then you might consider sending me an e-mail. Failing that, it'd be great to see you at the concert I'm giving on August 16th (see another post). I use a method of aerial fingering that involves consistent hand gestures on every playing, tuning the instrument so that an octave can be played exactly using one hand extension. The practical upshot of this is that any interval up to an octave is rendered relatively straightforward to find, even without an audible reference. It also allows (given enough practise) the player to play a piece from a score without knowing the tune. I also enjoy experimenting with different styles, attempting to emulate both other players and a wide variety of instruments.

When it comes to teaching, I am not prescriptivist. My philosophy is based around one goal and one goal alone - to turn the student into the thereminist they want to become. There's no point telling someone to adopt Clara Rockmore's fingering method if they dislike her style, and no point forcing a student to play like me if they don't want their performances to sound that way. If on the other hand you *do* want to sound like Clara, I developed a separate technique that fooled a large proportion of the theremining internet community... but that's another story.

In short, emulate those you admire; learn from the actions of those you do not. At the same time however, bear in mind that if you always follow in someone's footsteps, you'll always be behind them.

Musical credentials can be heard here:
Posted: 7/26/2008 12:50:22 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]My philosophy is based around one goal and one goal alone - to turn the student into the thereminist they want to become.[/i]

Charlie, I want lessons from you. The kind of thereminist I want to become is a wildly popular and filthy rich one. :)

Seriously, go ahead and take some lessons from Charlie. He is interested in teaching you so don't miss the opportunity.

Thomas has reached out to you, too however it would be a long-distance relationship due to geography. The concept of lessons over the internet is intriguing and innovative -- so you may want to consider this despite the distance factor. I think for a beginner a good student/teacher rapport is desirable.

Definately attend Ms. Hypnotique's symposium. She is going to cover beginner topics and you may find it valuable.

I can't say enough good things about Lydia Kavina. If I lived near her I would set up lessons with her -- if she'd take me as a student. I suspect that she'd push me pretty hard.

Let us know how your lessons turn out.

Also, if you do long-distance lessons with Thomas, would be interested to read about how it works out for you.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 7/30/2008 4:26:32 PM

From: London, UK

Joined: 7/23/2008

[i]The Etherwave's output jack is a standard 1/4" unbalanced line output (Tip and Sleeve). Since a stereo headphone is TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) you will only hear the left (Tip) channel. You will need to get an adaptor to route the mono signal to the tip and ring of a TRS jack in order to hear the theremin out of both sides of your headset.[/i]

Can anyone in Britain tell me where they got something like that? I've tried Maplin, but they don't appear to have what I'm looking for, and I spent a confusing 10 minutes in Chappel of Bond Street (on Wardour Street) with a salesman trying to get our heads around what I need and what will work... 1/4" mono jack to 3.5mm stereo socket don't seem to exist... How is everyone listening to their Etherwaves?

[i]Strive for consistancy in everything -- your tuning, your stance, the height adjustment of the theremin. To play with a different note spacing from one day to the next would be like playing a keyboard where the width of the keys change from day to day.[/i]

A good point, thanks. As a violinist, I appreciate the value of tuning(!).

[i]Whatever you do, strive for consistancy. [b]Accuracy is more important than speed.[/b]

If you play fast and carelessly, you are training your muscles to play that way. If you play accurately, then you are training your muscles to play accurately.

Learn to play slowly at first and the speed will come. Have faith![/i]

A good point, thanks. At the moment, I'm mainly playing along to rocks songs (which are about 120bpm) but doing one harmony note per bar, and making sure I'm holding an in tune note through the whole bar (2 seconds)

[b]Thereminstrel[/b] and [b]GordonC[/b] - thanks for your posts... very interesting! I agree with a lot of what you're saying and will take it onboard.

[b]Charlie D[/b] - unfortunately I've just seen this and have plans on Thursday and Friday :( However, I'm going to Nottingham for Ms Hypnotique's workshop on Saturday and having a quick lesson. I'll see how I get on, but I'll almost certainly be in touch soon (e.g. unless I throw the damn thing out of the window ;)); so thanks!
Posted: 7/30/2008 5:20:53 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[i]1/4" mono jack to 3.5mm stereo socket don't seem to exist... [/i]

Correct. I had the same problem. Do it in two steps - 1/4" mono to 1/4" stereo then 1/4" stereo to 3.5mm stereo.

[i]How is everyone listening to their Etherwaves?[/i]

When there is no-one around I crank up my guitar amp. Otherwise I plug in a pair of headphone. Conveniently the headphones socket works fine with a 1/4" stereo jack, as I have misplaced my 1/4" mono to stereo adaptor.

Posted: 7/30/2008 6:36:54 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Chris, there's been a slight change of plan and I'll now be recording in London next weekend, rather than this coming weekend. Is that any better? Otherwise, the best way to contact me in future is via:

charlesdraper [/at/] gmail [/dot/] com
Posted: 8/3/2008 7:27:57 AM

Joined: 8/7/2005

hi chris
i'm a thereminist from australia but i've just moved to london, and currently got some free time. i'd be happy to help you get started if you still have'nt found someone. i'm in north london but would be happy to come to you as my theremin is sadly still in oz. my email is if you'd like to get in touch.
Posted: 12/25/2008 2:32:37 PM

From: London, UK

Joined: 7/23/2008

Over the Christmas break, I've found a bit of time to look at this topic again... there's some great advice, so thanks again!

However, one thing I've noticed is that I play pitch 'diagonally'. I'm left handed so I use my left hand to control pitch, but play lower notes moving my left hand towards my *right* shoulder (as opposed to straight back to the left shoulder which my hand is connected to...). Is this a really terrible idea? It's what I've found most intuitive and expressive.

Incidently, I haven't had lessons (other than one with Ms Hypnotique in August which was fun!) but have found the following have really helped me (if anyone else is reading!):

* letting the instrument warm up
* a good mix between solo and accompanied playing (just harmony lines to songs on the radio, changing once per chord)
* always focusing on pitch accuracy more than anything
* finding a good tuning setting for my room - it just clicks!
* using headphones seems much easier than an amp for me (even if it's only one ear!)
Posted: 12/25/2008 5:15:37 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"1/4" mono jack to 3.5mm stereo socket don't seem to exist..."

Anyone in the U.K. who wants this adaptor made, just send me an email giving your adress.. I will send you one.

All I ask is that you make a donation after you get it, of whatever you feel is fair, to

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