Another arial fingering question? Go ahead shoot me.

Posted: 2/21/2010 2:52:40 AM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

Forgive me for asking. I’ve read many pages about arial fingering here at theremin world.

I’ve been reading about and watching videos of arial fingering for quite awhile before
I stated practicing the theremin. As I have never seen anyone play the theremin
face to face I don’t know how much of this is confused by camera angles.

Clara Rockmore seem to be holding fingers vertical. Small finger on bottom toward ground, index finger touching thumb on top, toward sky,
and then extending knuckles towards and away from pitch antenna. (Never really fully extending the small finger towards the pitch antenna.)
Mr. Pringle seems to use a modified version of Clara’s method. Pamelia Kurstin also.

Although also called arial fingering, Lydia Kavian seems to be holding fingers inline horizontally. (Small finger closer to antenna, index finger touching thumb closer to her body.)
There seems to be more vertical movement of the knuckles toward the sky, with a horizontal stretching for the hand, and especially extending the small finger,
finger tips pointing initially towards ground,, not as much knuckle movement towards antenna. (Knuckles moving more towards sky.)
This method seems that knuckles movement would change the pitch in a smaller way.
(Are there any other videos of this style of playing by other theremin players?)

Carolina Eyck seems to be between the above two. Fingers almost extending at a 45 degree angle. (No real knuckle sliding towards pitch antenna as in Rockmore arial finger.)

Any comments about pros/cons of what seems to be different styles of “arial fingering”.
(Or am I just hallucinating?)

I’m so picky about this because I had to learn the “correct” way of holding a violin and bow after 4 months of study from my first teacher, a new teacher to violin.
When I got a philharmonic section leader as a teacher it was torturous to relearn, I almost quit.
Theremin is difficult enough, adding a start over is not something I want to even think about.

Posted: 2/21/2010 6:09:53 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008


Contrary to traditional instruments like the violin, there is no established, "correct" way to play a theremin. You have made a very good assessment of the various approaches of different thereminists based on videos of their performances. There are two things you must consider in the choice of the particular technique you choose to follow.

First of all, you should emulate the playing as closely as you can, of the thereminist whose music you enjoy most. The method you use will determine to a great extent what you are able to do and the ease with which you can do it. As you progress with the instrument, your own style will begin to take shape automatically as you naturally gravitate toward the sound you like. The temptation will be to depart too soon from the model you started out with.

The second thing you must consider is what you are personally able to do. One thereminist I know wanted to play using a Rockmore style aerial fingering approach but he was physically unable to "fan" his fingers. His hands were fairly small and stout and not very agile. He ended up playing with a technique that closely resembled the Samuel Hoffman method, where the fingers do not play an important role in articulation.

Many thereminists have discovered, to their surprise, that playing the theremin can cause physical problems like carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, etc. Techniques that involve forward thrusts of the hand and fingers toward the pitch antenna are dangerous for some people. If you find after practicing a particular technique for 20 or 30 minutes that you experience pain of any sort, STOP IMMEDIATELY. Go back and rethink your approach to the instrument.

Clara Rockmore's knuckle extensions are a very "user friendly", gentle and highly efficient approach to aerial fingering and, when properly engaged, allow the beginner to avoid some of the physical problems that can arise with other methods. Chronic stress ailments are common among athletes and musicians and thereminists are no exception.

"Don't expect things to happen over night. The theremin takes years of hard work and attention to detail." Clara Rockmore

Posted: 2/21/2010 8:15:14 PM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009


Thank you for the detailed response.

First it was good to find out I haven’t been hallucinating! :)

I’m heading either towards a version of the
Kavian method OR let another version of the Pringle, Clara, Kurstin method.

I could be wrong, I’m just a beginner, but the Eyck approach seems to provide less accuracy.

Why the concern? I only get to see 4 or 5 videos from each player. Sometimes only 1 or 2 videos. This may not be enough
to determine if their technique has some immediate limitations.
It is even more difficult to discern if one style or another ultimately limits your long term growth.

Vibrato? That's another part of the formula that’s difficult to sort out as some methods seem to limit the accuracy of the vibrato.

Your second point: “Personally able to do”. Obviously correct now that I hear it, but I have been using the approach of “If its the best approach, I’ll force myself to do it.”
I am rethinking this forced approach now.

The advice on feeling any type of pain after practice was a big
point from my violin instructor as well. A very good reminder for theremin.

I am in this for the long haul. It’s fortunate that I really enjoy practicing.
(With violin it was (6) 30 minutes sessions throughout a day.

I do appreciate your time and thoughts,

Dave H.
Posted: 2/22/2010 6:13:50 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Probably the biggest, and most common, mistake of beginner thereminists is to believe that you can watch how all thereminists play and then pick and choose the elements from each one that suit you and synthesize a technique entirely your own.

As for the "Pringle, Clara, Kurstin method", these three thereminists play very differently from one another. I know, because I'm one of them.

Posted: 2/22/2010 6:36:32 AM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

@coalport: Hello Clara... ;-)

BTW: I started with the Carolina Eyck method. One year later I found that Lydia Kavinas aerial fingering looked more elegant and I tried to switch to that system. I got lots of intonation and shoulder problems and returned 2 months ago repentantly to a slightly modified Carolina style.
Posted: 2/22/2010 5:13:56 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

You are not the only person to have had physical problems with Lydia's technique. Lydia herself has had serious difficulties in the past and may still have them. I have not discussed this with her in several years.

There is a great deal of tension in Lydia's method and, in my opinion, tension in the music one makes using it as well. I believe the key to good theremin playing can be summed up in three words: relax, relax, relax.

As Clara used to insist, think BUTTERFLIES!

Posted: 2/22/2010 7:00:02 PM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

coalport/ Mr. Pringle.

Fortunately I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough about theremin playing to synthesize a technique. (Looks like that’s a good thing.)

Part of what makes this so difficult for new theremin players is that every single “professional” player has their own style.
This lack of standardization has been pointed at for decades as one of the possible reasons why there is such a small group of professional players and the theremin has not enjoyed a larger following.
(I’m also not knowledgeable enough to know if there could ever be a standardized method of playing the theremin or not.)

My previous comment about the “Pringle, Clara, Kurstin method was only about what seems to be a style of playing that uses some form of knuckle sliding towards and away from the pitch antenna.
I felt like I was finally able to place (3) players that I enjoy into some general style of playing. Looking at each of these players/your style(s) in total defies analysis. (I did this basic analysis to hopefully allow emulation.)

Deciding which theremin player’s music I like the most becomes difficult, because, as I have finally come to realize, on top of a playing style there is the performer’s interpretation of the music. Clara Rockmore’s performances are remarkable. Her repertoire is unmatched. But with all due respect I personally don’t care for her almost continuous vibrato. That seems to have little to do with her style of playing, knuckle sliding, and more to do with her artistic interpretation.

Now this is were it gets even more complex. Some violinist use tremolo to hide intonation errors. Do theremin players do this as well? Again as I am only an amateur violin player I must rely on someone’s opinion that I respect, a previous teacher. She has described this as an “incorrect and dangerous, use” of vibrato. Dangerous? Well that’s what she says. “As it can let to bad habits that ultimately prevents the best intonation development.” So I want to be careful NOT to emulate a style of playing that uses vibrato to cover-up poor intonation.

I absolutely enjoy a couple pieces of music from the following professionals, in no particular order: Clara Rockmore, Lydia Kavina, Pamelia Kurstin, Peter Pringle(you), and Randy George.

Why all the work in making sure I choose the correct style. I want to become the best theremin player that I can in the most efficient way.

Thierry: Thanks for the heads up on intonation/ shoulder problems with the Kavina style of playing.

Anyone know some good knuckle sliding exercises?
Posted: 2/23/2010 8:03:25 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Dave wrote:

This lack of standardization has been pointed at for decades as one of the possible reasons why there is such a small group of professional players and the theremin has not enjoyed a larger following.


In my opinion, that is not the reason, or even a possible reason, the theremin has not enjoyed a larger following. I believe it is because, regardless of the technique you use to play it, it is the most difficult instrument to play with accuracy and precision that has ever been conceived.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman once pointed out that the difficulty of a musical instrument can be determined from how long it takes a new student to play a simple melody accurately and consistently. I know people who have been playing the theremin for years, and although they love it more than anything else they do, they still cannot play a melody accurately and consistently!

"The theremin is much more difficult than the violin, which I played for years." Clara Rockmore, the GIFT TAPE interviews

What has kept the theremin alive in spite of this, is that it has an uncanny "human" quality which no other instrument can approach, and it can be manufactured relatively cheaply. Compare this to the ondes martenot which is far more versatile (it can play anything from Bach to Frite Nite FX) and easier to play, but lacks that magical human quality and costs thousands of dollars to manufacture.

The cost of the ondes is responsible for its demise.

The theremin has attracted few full-time professional musicians. Since its birth, it seems to have appealed mainly to a base of hobbyists, dilettantes and underground experimentalists.

I think the "novelty factor" has played against wider acceptance of the instrument by creating a false sense of accomplishment in would-be professional thereminists. Mediocre theremin performances are often enthusiastically applauded by audiences NOT because the performance was great but because the instrument is unusual and entertaining. Theremin players with dreams of musical greatness (people like Lucie Bigelow Rosen) have been able for years to get away with performances that, had they been given on a traditional instrument like the violin or cello, or sung by a classical singer, would have been greeted with boos and jeers!

This novelty factor persists today. You just have to go to YouTube and watch the daily influx of "Show & Tell" videos from people who have just unpacked their brand new Etherwave and want to show the world how to play it. They would not do this with a new piano or a new violin, but they do seem to feel that it is entirely appropriate to do it with the theremin.

All of this makes the theremin even that much more fascinating and that much more of a challenge for the serious newcomer to the instrument.

Posted: 2/24/2010 4:15:45 PM

From: Escondido, CA

Joined: 2/6/2008

Krumm Horns (however you spell it?) are novel, but you sure don't want to hear much of them! What a terrible instrument!

We have a musician that performs at SCA dances who is very accomplished at playing it, but at her best the thing still is horrible to listen to!
Posted: 2/24/2010 7:16:10 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Not for krumms.

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