Struggling about Vibrato / Fingering Techniques - Hello from a Chinese Newcomer!

Posted: 3/9/2020 2:11:08 PM
Rein Liu

From: Sydney, New South Wales

Joined: 1/7/2020

Hi everyone!

My name is Rein Liu and I'm from China. It's been 10 months since I purchased my first theremin etherwave. I've been trying to learn this beautiful instrument online from here and also from youtubes. It indeed is a great platform for studying and exchanging experiences and I'm really grateful for it being existing.

Now I've tried a few fingering techniques as well as vibrato techniques and I'm able to play steady major & minor scales and melodies. However, I find it difficult when I'm doing slight vibrato with aerial fingering while shaking my hands left/right. I'm able to produce a big vibrato(1-2 semitones) by moving my hand/elbow left/right. It means that I could play melodic songs (opera) but couldn't play subtle movements.

I understand that fingering and vibrato techniques have been discussed a lot in this forum. However, I wonder how you have been able to produce subtle vibratos with left/right instead of front/back using the arm & elbow angle. Actually, originally when I'm learning by myself I tend to use the front back vibrato since it's much more easy and intuitive. But I realize the problem of accuracy when my fingers are approaching to the antenna. I really want to be an accuracy performer so I chose the aerial fingering technique but being able to produce a subtle vibrato is also important to me. Therefore, I would like to hear from you about your experiences.

Grateful for any comments!

Sincerely,
Rein Liu

Posted: 3/9/2020 2:21:32 PM
rupertchappelle

From: earth

Joined: 5/8/2017

I do not use aerial fingering and I use plate antennas. I generally play from the elbow and do fine adjustments with the wrist and fingers. Accuracy will be improved by seated play, or by resting your pitch elbow on something steady - I used a camera tripod when I played the Etherwave. For the extremely high notes, place your pitch hand on the theremin and angle it back and forth to get the higher notes - they should be steady - as steady as your hand.

Using the elbow joint favors proximity rather than side to side vibrato - but either will work.

By varying your playing techniques you will reduce strain and some techniques yield better results for certain thing than others. For instance I never worry about carpal tunnel.

I also do tremolo.

National Electrophonic at Youtube.

Posted: 3/9/2020 2:33:10 PM
Rein Liu

From: Sydney, New South Wales

Joined: 1/7/2020

Hi Rupert thank you for your quick reply. I did apply the elbow joint at the beginning and I still find it easier to use than the left/right. But I think you would need to stand closer to the antenna to be able to use that technique. But moving the upper body may probably result in a change of the scale ranges so it might become hard to find the accurate tones after time. I am not sure how to compensate when this happens.

About the left/right technique I haven't had any pain so far but I do feel less strength after around half an hour playing vibratos the whole time. I think it may because I haven't applied an ideal technique for myself.

Posted: 3/9/2020 4:49:25 PM
bendra

From: Portland, Oregon

Joined: 2/22/2018

"Theremin Lessons with Thomas Grillo" isn't on Amazon Prime Video anymore, but you can buy the DVD still. He talks a lot about different kinds of vibrato and how to apply in different ways.

Or you can buy a Harrison 302 and join Rupert's New Theremin Renaissance™ ;-)

Posted: 3/9/2020 6:07:40 PM
rupertchappelle

From: earth

Joined: 5/8/2017

Bendra:

There are only a handful left and I am buying one of them.

Which means I shall not have any competition . . . or peers.

Rein Liu:

Standing means playing off until you can stand perfectly still, or compensate, which is why I sit. See Hyrtis? She stands perfectly still.

Play seated and your body motion will not throw everything off.

Never play for more than a half hour at a time - OCD is real easy to catch with the theremin or a cell phone. There is no cure. I also recommend to people whom I give a USB stick, to only listen to no more than 3 or 4 pieces at a time.Otherwise you may start liking it.

I manage an 8 octave range just by bending at the elbow - cupped hand on the sternum for the lowest note and sweeping over to the antenna for the higher notes - in the case of plate antennas the center of the plate is used for the top 2 octaves - which only I am interested in playing. One graceful arc - 8 octaves.

Most do 2 octaves in the same physical range - makes it easy on the precision thereminists. 8 octaves requires four times the "precision" of the "best" players.

All:

Rupert's New Theremin Renaissance™ - do more than anyone else and do it with less - the evolution of "dynamic minimalism™" with many thanks to Bucky Fuller. 

Posted: 3/10/2020 6:02:02 AM
CB Thereminist

Joined: 1/28/2020

Hey Rein! Happy to have you theremining with us!

I'm also a newcomer (just had my 1 year anniversary with the theremin), and vibrato is something I struggle with a bit as well starting out. I still do, in the same way I think everyone does - you can always be a bit better. But that comes with practice.

1-2 semitones is a pretty wide vibrato if that's going in both directions. I use a sort of by-feel hand technique, learned from watching Grégoire Blanc (my personal inspiration), so my elbow is a little down and out to the side. If you use a more vertical technique, like Dorit Chrysler, your vib technique will be and will feel a little different, so hopefully this all applies:

Personally, because of how I position my arm, my vib comes from the bicep (mostly). For me, learning to vib in a contained way not more than a semitone in either direction came with practice doing very minute elbow movements from my bicep, as slow and consciously as I needed to, before graduating the speed to be where I wanted it. Kip Rosser's series on vibrato (which you can find on YouTube) helped me practice that starting out. It's really something you need to work at, but the more you consciously practice it, the more you can reign in and control your vibrato in a small space. I actually am struggling with slow, wide vib right now, so maybe we could trade tips… (:

As for the accuracy when approaching the antenna part, that frustrate me a lot starting out too. If you mean your fingers sort of start… missing and sailing past the antenna (correct me if I'm wrong), or even that the intervals are very cramped for getting good vib up there, try rotating from the hips. It puts your arm in a better position to directly approach the antenna instead of reaching, and it also expands those cramped upper intervals a bit so you have more room to move. That was a big game changer for me when I discovered it, so hopefully that helps.

One more thing: how are you tuning your theremin? The smaller the pitch field, the more elbow movement will affect your pitch, meaning your vib will be more sensitive. I personally tune like Carolina Eyck does - closed finger position to open, one octave - except without retracting my wrist upright for the close position. I find that comfortable for both precision and vibrato right now.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your playing - can't wait to hear it one day!

Cheers,
Colin

Posted: 3/10/2020 12:38:51 PM
Rein Liu

From: Sydney, New South Wales

Joined: 1/7/2020

Hi CB Thereminist!

I'm glad for your tips. I think I'm exerting the exact Carolina's fingering, and I find it really helpful to find accurate pitches when changing the scales since you only need to practice a few scale fingerings and you will be able to move the position 0 to any notes as the key. I'm also greatly inspired by Gregoire Blanc(He is just so good at theremin!) I think their techniques are pretty similar except that Blanc tends to have a flat forearm while Carolina has her arm raised up. I think with the forearm raised up, it's easier with the lower notes, which means right hand is not stretching too much outward. With the forearm flattened, it's easier for me to do huge vibratos but less steady. 

I've tuned my theremin with the lowest note a little bit behind me, like Carolina's tuning. And I tend to tune middle C at where I can naturally place my hand inward. The first 6 fingering positions are pretty easy to make vibratos however for the position 7 and 8 it becomes hard for me to either vib left/right or up/down, especially closer to the antenna. Are you able to solve the problem?

Also have you installed the ESPE 01 module? I think it may affect the tuning as well as the practice as well.

Cheers,
Rein


Posted: 3/10/2020 11:02:16 PM
Rein Liu

From: Sydney, New South Wales

Joined: 1/7/2020

Hi Rupert thank you for your advice! It seems I was playing without caring about the pitch range. I was just play whatever I could at a time. Yeah having a fixed pitch range while practicing really helps build up the instrumentation as well as the accuracy. 

I shall have a look at those DVDs.

Posted: 3/12/2020 12:42:43 AM
CB Thereminist

Joined: 1/28/2020

Hey Rein,

Firstly, yes, I do have the ESPE01 module - it does change some things a little bit with respect to tuning and playing, but I spent my first 7 months playing without it. I also have access to an EWStandard without the pitch extension module, so I have a reasonable understanding of both sides of it.

I personally (key word!) don't recommend you tune to behind you. Your body position influences the linearity of your instrument greatly near or beyond 0 beat, and it makes it hard to access the lowest or lower parts of your range without having to lean - which isn't advisable. Some thereminists lean into the high register for linearity purposes (including me, sometimes) but that's far more controlled than doing it by way of tuning behind you. Personally, I tune such that, with my body just barely behind 0 beat - pretty close to the cusp of my low register - I achieve an octave from closed to open fist. To tune consistently, I recommend a few things to consider:

1. Always stand at the SAME PLACE relative to your pitch field each time you adjust it, and THEN test for tuning. In my case, every time I change the pitch field tuning, I always move my whole body so that I'm once again near to the edge of the 0 beat, and then I try for tuning. That way, your body isn't influencing how the tuning feels, which is important.

2. Make sure you tune in the same general pitch range each time. For me, since the ESPE01 module has pretty linear tuning in the middle 2-3 octaves, that's my tuning range any time I want to test my tuning, so I'll try to do an octave there. As a side note, don't worry if a 'comfortable' position for you isn't middle C. In fact, tuning to put it there likely won't be too consistent, as what is comfortable for you will change. Don't be afraid to be flexible!

3. Underappreciated step: make sure that, on extending your fingers, they are pointed more or less directly at your pitch rod. I can't tell you how much this matters. Sometimes your tuning is right, but your body is positioned in such a way that you aren't able to extend your fingers in quite the right way, or it could even be just your wrist or arm position at the time (though whole body angle is most common for me) - and in that condition you'll never be able to tune right.

After figuring out these steps through trial and error, my tuning has never felt so consistent. It completely changed my world, so I hope it helps you too. Consistent tuning = consistent playing.

As for everything else you said, it really all comes down to practice - including the vib in different positions and using different techniques. Try stretching your upper body before you play, including hips, shoulders, all parts of your arm, wrist, and even fingers. For me, it was very hard to hold consistent notes or vib in extended positions for a while, but I found that as I got more flexible it got easier, and that comes with responsible stretching and time. Keep at it, and eventually, like athletes, your hamstrings (I believe…) will stretch to allow you to do what you want to do. Again, for higher stuff in general, I recommend rotating from your hips to bring your shoulder closer to the antenna. It'll make it a straighter shot to the antenna, and will likely help clean up your pitches and your vib (and will also expand the range between notes, as it shifts your body closer in). For vibbing in general with different pitch arm techniques, do take the time to practice so you can engage those muscle groups, and they'll treat you nicer for it.

(As an aside, if you notice, Grégoire actually changes how his forearm is positioned based on the range he's playing in. As he gets lower in his range, his forearm gradually lifts up to tuck his hand in toward his body (in a natural way). That's helped me to navigate the issue you have with bass register playing.)

Again, I'm by no means an expert, but I hope this stuff is valuable to you or anyone else in some way. If you have any other questions, please let us know! Good luck!

Colin

Posted: 3/14/2020 9:34:56 AM
Rein Liu

From: Sydney, New South Wales

Joined: 1/7/2020

Hi Colin, 

I'm grateful for your suggestions! I just recently installed the module and I found it greatly changed the tone and the linearity of the instrument. It is very good that you have tuned everytime the same way. I myself tend to tune it so that the C3-C5 would be suitable for my arm stretching and playing. While I do this, usually the zero beat is always a bit farther than my body. And I kind of like this because notes lower than 80 hertz are not typically that desirable(but it depends what you play!) For me, it sounds fine and I would use a tuner for the fixed starter tone. 

I totally agree with you"Consistent playing and consistent tuning". Yes the tuning is as important as playing the instrument. 

Again thanks for your input. I'm looking forward to seeing your performance and I'm glad to share experiences with you.

Cheers,
Rein

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