Vibrato and Tremolo

Posted: 1/10/2006 3:42:01 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

...continuing a discussion from this thread (

I find that I play vibrato by keeping my upper arm fairly still and moving from the elbow. My upper arm [i]does[/i] pivot ever so slightly at the shoulder, but I think that's more a result of the torque produced by my fist rather than trying to move my shoulder... I'll have to pay more attention to that :)

Lots of room for discussion on this thread! I don't have time to post a bunch right now, but I think it'd be useful for us to come up with an article or two based on our discussions on this thread & post a vibrato/tremolo FAQ at some point.
Posted: 1/10/2006 4:02:33 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I think that the lack of a fixed method makes the theremin an even more remarkable and rewarding instrument to learn. What you hear is not the really the instrument (the timbre itself being decidedly basic), but rather the thereminist themselves. Each players vibrato, technique and style is *entirely* different, and hence the music they make is as well.

As Clara said, the thereminist has to 'mould' the tone for themselves. It is not simply there. I just find the whole idea fascinating.
Posted: 1/13/2006 6:35:54 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I'm finding this the hardest part of the technique to learn without a teacher present.
And it's hard to discern exactly from the videos and even to describe. I've found myself confusing helpful souls when posting my experiences.
Here's my adventure to date:

I've gone back and forth between rotating from the shoulder (like fanning yourself with a stiff hand), and shaking up and down from the elbow (like shaking a can of spray paint or throwing a dart).

To try and get a better sense of it I watched the Pringle video in slow motion then I started freeze framing the Clara video to try and figure out the kinesiology of her vibrato. I could clearly see her sleeve bouncing and that lead to a "Tremolo Bowing" Vibrato image for me.

It seemed like tension in my wrist was not only causing fatigue but resulting in a more nervous and spooky kind of sound rather than a warm expressive one.

For a couple weeks I kept the image of Clara's bouncing sleeve in mind, and tried holding small things between my closed fingers just for practice, first shaking the tone very slowly and gradually increasing the speed of the motion. That helped me relax the arm a bit and feel the weight of the hand.

I've noticed that with really low notes, close to the body, I have to resort to what I'll call "Tremolo" with the forearm moving more horizontally
(like a fan) <--> and the rest of mid and high range I try to use "Vibrato" with the forearm moving to and from the rod with a relaxed wrist (like shaking a dart).

Sometimes it takes a while of playing for me to get it. This one's tough.

Thanks all!

Posted: 1/13/2006 10:16:34 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One's physical and mental state is greatly revealed in the vibrato effect that one produces.

If you are tense, for example, the vibrato will sound tense.

A natural, un-strained movement will produce a vibrato that is free of stress. One quick experiment is to attempt a super-fast vibrato (faster than you would normally play) -- if you find your shoulder and upper arm tensing up, then try a different direction/technique. I have found that a "dart throwing" motion where the movemet of the hand is in the same plane as the upper-arm works best. A movement that is at right angles to the upper arm sets up a good deal of tension though, at first, such a motion may seem to give better control over the depth of the vibrato. Better to practice to and from the antenna and develop the control over speed and depth.

Also, record yourself playing with different vibratos -- you will likely start to here the effect of a "nervous" vibrato vs. a relaxed one.
Posted: 5/6/2006 9:17:32 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I've been playing with the "dart throwing" vs. the side-to-side a while. The side to side does sometimes remind me of a church soprano of a certain age I used to know, but the dart method, though usually a smaller vibrato depth always sounds more nervous and like the spooky style to me. Still working on it.
Posted: 5/14/2006 12:59:17 PM

From: washingtondc metro area

Joined: 2/8/2006

i wiggle my fingers or wrist and i use a spring antenna which provides automatic mechanical vibrato whether i want it or not.

electronic vibratos are often available on delay units for those who want to be really precise. i had good results with an old yamaha analog delay.
Posted: 12/30/2006 8:28:02 PM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

I suffer from tremors so I relax my hand!

The above is the truth
Posted: 3/14/2007 2:37:57 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Well a lot has happened with this aspect of technique for me and now I'm happy I went through that long vacillation phase between the (for lack of better terms) Vibrato: "dart throw" forward/back shaking motion, and Tremolo: side-to-side or stirring motion.

I've largely settled into the Vibrato and have found focusing on it's rate and depth can often help me on my intonation especially on opening notes. With those entry notes a quicker Vibrato seems to help a lot.

In revisiting some old pieces and developing a particular effect in a new one I realized the Tremolo is still of great value and offers a unique musical effect that's very handy to have in the tool box.

Keeping the wrist and fingers as relaxed as possible has been the focus of it for months now and it's paid off.
Not only do I have unobtrusive inner methods to release building tension in the arms,

So now I'm using both again but with much more musical intentions as the basis for my choice.
Posted: 7/10/2007 1:49:51 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

My vibrato technique has evolved in the last 6 monssths. When I started a year ago, I only used a horizontal motion direct to the antenna, then I tried twisting my wrist to do vibrato, but that quickly wore out.

Now, I use a few different methods depending on which theremin I'm using. If it's the standard, I have to use the "dart throw" particularly when playing near the antenna, or near the 0 zone. But, I dont go to and from the antenna. I get a more shallow vibrato by aiming the dart to the audience instead of the antenna. This is done to compensate for the notes being closer together near the standard's antenna, and 0 zone. For a time, I did change gears to the more conventional vibrato in the mid range, but these days, I've grown to like the vibratto I get by throwing the dart at the audience all the time, unless I'm doing a trill.

I evin use it on the pro.

This method is a must on the B3. On this theremin, I throw the dart to the audience, but on very high notes close to the antenna, I move my hand to the left side of the antenna (right handed), instead of being on the line between my body, and the antenna, so the energy of the vibrato is reduced to a point where you get a more natural vibrato. It's very easy to overdo vibrato on the B3.
Posted: 7/10/2007 2:17:30 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Do you find that different vibratos change the timbre of your theremin?

My experience, which is based on my non-standard left to right "seed sowing" style of pitch hand motion, is that when I use a left to right "polishing a penny with a cotton bud" vibrato I get a distinctly grittier sound from my etherwave than when I use a forearm twisting "jiggling a key in lock" vibrato.

(I should note that in both instances I usually favour a very fast vibrato. My theory to explain this effect is that my fast vibrato is causing a certain amount of FM synthesis to occur, which affects the timbre.)

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