Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 12/30/2006 12:10:26 AM

From: new haven ct.

Joined: 7/8/2005

hi Paula and welcome the thereminworld,
since your starting out, just listen to Charles. He's an excellant player, and you can't go wrong following his advice.
Everyone has a different style. There's no right or wrong, just what works for you to get the what you want.
Using pitch preview isn't really cheating. you still have to find your note and play it in tune on your own. If it made you play in tune or found the notes for you, well then that be another story.
I only use it for recording. It saves time. Live I just take my chances and hope for the best, unless I really need to get it right.
As far as changing standing positions, I just sit. It's a lot easier in the long run (I have a tendency to wobble)
Posted: 12/30/2006 2:21:31 AM
randy george

From: Los Angeles, California

Joined: 2/5/2006

Hi Paula. Welcome indeed! You are now part of the coolest community of people on the planet.

I am a huge fan of problem solving. It is probably up there pretty high on my list of reasons why decided to play the theremin. Most instruments require a great deal of problem solving, but with an instrument like the theremin that has an almost infinite number of possible ways to play it, problem solving seems to be what keeps me loving it. I'm not sure I'll ever figure it out completely, but I'm positive that my playing is getting better all the time. It feels so good to figure things out and even better when figuring things out means you can make sweet sweet music.

I'm up in LA. I'm totally down to jam as long as i can peel away from my busy job. I probably wont be able to until February because of NAMM in January. It sounds like you are one of us now so your life is over pretty much over as you knew it before.

Since you are in North OC I highly recommend going to NAMM if are able to. Pamelia will be playing at the Moog booth (confirmed by Linda at MoogMusic & also Pams myspace page)

Since this is the Aerial Finger Technique thread I will close my yakity yak yak by adding a blurb. I'm currently placing ear training and aural skill over hand technique in order of priority. Hand and fingering technique only exist to serve and support the pitches in your head. Years ago when I was a bassoonist, all the technique and practice in the world did me no good unless I had a decent reed to play on. I spent months and months of my life learning to master bassoon reed making. It was totally worth it at the time. maybe that makes no sense here in thereminworld...

Posted: 12/30/2006 5:54:48 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

esty0916 wrote:

[i]For some reason I feel like it's cheating or something to use a pitch preview.[/i]

Hi Paula, I kind of agree with you. Not cheating exactly, but something I shy away from - for three reasons.

1. It makes a physical connexion with the instrument you don't touch. I know that is a conceit, but perhaps if someone designed a wireless pitch preview...

2. I can't think of pitch preview without thinking of those folk singers that stick their finger in their ear while they sing.

3. The theremin is unique amongst electronic instruments for the organic nature of its sound - it seems a bit control-freaky to remove every possible source of imperfection - a bit "throwing the baby out with the bath water" - compare the image of a lush green meadow replete with wild flowers in gay abandon to the clockwork cosmos vision of an ornamental garden with perfectly spaced plants lined up in regimented rows and weeded to within an inch of its life.

Posted: 12/30/2006 6:09:44 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Hi Paula.

Just to introduce myself, I'm 16 years old and I've been playing the theremin for nearly two years now. I pretty much developed my own technique, having looked as deeply as possible into the various pre-existing techniques for the instrument. I just wanted to address some of the concerns you raised:

----Aerial Fingering----
In my opinion, 'aerial fingering' (call it what you will), that is to say the partial or complete movement of the fingers themselves whilst the wrist remains more or less locked in position, is essential if one hopes to play faster or more complex passages of music. It also seems to me to play a huge part in giving yourself a sense of note positioning. Allow me to explain.

The human mind has not evolved to remember arbitrary positions in space. Give it a go - extend your arm about 70% in a random direction. Now try again to do exactly the same thing. My guess is that you ended only more or less where you were before - certainly not close enough to get the same pitch on a theremin, even if it were to have substantially less sensitivity than an Etherwave.

Rather, thereminists have tried to come up with another way of 'remembering' mentally (it becomes pretty much subconscious for smaller intervals) where they have been before. Without fingering, a player making the jump C-F-C has to 'refind' their C, either by sliding back down to it, or by 'guessing' where it was in much the same way as you guessed where your arm had to go earlier. If however, you had used your fingers to find the F, you'd know what it *felt* like to be on the C, because your fingers and wrist had been in their 'C' configuration only moments earlier, and as they're the most dextrous and finely-operable parts of your controllable anatomy, it seems silly not to take advantage of this. Incidentally, I personally do not think it matters which finger motion you employ, choose which ever is most comfortable - Lydia-style, Peter-style, Clara-style, Pamelia-style . . . which ever one you choose will inevitably evolve into *your* style.

Furthermore, aerial fingering allows for quick, sudden movements as well as slow graceful ones. This lets you play without sliding - something that Miss. Rockmore considered the 'default' theremin tone - you'll notice she only uses portamento in certain situations.

---Cutting off notes---

It goes without saying that most 'theremin' music was not actually written for theremin. Saint-Saen's 'Le Cygne' was for example, orginally for cello and [two?] pianos. Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise' and 'Song of Grusia' are both for voice. Thus they were written in such a way as to make the best use of those respective instruments, and since both the cello (unless perhaps you're a concert-standard player) and voice are forced to take natural pauses every so often - the musical phrasing takes account of this.

I consider this to be currently my weakest facet of theremin-playing - I used to not add any pauses at all, to play in one continous breath. It wasn't so much that this was an artistic choice - I just found myself not really being able to do otherwise. With time however, I'm slowly getting a feel for phrasing more, and my volume control is improving. To be honest, I think expression is the main gap between Clara and today's thereminists.

Separating notes can be a purely artistic choice. It will be interesting to see how Clara plays the 'Humoresque' in her newly released / newly discovered CD. I play it with large amounts of phrasing, with short sharp snippets of melody. I wonder if she has it all flowing together or not. . .

---Pitch Preview---

I don't have or use a pitch preview, and for personal practice or performance I agree that they seem to be something of a cheat. When playing in school concerts or whatever, I'll just get my note from the accompanist, find it quickly, and then we're off. But. . . . what if you had to do a recording wit
Posted: 12/30/2006 2:04:53 PM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

I have uncontrollable shaking in my hands so Aerial Fingering is out of the question for me. If I keep my fingers pursed, though, so my thumb and forefinger are together, my hands stay still. I use snaps of the wrist to move from note to note quickly, and this is the closest I will probably ever come to an Aerial Fingering technique.

Concentration and intuition may be far more important than technique, though. Learning to listent to yourself and fundamentally TRUST yourself is the key to playing well. You will over time find yourself thinking "I will make THIS note" and, lo and behold, the note is made. Like everything, it comes with practice, but it's the relationship with your instrument that you're practicing and that's ultimately what will satisfy you.

Playing without Portamento is worthwhile, but I think it's a challenge to set yourself at your discretion as opposed to a requirement to qualify as a decent player. You know what would impress me more? Piano portamento.

If you're playing an Etherwave you will notice that it's never completely silent. You have a tiny tone still coming through, it's a nasty whiny little thing that you can barely hear unless you're close to the amp. This is very useful for finding your note and if I've lost my place this is how I do so.

I'm not sure I agree with Charlie that remembering spaces isn't possible. You should with time begin to recall the position of your hand in relation to the antenna - after all, calculating distance and space isn't such a new thing to us. Professional athletes, for instance, do it all the time.

I like what Gordon says about making the instrument "perfect". Embrace imperfection, because you're imperfect! The things that are right wrong about both you and your Theremin will play such a huge part in configuring your technique.

So yes... I'm much more of the opinion that your hands should follow your ears, and always. Intuition! God, I wish I didn't shake so badly.
Posted: 12/30/2006 7:28:40 PM

From: North O.C., California

Joined: 7/11/2006

Pitch Preview: I agree with Gordon’s 3. Especially number 1. I never could explain why I thought of it as cheating, but these are reasons well explained. Another thing is that when I listen to performers who do not use a pitch preview, their music is much more rich, much warmer and moves me so much more than someone who does use pitch preview. The performer who uses pitch preview sounds very dry, very calculated, absent of feeling almost generic.
However, there were a few of you who said that in a recording situation it would be useful to use and although I never thought about it, I suppose it would be useful. But again if you are just using it in a recording session to find ONLY your first note, for the sake of money and time, this may be fine. Then again you can find your first note in a recording session BEFORE the engineer starts to record (the engineer can also cut it out later from the mix), or he can record your first note on a different track and feed it out to your headphone mix so you will be prepared to play when you are to come in. I think even the latter has still less of a cheat feel then using the preview. Having someone play your first note for you is a good thing but over time, if you have practiced enough, you should already know what your first note is (what it sounds like) and, because of the practice and developing muscle and spatial memory, you will know where your beginning position is supposed to be, then all you have to do is listen quietly to yourself and find the true pitch. Really, for me, always tuning my “low G” before I play, no matter what position I am standing in, has helped incredibly.
When I think of pitch preview I think of a band who on a CD sound really good but in person sound bad- you realize then that the only reason why they sound good is because the engineer used all kinds of effects, and made them sound decent. We do it all the time when we record. It’s almost always the singers that need the heavy processing. It’s usually just because they have no training or are not at a level where they are ready to be recording anyway, instead they should be practicing and training. Then again, the experience of “fixing” as students is good for us. Anyway, so that’s kinda how I think of it.
There is so much ear training software out there and so much of it now is totally free online. Then again, I wonder if it’s because technology has advanced and we don’t have to struggle so much, like other’s before us OR if it’s because we are a people of instant gratification and if we can get it now then why wait?! Pitch preview is very much like discussing analog tape vs. digital recording. It’s just a preference and no one is really right or wrong, but everyone feels that they are right.
I will not be using pitch preview anytime soon. If I get to a point in my training where I have really tried to practice, ear train and have done all I can and I can’t get the pitches because of some real physical limitation (who knows maybe I have a deformed ear drum or something) and I really can’t do it on my own then yeah I guess I will try the visual preview- I still don’t like the one that goes in your ear, it seems intrusive + if my ears are messed up then I guess I could not use the ear one anyway).

Fingering: I think ultimately, the piece of music you will play will really determine the way you will want to use your hands/fingers/wrists, etc. Plus comfort is still very important. Alexander said, “Concentration and intuition may be far more important than technique, though. Learning to listen to yourself and fundamentally TRUST yourself is the key to playing well.” Charles tells me almost the exact same thing when I play. When I relax and follow this advice is when I get to a place where I am the music and I am making that connection with my Theremin, it is almost a dream state and because of those reasons my playing is a million times better- I can FEEL it become me, every part of m
Posted: 12/31/2006 3:40:34 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]The performer who uses pitch preview sounds very dry, very calculated, absent of feeling almost generic.[/i]

There are many of us who use pitch previews. Did you know that I use one?

[i]...I think even the latter has still less of a cheat...[/i]* (more on this later)

[i]When I think of pitch preview I think of a band who on a CD sound really good but in person sound bad- you realize then that the only reason why they sound good is because the engineer used all kinds of effects, and made them sound decent. We do it all the time when we record.[/i]

ahem... speak for yourself. Who is "we"?

[i]...and no one is really right or wrong, but everyone feels that they are right.[/i]

Most people have strong opinions. From an artistic standpoint, one must be true to one's self. For my part, I am comfortable with my chosen direction and have little time to judge the directions that others have chosen for themselves. To do what is "right" for me is one concept. Were I to stipulate what is "right" for everyone else would be another concept altogether.

[i]If I get to a point in my training where I have really tried to practice, ear train and have done all I can and I can’t get the pitches because of some real physical limitation (who knows maybe I have a deformed ear drum or something) and I really can’t do it on my own then yeah I guess I will try the visual preview[/i]

If one can't hear or play, no kind of pitch preview, visual or aural will be helpful. There is a tendency to overrate the pitch preview. A pitch preview cannot turn a non-musician into a musician, any more than digital recording, MIDI, or any other kind of technology can.

[i]I am also so excited about Clara Rockmore’s CD. Does anyone know where I could get vidoe’s of her playing?[/i]

You can find them on ebay. However, be prepared: She separates notes with her left hand (In fact, one of the reasons that Termin built a custom instrument for her was to incorporate a responsive volume circuit) and her Aerial Fingering technique is learned and precise.

On the "Art of the Theremin" CD one can hear Clara fishing for pitches.

A pitch preview only aids in pitch fishing -- the review allows one to fish in private (in one's earbud) rather than in public. For tasks other than fishing, the preview is of no help.

What does it mean to cheat?

To cheat would be to decieve, defraud, deprive by trickery, or to mislead.

With some imagination, one could think of scenarios that would qualify as cheating. For example:

To cheat would be to edit or pitch-correct a contest entry. To cheat would be to produce a video with overdubbed sound and claim that it is a live-on-tape performance. To cheat would be to exaggerate one's gig list, repertoire, credentials, and/or accomplishments.

There are a lot of ways to cheat however to utilize a pitch-preview isn't one of them.

A pitch preview user gains a definate advantage for finding the starting notes of passages -- after all, if the preview had no advantage, no one would use it. To use a pitch preview is no more "cheating" than for an organist to use combination pistons instead of stop-pullers, a horn player to play a valved instrument, a flautist to play a flute with pads and keys, or a synthesist to utilize MIDI. In all cases the musicians have chosen to play modern instruments instead of historical ones.

In the case of a combination action and pitch preview, the use of either is optional for a modern musician.

I would prefer to retire the word "cheat" from discussions about technology. In ages gone by, people considered vocal music to be the only legit music -- instruments of ANY KIND were a "cheat" because they allowed one to hit notes higher and/or lower than one could sing. The moment the ancients placed a pipe on a windchest music and technology were united.

Ultimately, technology and
Posted: 12/31/2006 5:38:43 AM

From: North O.C., California

Joined: 7/11/2006

Hi Kevin,

Yes I know that you use a pitch preview. And I don't think Clara Rockmore spaces EVERY single note with her volume hand, only where she needs to (not sure I could be wrong) and I also use MIDI and have an opinion on non-musicians and how MIDI can help them create music and it is the recording engineer’s job to do whatever she/he can to make the talent they are recording sound the best they can sound AND I have other comments about your posting but now I think we are really going off this thread's main topic. I'd love to talk about these things further since they really do make for great discussion and learning. Maybe under a new topic thread?

Aerial Fingering Technique: (By the way I think I visited your web site and saw your clips like 3-4 days ago). I notice on your video that when you go from one note to the other you separate your index and thumb briefly. I tried it because I though it would make my note transitions cleaner without having to use quick wrist movements and all I really got was more of an accented note every time I did it. Is this why you use it- to give an accent to your notes? Then I thought I must be doing it wrong because it really does look like it would help clean up note transitions. Also, where did you learn this technique? I still have not been able to try your technique for note jumping. The music I am learning right now does not require me to leap in such ways but I imagine it would be a good exercise to add to my warm-ups.

Posted: 12/31/2006 7:22:14 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Paula - I know you're trying to be 'purist,' but the fact is that you seem to be making a huge number of arbitrary distinctions. Why is it that you consider post-editing to be 'less' of cheat than using a pitch-preview, a device that you could use in order to find your first note professionally and silently - when no other method is guaranteed to work? If anything, a fade up ruins the quality of the instrument far more than using a preview, since you don't get the instruments attack, or the performers crescendo-vibrato.

Also, you say that you'll 'hear the correct note in your head' - sometimes this works, if I've been playing one piece again and again and again, but often I have to play five of six very different pieces in a row, and I don't have perfect pitch. Furthermore, my memory for pitches drifts over time. Perfect pitch cannot be learnt. Besides which, the point is not finding the correct note in a simple solo - it's finding a note either after a long pause, or after a long introduction when grave mistakes are not permissable.

No matter how long you train, you won't be able to find a starting note from a long silence without a preview. Clara used the notes in Nadia's introduction to 'fish' for her starting notes, and you can hear her sliding all over the place. Personally, I think that's fine for an impromptu performance, but for certain pieces of music I'd think a preview would really help. In a studio it would be nigh essential. Can you imagine a studio opera singer, called in to do an incidental aria coming in on completely correct note, and spending half a second going 'aaAAAaah' towards the correct one?

You speak condescendingly of people with previews having 'physical limitations . . . . [not being able to] do it on [their] own etc. etc,' but this to me seems rather arrogant. I'm not suggesting you rush out and get the equipment for a preview - indeed one of the clandestine reasons for my opposing them was that I didn't think I'd ever have the time (or be able to) fit one. I think it is worth accepting however that there is no physical ability that allows you to find a note from no sound on the theremin, not even absolute pitch.

Obviously, it goes without saying that Clara used aerial fingering to a massive degree, although I find it very likely that after devising her system it became largely subconscious. Unlike piano fingering (or dare I say it - organ fingering. . . . what the hell is it with not putting a thumb on a black note?! Why is that even a rule?) anyway, unlike piano fingering, aerial fingering is incredibly intuitive. After a while, your system becomes second-nature.

This topic seems to me simply to regard technique, so wander away I say. Let's drift off topic, but try to keep one foot in the 'technique' area of discussion.
Posted: 12/31/2006 7:46:08 AM

From: North O.C., California

Joined: 7/11/2006

Hi Charlie,

Actually I said that if I found that I personally had a physical limitation, me not anyone else, THEN I would consider a visual pitch preview. AND I also said that, from reading the opinions of people here, there are times (like in a recording studio) that it makes sense to use a pitch preview. I think also that it is great that such a thing does exist and helps people who don't have "perfect pitch"- I'm sure I don't have perfect pitch- because then playing the Theremin can be enjoyed by anyone. Playing music should never be restricted to a select few. If people use pitch preview and it helps them play better, more comfortably, more often, helps them to learn faster, etc. then that's great for them. I still personally do not wish to use it myself, for the same reasons I have posted before, and like I also said before this personal opinion is NOT meant to offend anyone- it's just an opinion. It is good to see however that people here are passionate. All of that energy and emotion is good for music I think.

Wow. We should also start a separate “pitch preview thread” if there isn’t one already! This topic can really go on forever.


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