Pitch preview: Do you think it is somewhat cheating?

Posted: 5/22/2011 11:28:55 AM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

I am almost deaf in my right ear, so for me, it helps with hearing the pitch of the note I am going for. so even when the preview is cranked a bit, I still hear it mildly lol.

But I do all my exercises and scales without the preview, so I can develop a sense of space, that can only helped with the preview. I use it when I am actually rehearsing the melodies I am workig on...

I think it's an Aid to the Theremin, but nothing really can compare to have the body and hands know instinctively where the pitch you are aiming for is at...

What do you think?
Posted: 5/22/2011 2:08:49 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Is having keys on a piano cheating? Is having frets on a guitar cheating? Should I go on?

As I'm sure coalport will tell you, its purpose is mainly to zero in on pitch at the beginning of a piece or between phrases. It eliminates the need to audibly "fish" for the pitch.

However, if you feel the need to perfect your technique to the point of picking exact pitches out of thin air...I say go for it!
Posted: 5/22/2011 4:05:06 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

I somewhat understand your point but when you say, Should it be cheating if a piano has keys is not really relevant here ... The early Theremins did NOT have pitch preview, it was an added feature later on. I know it helps to find the perfect pitch at the beginning or anytime there is somewhat of a pause in a piece. There are several thereminists that do not use pitch preview and are wonderful at knowing where they are in a scale without fishing for pitch. Thomas Grillo is one of them...

I know I'll be using pitch preview because my near deafness in my right ear sometimes distort notes and it helps me to "hear" better.... But Ill do all I can to not rely on it, just there to help. Practice practice practice! :)

Posted: 5/22/2011 7:28:55 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I understand what you are saying as well. But, I also understand that we theremin players are a very conflicted group. We range from the most fanatical purist to those who believe anything goes.

For example, most of us acknowledge that the theremin is an electronic instrument, and many have no problem adding electronic effects to their signal chain, yet some object to the use of a pitch preview device.

I am a bit of a purist myself. However, I have no objection to someone using a pitch preview if they wish. It's far less objectionable than listening to someone who has a hard time hitting the right notes.
Posted: 5/22/2011 7:31:54 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Learning to play the theremin is teaching your hands to sing.

A well rehearsed set of vocal cords (or hand movements) is recommended, but good audio feedback is essential.

I doubt even the best singer sounds good when they can't hear themselves. (Say singing along to a song on their ipod with headphones on.)

As for cheating, it's not a competition, so there is no cheating - there is only the end result. If that justifies the means then it's fair practice. :-)
Posted: 5/23/2011 7:46:28 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

A "pitch preview" is any device that will tell you what note your theremin is playing in the absence of any externally audible sound. It can be visual (using a tuning device) or audio (using an earbud). The only theremin I know of that has a built-in preview (both audio and visual) is the Moog Ethervox, but any theremin can be fairly easily adapted to accommodate one.

I have found that visual previews are too slow and by the time your eye has told your brain what's going on, you've missed your cue.

I don't know how common the use of the preview is among performing thereminists but its value to the performer depends entirely on the kind of music being played. Free music, FX, avant garde and experimental musicians probably would not benefit from a preview because the kind of music they are playing is flexible enough for them not to need it.

I have heard the use of a preview referred to as "cheating". If there were some way, through practice and hard work, to get to a level of skill on the theremin where you could intuitively know where the notes were in the playing arc, then I would say perhaps the pitch preview is cheating. The fact is, no amount of practice or skill will ever help you find your note when you step up "cold" to the theremin. One way or another, you are going to have to orient yourself before you bring your volume up. You can do this publicly for all to hear (it is clearly identifiable on Clara Rockmore's recordings) or you can do it privately through the use of a preview.

Lev Termen built a device into some of his custom instruments that consisted of a small neon bulb that would glow whenever the thereminist's pitch hand was positioned to play the note 'A' within the playing arc. This is a kind of preview and it had the added advantage of being useful for giving other musicians a correct pitch by which they could tune their instruments. A=440 has only been in existence since 1939, so Lev's preview was probably adjusted slightly lower to the 'A' of his day.

Use of a pitch preview is not something a newcomer to the theremin has to decide on right away. I think beginners should play for at least a few months and develop essential skills before experimenting with previews of any kind.
Posted: 5/23/2011 3:50:51 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

I consider myself still as a beginner even after playing theremin on an amateur level for several years. So I don't actually use a pitch preview myself because I still want to experience one day the feeling of "being at home in the pitch arc".

Nevertheless, I'm not opposed to pitch preview in general and I have already been in situations where my playing would have been much better when I had used a pitch preview.

Out of that I already developed and installed a preview output module for the Big Briar Series 91 theremin, which was intended to output a signal for a visual tuner (the client's wishes are holy...) and I'm currently working on a reasonable solution for the Etherwave Pro theremin. It has already a tuner output but its signal will always be from the highest register, independent of the register switch setting. So even when interconnecting a small headphone amplifier, the player would have to transpose the signal by one or two octaves down "by ear" and the timbre will not be very pleasant (raw square wave).
So I decided to improve the headphone output by adding a small module to the volume board (besides the EPVM1345 module). It will allow to select one of three different output modes with a small jumper:
a) normal headphone operation (no pitch preview)
b) fixed level headphone output ("classical" pitch preview)
c) reverse headphone operation (headphone volume will be maximal when the main output is mute and decrease with increasing output volume, allowing to use normal acoustical feedback when playing).
The timbre at the headphone output will always be the same as for the main audio output.

Please don't yet ask when it will come to market, I hope that it will be possible towards the end of 2011. I'll keep you updated concerning the development progress and I'm looking forward to your commentaries and suggestions for now.
Posted: 5/23/2011 7:26:20 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008


No one can ever be "at home in the pitch arc" because no one can ever know WHERE THE DOOR IS.

A pitch preview is just a way of knowing how to get in without making a disturbance. It will locate the door for you and give you a key to open it, but once you're inside it is useless.

Posted: 5/24/2011 12:46:16 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I have always been a little surprised by people who insist that with practice, dedication, patience and diligence, the need for any sort of pitch preview will eventually be overcome.

It doesn't seem to matter what you tell these people, they persist with this belief even though it is wrong. It makes as much sense as the notion that if, with training and perseverance, you learn to flap your arms fast enough, eventually you will be able to fly!

Posted: 5/24/2011 2:29:14 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010


I think when I say "practice,practice,practice"
is not only for learning articulations and such but also it helps you to know grosso modo wherethe pitch you are fishing for is at, and the pitch preview helps you to make the last nano second adjustment so you can start on the right foot. I see the pitch preview as an aid, not a cane to rely on.

Secondly, it is good to have a pitch preview especially if you are in a band that causes a lot of noise - fishing for the pitch quietly when everything else is banging around you is just ludicrous.

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