Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 6/23/2006 2:26:57 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thank you for your nice comments, Gordon.

The video was taken a few days before I played a live gig at a large private party in Kansas City. How many people were there? I don't know however they served over 300 pounds of BBQ!

This post concerns a topic near and dear to Thereminists: pitch fishing. The techniques below are useful whether or not you use a pitch-preview.

[i]You will likely find this an easier read if you move your pitch hand along with the examples. Enjoy![/i]

[b]fishing conditions[/b]

There are four primary issues involved with pitch fishing: 1) time, 2) finding the target note, 3) the beat, and 4) the length of the target note.

The easiest situation is: a long span of time to find the pitch, music that includes the target pitch, an entrance on beat 1 of a measure, and a target pitch that is a long note.

The toughest situation is the reverse: little time to find the pitch, music that is not harmonically related to the target pitch, an entrance on the "and" of a beat (that is, an entrance on, for example, beat 1 1/2), and a target pitch that is rapidly followed by other pitches (i.e. a scale or jump).

Let's look at each situation seperately, then consider them as a whole.


When there is a long break in the Theremin part, you can actually relax your pitch arm and take a luxurious amount of time to find your starting pitch (up to 30 seconds). In this situation, you don't have set your pitch hand near the note at all -- rather, you just raise up your pitch hand and commence a leisurely fishing expedition. There is plenty of time to find the note.

A shorter time may mean that you will first raise your pitch hand close (according to your best guess) and quickly position it to the starting pitch.

If there is little time you will actually have to practice the jump from the previous pitch and hit your target close enough that you can make a quick correction.

The point of this is that, with less time, you have to get your pitch hand closer to the target pitch so you don't run out of fishing time.

[b]finding the target note[/b]

If while you are fishing, the musical accompianment contains your target note, you simply match your pitch to that note and bring up the volume when the time comes to play the note.

If the accompianment contains your note, but in a different octave you will likely find it pretty easy to tune your target note.

If the accompianment doesn't contain your note but is harmonically related to your note, you will probably be able to find it. An example would be where your target note is the "e" of an a-minor chord. The accompaniament may only be sounding "a" and "c" yet you can, with a little practice, easily nail the "e". This is incrementally more difficult than matching the pitch directly.

[i]For me personally, the "harmonically-related but doesn't contain the target pitch" is the most desireable situation. Since the Theremin's target pitch is not doubled there is a little more "give" with the tuning.[/i]

The toughest situation is where your target pitch comes in at the same time the chord changes! That is, during your fishing time an e-minor chord is playing and then you must play "c" along with an a-minor chord. How do you find "c" while an e-minor chord is sounding?

Your aerial fingering can come to the rescue here. For instance, say you wish to play the "c" in first position. Well, go ahead and fish for the "e" above the "c" in third position. Nail the "e" and simply move to first position as you bring the note up. By fishing for "e" in third position, you can nail "c" in first position. Of course, if you need to hit "c" in fourth position, you can fish for the "b" below in third position or for the "g" below in first position.

You can see, that by fishing for either "g", "b", or "e" you can hit "c" in any position you desire!
Posted: 6/23/2006 5:18:21 AM

From: Perth, UK

Joined: 5/17/2005

An excellent insight into the pitch fishing technique, with a level of detail I don't recall seeing anywhere else - thank you Kevin.

Reading through it, I seem to have been following the technique up until now almost intuitively. Seeing it written down like this confirms to me WHY I do what I've been doing, and will help me plan the playing of pieces I'm unfamiliar with, as well as starting to do some ensemble playing, as I tend to practice solo at the moment.
Posted: 6/25/2006 3:22:58 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

Pitch Fishing

Kevin's comments on goin' fishin' are very astute. They cover a tremndous amount of ground and it's always intriguing to me that what begins as personal experience can eventually be communicated as valuable suggestions for the rest of us.

There’s a tremendous amount in theremin forums about “pitch fishing.” It’s a universally accepted practice. Proponents of the pitch preview, too, speak of the fact that after starting on the correct note, they're in the same boat.

Then again...(”Uh-oh! Here we go…is he going to tell me to play the theremin with yet another body part?! Or worse, perform a Vulcan mind meld with the instrument, then play it with garden vegetables?") ... is there a method designed to reduce pitch fishing to the bare minimum and even eliminate it in many cases?

Ummm…yeah, (I say as I duck and cover, anticipating a barrage of antennae and cables being thrown at my delicate parts).

Pitch fishing is a fascinating phenomenon. It definitely qualifies as an occupational necessity, born of the genuine desire to find and play the right note, AND simultaneously born of an accepted mindset stemming from a tiny measure of insecurity/uncertainty – that we might play the wrong note if we don’t hear it first.

While related to developing both absolute and relative pitch, it is strikingly different. THIS method develops an enhanced ability to intuitively locate the spatial location of a given pitch, usually without fishing. You will be training your ears, your muscle memory, your entire body – all of them will become more awake to the intuitive processes you already employ (but are rarely conscious of) in order to play a theremin.

This method takes months, but it does work extremely well if you keep at it.

Anyone doubting that this insecurity/uncertainty exists can do this simple experiment. In fact, it’s a great place for everyone to start because one key element is that the mindset (that we might play the wrong note if we don’t hear it first) has to be RE-set in order for this method to work. Here’s what to do: select a song you’re currently working on, but one that’s yet to be perfected to your satisfaction – a work in progress. Get your accompaniment going and play, BUT NEVER FISH FOR A PITCH, EVEN ON THE STARTING NOTE. Just come in, and if it’s the wrong note correct it and keep playing. Refrain from cheating in any way. The entire purpose of doing this is to fully experience the little twinges of anticipation, doubt, anxiety, tension, etc., and all the attendant feelings that come with forcing yourself to deal blindly with the unknown (i.e., “where’s the right note?”) without trying to prevent what most would consider to be mistakes. When experimenting, the word “mistake” is irrelevant. Do this with a few songs, for about fifteen minutes of your practice.

Choose a ten-second section of piece you know really well. Without accompaniment and without finding a starting pitch, just lift your volume hand and play the ten-second section correctly, using whatever random pitch you started with. When finished, make sure you have no sound, then move your pitch hand to another position and WITHOUT TESTING what your starting pitch will be, just lift your volume hand and play the section again in the new key. Repeat this process at least ten times, always from a new random starting point. Each time you practice, make sure to choose different pieces of music, different degrees of difficulty, different tempo, etc.

Always vary the pieces you choose to practice with, as mentioned above. For step three, play an entire piece WITHOUT USING THE VOLUME ANTENNA AT ALL. Just set your volume at a comfortable level and give your left hand a vacation. Play only with your pitch hand and allow every slide, every wiggle, every micro-adjustment in pitch to reveal itself. Your BodyMind needs to hear everyth
Posted: 6/27/2006 10:53:10 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Wow thanks kkissinger & schielenkrahe.
This thread is turning into a fine technique/training reference. It's great how well into words you put... it... usually not can I.

Somethings never go away. At this point, now that I can basially play the theremin (it wasn't at all as hard as I'd expected) my pitch gaffs are often the same ones I made when I was singing. Your words here are so much kinder and more helpfull than the flashbacks of my sight singing teacher.
Posted: 9/15/2006 9:04:40 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One of the most-asked questions is: "Is it possible to play [i](such-and-such music)[/i] on the Theremin" and the stock answer is "Don't give up till you've tried. Go for it!".

This approach suggests that one would first think of a tune, then attempt to play it. Not a bad idea, to be sure!

What about all the music that we'd never think of? How does one stumble across Theremin "gems"?

One of Schielenkrahe's excercises is a great tool for finding music within you that you haven't thought of yet:

see: link (

To summarize, this excercise simply has one moving one's hands and letting the Theremin make sound without attempting (at first) to play any particular music. When sufficiently relaxed (that is, one's gestures and the sound is well-correlated) then one just picks out melodies and plays them.

Since I don't have a "favorite" melody my mind wanders and I just "play stuff". And often I stumble across melodies that I had never considered playing on Theremin! If your experience is anything like mine, you will be pleasantly surprised at the possibilities that open up.

Another thing that helps me on this excercise is to play with effects -- in particular reverbs and echos. Perhaps such effects are sometimes overdone however they DO have a relaxing and liberating effect.

A few posts back, I wrote at great length about pitch fishing techniques, and then Schielenkrahe followed up with an equally long-winded post suggesting that fishing is unnecessary! None-the-less, I tried the excercise... just putting my hand in the air and "letting 'er rip" without any fishing!

Well, I was pleasantly surprised -- though my jumps were not exactly on pitch. However, to jump directly to pitch WITHOUT fishing -- even for one who uses a pitch preview could be handy. After all, some jumps have to be done so quickly that there isn't time to fish!

I found the combination of the "no-fishing" technique and pitch preview usage to be quite useful. For, what I COULD do is to "skate" in the pitch preview such that I could make a rapid jump and then "stop" just in the right place (while muting the gliss).

My latest transcription project is, in large measure, the result of both of Schielenkrahe's excercises. I stumbled onto the idea while doing the "gestural" excercise and the confidence gained from the second excercise enabled me to attempt the kind of jumps that the music demands.

My fingering technique is full-blown aerial-fingering. In a sense, the excercises opened the doors and then a lot of hard work followed.

You can find more info and hear this project at:

link (

The "Variation" (the last three minutes) of the work contain some rapid 16th note ornaments -- to play them, I had to release my isometric grip. The grip stabilizes the pitch arm however tended to slow me down when wanting to play rapid passages. To play without the isometric grip was uncomfortable at first however I had to do it that way to manage the notes. [i](note: I released the grip only while playing the rapid ornaments -- the rest of the time I kept my thumb and pointer fingertips together)[/i]

The other "new" (at least for me) technique was to play the pitch-preview in a metered manner -- playing the gliss exactly in time and lifting the volume hand exactly in time.

Indeed, each Theremin work demands the Thereminist to overcome limitations. And that is part of the fun, and the frustration, of this wonderful instrument.

So, don't be bashful... give the excercises a try. Who knows? You might stumble across the next Theremin masterwork!
Posted: 9/21/2006 11:48:35 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Just an addition to the above post...

I remixed the Cesar Franck piece that I mentioned in the last post:

link (

The new mix improves on the old one in a number of ways. Normally I like to get it right the first time however this was my first mix with new recording hardware and software and I'm still learning the ropes.

Of interest is that I overdubbed as many as nine Theremin tracks in some sections and I utilized the entire range of the Epro clear down to the 16' bass register.
Posted: 11/5/2006 3:59:50 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[b]Jumps on the Theremin[/b]

One of the most challenging and fun areas of Theremin playing is to accomplish jumps from one note to the another. In this post I will share a few excercises that I do that have helped me to gain proficiency with jumps.

When utilizing aerial fingering, there are two basic means of moving from one note to another, namely 1) changing the knuckle extension and 2) moving the arm. For our purposes we will consider a jump to be a move that requires movement of the arm.

As a review, remember that aerial fingering allows one to play any note thru a 4th via knuckle extensions without moving the pitch arm.

The first excercise is to simply play the interval of a major second (that is, from 'do' to 're' and back) alternating between positions 1 and 2 AND playing both notes from position 1. For instance, in the notes 'C' and 'D':

C (1st), D (2nd), C (1st), D (1st)... repeat.

The idea here is to practice slowly and to play each note precisely. The idea is to get a solid feel for the arm motion vs. the knuckle extension.

The next excercise are the notes C-D-C-G. It is the same as the previous above except that the last note uses fourth position:

C (1st), D (1st), C (1st), G (4th) ... repeat.

You can see, then, that the jump from C to G is really simply an arm movement of a step along with a finger extension of a 4th.

It is best to practice this in slow-motion -- don't try to mute the pitch. What you are trying to do is to develop your muscle/ear coordination.

Upward jumps usually combine arm movement with knuckle extensions.

The next jump is the interval of a major-6th ... from 'C' up to 'A':

C (1st), E (1st), C (1st), A (4th). Again, the arm motion is the same for E and A, the only thing that varies is the knuckle extension.

The next jump in this progression is the jump of a minor-7th: C - Bb - C as follows,

C (1st), F (1st) C (1st) Bb (4th)

(we'll discuss the major 7th later)

You have probably already figured out the octave jump:

C (1st) G (1st) C (1st) C 8ve (4th)

Now, the major 7th is somewhat difficult and there are two methods that I use for this interval.

One is to stretch the 4th position out to a tritone interval -- let's call it 4th+ :

C (1st) F (1st) C (1st) B (4th+)

The other move is to use 3rd position for the jump:

C (1st) G (1st) C (1st) B (3rd)

The advantage of these two moves is that your 1st position "anchor" note is in the key of the music -- that is, your other positions fall on notes in the key of the music.

When would you, then, use F# as the anchor? Well, if you are (say) the key of G, then to play:

C (1st), F# (1st), C (1st), B (4th) would be a possible solution.

The main thing is to pick an extension that puts you in a good position to hit the notes that follow the jump.

In traditional music -- as a general rule, jumps are followed by a note in the opposite direction. So, generally, an ascending jump will be to a position other than 1st.

Descending jumps are easier to explain and harder to do.

Generally, a descending jump will hit the target note in first position, regardless of the position of the preceeding note.

For starters, try this excercise:

G (4th) D (1st) G (4th) C (1st)

When playing the final 'C', use "the clam" technique. What is the clam? It is a move where you seperate your thumb and second fingertips then "snap" them together on the target note. If you imitate a clamshell snapping shut, you've got the idea. If you have the CD that comes with the Etherwave Pro (Pamelia Kurstin) you will see a LOT of clamming on descending passages.

For a descending octave, you might consider the following excercise:

C 8ve (4th) to C (1st) in slow motion with no clam, then C 8ve to C (1st) with a clam. Don't attempt to visualize the positi
Posted: 11/5/2006 7:16:12 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Do you have a digital camcorder and a tripod?

I think seeing and hearing this demonstrated would help.

Posted: 11/5/2006 10:11:59 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Gordon, great idea. Give me a few days to put an example together.
Posted: 11/6/2006 2:06:18 PM

From: Kansas City MO

Joined: 10/24/2006

[i]Do you have a digital camcorder and a tripod?

I think seeing and hearing this demonstrated would help.[/i]

what he said...

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