Learning vibrato on a theremini!

Posted: 7/10/2021 5:03:25 AM

Joined: 7/10/2021

Hey! So i've been learning theremin on a Moog Theremini for about a year now on and off and I think that I have a good enough grip on pitches to where I want to learn how to do vibrato, but all the methods i've tried seem to be next to impossible to get right either I move my arm way too much and it just warbles between half and whole steps not that quickly or I'm not moving my elbow enough and it doesn't change the pitch at all. Do any theremini players have a good medium/their own method of doung vibrato??

Posted: 7/10/2021 11:42:06 AM

From: The East of the Netherlands

Joined: 6/18/2019

Hi, your question first makes me wonder if you have the pitch correction/quantization (fully) on, in which case the vibrato gets corrected to discrete pitches, so first nothing happens and then it will jump (half)tones when you make (small) movements to introduce vibrato. So first make sure to turn the pitch correction fully counterclockwise, and then make small movements with underarm and pitch hand as if crosshatching with a pencil (but without the pencil). If you haven't yet check out this tutorials:

Posted: 7/10/2021 12:23:12 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

townesvanxan, the Theremini has quite low gestural bandwidth that a faster "trilling" vibrato might get lost in - perhaps that's part of your problem?  A true heterodyning Theremin (which the Theremini is not) should never have pitch response issues (though it could still have volume response issues).

As far as good vibrato technique, it's all over the map if you watch videos of good players, and you'll need to experiment and pick something that works with the way you play with your pitch hand.  I use a tortional oscillation of my hand & forearm, the natural frequency of which tends to be too high and I have to consciously slow it down.  Others who use more elaborate fingering often do a "pecking shadow goose" (either aimed at the antenna or oblique to it) very intentional type movement with their entire forearm, and so have more control over the vibrato rate and depth (though trilling is probably more difficult).

Posted: 7/10/2021 2:52:57 PM

From: Basking Ridge, New Jersey, USA

Joined: 12/12/2020

Hi townesvancan! Both DreadVox and dewster provide very good advice. First, it does sound like you have pitch quantization turned on. Although that may be okay for your purposes, it’s best to turn it off entirely and practice playing in turn using just your ears. That, of course, will probably be more difficult but over time, you’ll become a much better player.

Regarding vibrato - that is a rather complex but important subject as it entails many things to consider. One of those involves the type (genre) of music you’re playing as well as what type of instrument or voice you’re attempting to represent in your playing. All of this will determine your vibrato. Perhaps the most important thing is to listen very carefully to others performing (and not necessarily on the theremin) the music you’re playing. 

Vibrato has two basic components, both of which you must learn to control - pitch and speed. Regarding pitch, vibrato MUST be centered around the correct note you’re playing - a wide vibrato will have a large variance of pitched centered around the note (think opera singers and jazz saxophonists), a narrow vibrato will have only a very slight variance of pitch. Furthermore, the duration (or length of each note will also impact your vibrato). Very short notes may have no vibrato whereas long notes may start with only a very slight variance of pitch and increase (sometimes greatly) while the note is being held and then taper off.

The second component of vibrato has to do with speed (dare I say, frequency - not to be confused with pitch). A very fast vibrato will sound like blowing bubbles under water. A slow vibrato will sometimes be barely perceptible. Similar to pitch changes, speed (frequency) may also be influenced by the duration of each note.

As you can see, vibrato is a somewhat complex issue. In addition, there is also great variance between each player. For example, listen to Clara Rockmore and then listen to more modern players. Their vibrato is also determined by the characteristics of their individual instruments, as well as their personal preferences - one is not better than others. Just different. 

Again, the best thing to do is listen very carefully to music and pay attention to vibrato. Also, practice by just playing one note and vary the pitch, while keeping the speed as steady as possible. Once you can control that, then try varying the speed too.

Finally, as a plug for dewster’s instrument that he is developing, the D-Lev, it has a very unique feature, a visual tuner, that I suspect is going to be very useful to help develop a good controlled vibrato on the theremin. It’s important to know that vibrato can greatly improve your sound as long as it’s CONTROLLED. It is not a tool to mask pitch problems. I think the D-Lev will greatly assist in developing good performance practices.

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