Another noob

Posted: 9/6/2008 8:21:52 PM

Joined: 9/6/2008

Hi all,

I bought my theremin 2 weeks ago - a Moog Etherwave. My primary musical instrument is the piano, though I play the clarinet as well (badly). Obviously, this does not prepare one very well for something like a theremin. I do have perfect pitch, but it's not helping as much as I thought it would. In any case, it's a challenge, and I like challenges.

I'm attempting, at present, to master the aerial fingering technique, with limited success. It seems to be designed for violinists, at least the way Clara Rockmore did it, and feels very unnatural to me. Is the aerial fingering technique standardized, or is it OK to come up with your own? I find myself making an almost trombone-like motion with my arm for large intervals and opening and closing my entire hand for small intervals; is that likely to lead to trouble down the road, or is it OK to practice like that?
Posted: 9/6/2008 11:48:05 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

Hi Larisa,
I think that moving from linearly spaced notes on a keyboard, to a Theremin with its non-linearity and other quirks, is a challenge (to say the least!)
Gordon C demonstrated his playing technique to me a few weeks ago, and it (to me) seems far better suited to keyboard players.. Rather than moving his arm towards/away from his his body (as all the 'real' thereminists do) he uses a sideways motion.
As for technique - I do not see merit (other than that it looks extremely impressive) in the 'fingering' scheme >> Fred gets stoned by an angry mob from TW for blasphemy! << but I MUST qualify this by saying that I am a FAR BETTER theremin designer than I am a player! -- To me, opening and closing the hand is a far more logical (and simple) way to effect fine pitch control.. 2 main factors influence pitch .. distance and capacitive area... Opening / closing the hand gives fine control over coupling area... The much more complex fingering does combine fine control of both area and distance, but I doubt if there is much (if any) advantage in either method.

BUT - I could be completely wrong! .. Just like I was many years ago, when I went my own way and developed my own (easier) keyboard techniques.. this has trapped me, and I will never be able to play a Rachmaninof Concerto :-{
Posted: 9/7/2008 4:01:18 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Welcome to Theremin World, Larisa.

Fred referred to my playing style. I should point out that I play [i]free music[/i] exclusively and my technique is optimised for that. It was based initially not on a keyboard or other musical instrument but on the sort of movements required for handwriting or drawing, and is good for the loops and swirls of free music and cursive writing rather than the precise and often rapid jumps from note to note that conventional music requires.

Peter Pringle has often noted that an entirely home-grown technique can indeed lead to problems later on when you discover the limitations of the technique. I think the best advice is to start by emulating the technique of a player who's playing is close to what you want to achieve, and then adapting it to more precisely suit yourself. (It seems to me that the Carolina Eyck fingering style is well suited to players with long fingers as it involves some stretching to cover a full octave, whereas Clara Rockmore style knuckle extensions tend to be favoured by the more petite player, such as Pamelia Kurstin.)

Which brings me rather neatly to absolute pitch. Some of the top players have excellent absolute pitch - Carolina is a perfect example of this - while others - for instance Pamelia - are adamant that good relative pitch is more desirable. Clearly if you are playing classical music excellent intonation is very important, but it seems to me that some players focus on this to the exclusion of expression, which is also important.

For good expression I would turn to Lydia Kavina, and note that she is also very skilled in free music, where expression is arguably more important than intonation. My thought is that before you get too locked into intonation you could spend some time just getting to know the pitch and volume fields and having fun. (The first thing I ever tried was to emulate a wolf-whistle - how rich and fruity and saucily suggestive can you make it?!!)

Fred, for an example of the advantages of fingering, check out Thomas Grillo's Theremin Concert ( on youTube, and in particular the Beethoven minuet - there is just no way one could play the middle section without fingering.

Posted: 9/7/2008 3:41:28 PM

Joined: 9/6/2008

Thanks for the references; looking at the way others play is always good. I'll have to watch these performers to see what fingering style works for me.

It's really too bad that there isn't anyone giving theremin lessons near me - I normally wouldn't take up a musical instrument without a teacher.
Posted: 9/7/2008 4:26:20 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

You're welcome.

If you visit your mySpace account you'll find me in your friend request box. (I do this to just about every theremin player I find. I like thereminists! I like other stuff too, but you have to play the theremin to be one of my top friends.)

There's some jazz players amongst my top friends. Check out Pamelia Kurstin and Barbara Buchholz. Both tour extensively - sometimes in the US - Pamelia more than Barbara - and both teach. OK, so it'd just be the one lesson, but worth tracking them on Friend Updates just in case.

And... I get the impression you're East Coast? - if you're not too far from San Francisco you [i]have[/i] to check out Project: Pimento. If you click through to their website you'll see they have a couple of gigs coming up. I don't know if Robby teaches - but say Hi and impress him by knowing that his ethervox is one of the rarest and best instruments ever made. :-)

(There's also Rob Schwimmer over in New York if I guessed completely wrong, and you might well enjoy Xenovibes too.)
Posted: 9/7/2008 6:36:31 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Welcome to ThereminWorld larisa0001.

I cannot tell where you are, but if on the East Coast near PA and NY, we have Kip Rosser out here. Kip site ( He's not only a remarkable jazz thereminist but one of the more experienced theremin teachers around (I think he's pushing c. 10 years experience at this point?). I'm in NYC.

In any case, good luck!
And no matter what, just play every day,
listen hard, and if even for a few minutes,
play every day.
Check out the technique forum and use the search too, we all have posted more words than you can count about learning this fabulous instrument.
Posted: 9/7/2008 7:39:11 PM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

GordonC: "For an example of the advantages of fingering, check out Thomas Grillo's Theremin Concert on youTube, and in particular the Beethoven minuet - there is just no way one could play the middle section without fingering."

I couldn't agree more! Coincidentally, when I read this, I'd already spent a half-hour re-watching Thomas's Beetoven Minuet this afternoon, espcially the middle section ... feeling a mixture of admiration and hopeless despair!!!

I also agree that the fingering technique adopted may well depend on the hand of the player; over the last few months I've tried out several fingering techniques, but a once-broken finger in my right hand made some unworkable for me. Eventually, I found a method that seems to suit me, although I guess it may have to be altered or adapted if at some future stage I find it's limiting me. Certainly, just opening and closing the hand seemed to lack stability.
Posted: 9/7/2008 10:30:48 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

I'll just add (as I desperately avoid actually practicing) that I've been more or less following the Eyck technique, except that from the start (even before buying her method book), I've always turned my hand so that my extended fingers form a horizontal plane, rather than a vertical one.

If anyone can warn me why this is bad, please do let me know! So far, in my own experiments, it doesn't seem to make a significant difference in terms of playability or reliability, and I find it makes a HUGE difference for me in terms of comfort.

Nonetheless (and here comes the punchline), even as I'm generally avoiding unnecessary tension, I'm finding that although the Eyck technique does incorporate extending the fingers toward the pitch rod... I'm finding it more reliable to focus on the knuckles, rather than the fingertips!

This seems to be because the comparatively small pitch field (full octave from closed hand to open hand, without moving arm or wrist) means that overly relaxed fingers will translate into insufficient pitch stability (I'm always reminded--with a shudder--of Kevin's comment a while back, about sounding "like a slide whistle.") ...whereas focus on the knuckles translates into just enough tension to stabilize the hand position and improve accuracy.

Posted: 9/8/2008 6:53:40 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Thereminstrel wrote: [i]I couldn't agree more![/i]

Credit where it is due - it was your comment on the youTube page that led me to it, thereminstrel. I don't honestly think I would have watched it right though without that. I'm glad I did though.

Also - I have now corrected the link in my previous post. It now really points to the theremin concert, not one of my own pieces. Oops.

Posted: 9/8/2008 6:53:49 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Double post - oops again.

Hmm. While I'm still here, and on the subjects of Thomas Grillo and jazz music, Thomas, are you reading this? There was a little bit in one of your tutorial videos where you went a bit jazzy for a moment - I think you were demonstrating expression techniques or something - and it sounded absolutely amazing. It just leapt out of the speakers. I'd love to hear you do a piece in that genre. :-)

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