Notes and Reading Music

Posted: 8/19/2005 10:26:08 AM

From: USA

Joined: 8/12/2005

I was wondering how people approach the playing of music. Do most of you know how to read music, and are you visualizing and thinking actual notes when playing, or are you sort of mimicing the notes and moving your hands to the right places instinctively, sort of the way you'd copy a tune by whistling it? For example, when you whistle, you instinctively adjust the muscles in your lips and mouth to produce the proper note without thinking where you are on a scale. Does playing the Theremin eventually become like that? If so, I'll feel relieved since I am an excellent whistler! :-)
Posted: 8/19/2005 5:46:14 PM

From: Winston-Salem, NC

Joined: 6/30/2005

One of the things that Barbara and Lydia touched on at EtherMusic was that it was very helpful to have the tune in your head.

So, if you can read music well enough to assemble the tune, great! However, it probably works best for most people to learn a tune by hearing it, then working it out "in the air".
Posted: 8/19/2005 8:46:24 PM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

Robotube, you will probably find that you need to spend more time thinking about things like "okay the next note is two notes up from this note and I'm already in third position so I need to switch to first position before this note is over and then switch to third position for the next note..." than you will things like "next is a quarter note G".

If you're asking if you can "play by ear"... yeah, that's how it's done. If you're asking if you'll be able to just kinda play without thinking about it the way people whistle... no, you won't. Playing theremin requires a great deal of thinking while you play.
Posted: 8/20/2005 8:47:13 AM

From: USA

Joined: 8/12/2005

Cool. Thanks...that's what I was looking to know. Some things actually teach you to "stop trying to think and just do it". I wasn't sure if Theremin was one of those things. Now I see how I need to approach this.
Posted: 10/18/2005 1:48:04 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

I am new to the instrument myself and I am finding that I MUST have the pitch of each note in my head (as if I am silently singing it to myself) while I am playing.

Thus, ear-training is essential. You might want to try some sight-singing with emphasis on hitting the right notes (regardless of your vocal quality). After all, if you can't hear the notes in your head, how do you know if you are playing the right notes on the Theremin?

Even with aerial fingering technique... while there are "officially" four positions from position "1" (a unison) to position "4" (a fourth) there are four chromatic notes in between positions 1 and 4 so even the positions have to be "fudged" a little to get to the chromatic notes.
Posted: 1/15/2006 7:00:56 PM

Joined: 1/5/2006

After a very short-lived attempt at playing on a Jaycar theremin I built myself wo years ago, I plunged and got an etherwave off ebay (a steal at $300, signed and all!).

Playing on this one I found to be much easier.

Which leads me to my thoughts on your question regarding an approach to playing music that works well, I've found, regardless of the instrument. I started playing the violin when I was six years old using the Suzuki method created by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. The basic principle of his method comes from the idea that just like you learn to speak a language by listening to words and phrases over and over, so can you learn to play music by hearing the music you wish to play over and over before trying to play it. Once you know the song in your head, trying to coax it out of an instrument is about the mechanics of the instrument rather than trying to figure out how the song goes.

One of the other aspects that has made Suzuki successful in teaching children how to play musical instruments is that they don't have to know how to read music to start playing--musical reading comes later, once the knowledge of the instrument is in place. Likewise, if you're not someone who knows how to read music, I would not try to learn that while picking up the theremin--play by ear.

I have found this works very well on the theremin. I started playing around, on my new and shiny Etherwave, the songs that I learned to play as a Suzuki violin student--songs that I know so well I can hum them in my head and sing and whistle and pluck them on a rubber band. Yes, going from playing a Bach Ciacconna on the violin to fighting to get Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the theremin seems like going backwards, but surprisingly, from there to playing folk songs from my family's towns in Colombia hasn't been much of a leap.

So take an instrumental song you know well, hear it over and over until you can hear it without the tape, and that will help you learn how it is that you need to hold your hands, move your fingers, and give some emotion to what you're playing.
Posted: 1/16/2006 9:25:09 PM

From: Colorado

Joined: 7/5/2005

For me, it's all very much like whistling or singing. And I'm a little lax in my finger position style. To learn a song, I plunk it out on my piano enough times until I can sing it and replay it in my head. Then I play it on theremin. I could sight-read, but that's slower and more laborious for me, and takes some slow and fussy figuring-out-type thought. So, I take a lazier way.

But I certainly can't play the therry as easily as I can whistle! I kind of wonder why. We don't translate to hand gestures as easily as to mouth muscles-- because we talk all the time? because we've used our mouths since the very day of our birth, when we reached for milk from our mothers?
Posted: 1/21/2006 10:05:46 AM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

You make an interesting point. It WOULD seem that such an intuitive ability as whistling relates closely to the theremin. However, from a neurological and physiological standpoint, they are worlds apart.

If you stay very body-aware, particularly when you begin playing the first time each day, you will notice that your throat, tongue and mouth ARE usually moving in odd ways while you are playing. It's tough to notice at first since you're probably playing with your mouth closed. But the tongue is very often expanding, contracting, the throat tensing and relaxing, and the lips may even be making small movements. You can verify this by loking in a mirror as you play -- it's sometimes a rude awakening to see what your face was doing without your permission. During my first few weeks as a player, I found that salivation increased when playing.

There is a very deep connection between ear, eye, and mouth (and nose too, but the nose is sort of out of the picture as relates to the theremin). In the VERY early stages of life (in the womb), all are in very close proximity, sort of clustered. As the brain and head develop, eyes, ears, and mouth "migrate" to their typical positions. But a fundamental connection remains that coordinates them. They often work in concert -- it's what enables you to hear a noise then instantly turn to face the sound in an attempt to see what made the noise. I'm over simplifying here, but you get the idea.

However, bringing the hand into play requires that the brain actually CREATE new connections (neural pathways). Have you ever noticed a child's face as he or she learns to write, or perform any action requiring small motor skills? The eyes are squinched up, the tongue is usually out a little and in motion (there's that connection again -- they're trying to work together to make this happen). Meanwhile, the hand is more tense than normal, the wrist typically curled more than normal as the quiet struggle to form letters goes from the brain to the eyes (the visual reference the child uses to recognize the letter form), back to the brain, which sends signals out to the hand and fingers, where the child attempts to send these impulses out the end of a pencil and on to paper!

Whistling is "all in the family" so to speak - ears and mouth -- they grew up together. You can just feel it, know it intuitively (although, there are people who CAN whistle but CAN'T carry a tune).

Enter the theremin, a device requiring both hands to make it come to life. One hand must move forward and back, the other up and down. Add to that two distant neighbors -- the ears --whose acuity must be very refined, and you've got a the musical equivalent of rubbing your stomach while patting your head while trying to write your name while trying to sing a song in your head!

I suppose the lesson here is: "An thou be faint of heart, WHISTLE."

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