Does anyone else use this technique?

Posted: 9/26/2007 9:45:22 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

"Clara Rockmore's poorly-spaced and unlinear theremin,..."

On what evidence is this conclusion based?
Posted: 9/26/2007 10:12:15 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Brain, Ben was just experimenting to see how many possible positions he could "feasably" squeeze in between closed, and fully opened positions because he has unusually large hands. It was his first time on a theremin a few days ago.
Posted: 9/26/2007 10:57:02 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

My choice to utilize a technique that uses positions one through four only is based on a few observations of this and other approaches.

1) Clara Rockmore, Peter Pringle, and Pamelia Kurstin all use four positions and they are among the most accurate thereminists.

2) Few people who use the Kavina / Eyck technique play without intonation issues. My theory about this is that to reach an octave without moving the arm requires closer note spacings. Thus, one must employ a "careful" technique to deal with closer note spacings. Folks who use the closer spacings consistently have issues with passing tones. (I may get lynched for this statement however that is what my ears tell me.)

3) Few people who use the Kavina / Eyck technique mask the glisses. Often the result, to my ears, sounds like a slide whistle. I don't know why this is -- one would think that smaller spacings would better hide glisses. Again, my ears tell me a different story.

4) The wider spacing of a four-position technique allows more subtlety in both the vibrato depth and rate. This statement is from my own experimentation. I find it effective to tune a vibrato'd note by moving my arm to and from the antenna rather than to move my arm side to side. Again, a wider spacing allows better vibrato control.

These are the reasons that I have consciously chosen to go with a four position technique.

What have I given up?

Well, to play a work such as Masami Takeuchi's "Torpedo" would probably be tough with a four finger position. I like "Torpedo" very much however I'd have to change my technique to play it -- so I'll leave that one to Mr. Takeuchi! (Incidentally, Takeuchi is one of the few that have tamed the Kavina technique.)

I may not be able to jump from octave to octave as fast as someone that employs tighter spacings with more positions. Thus, I won't ever play the Minute Waltz in 37 seconds.

Perhaps someone will figure out how to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" on the theremin however I am not sure if such a feat would necessarily be an advance for the instrument.

The Theremin is one of the few instruments that can make effective and evocative music while playing slow passages. And yet, the sign of "accomplishment" seems to be to play fast. This makes little sense to me.

For the sake of argument, I contend that if someone could play rapid arpeggios on the theremin -- perfectly and on pitch -- that the result would no longer sound like a theremin and sound more like a keyboard synthesizer with portamento.

For me, the most helpful ideas in the Kavina video have to do with her suggestions about use of the volume hand -- particularly the rapid upward snap technique (very handy for setting up rhythmic passages for live looping works). Masami Takeuchi's music is a lesson in phrasing and volume antenna usage.

While a four-position system may be useless for some folks, it works well for me. I, personally, am comfortable to play jumps (octaves and beyond) that utilize the technique that Pamelia Kurstin explains in her DVD.

Over the last couple of years, I have modified my technique -- one of the reasons one should be wary of studying with someone with less than a few years experience is that one, at first, is constantly developing/honing/establishing one's technique. Indeed, this post is the first one where I have expressed some of the reasons that I have chosen four-positions over eight or nine of them.

Perhaps someone will answer this post with a passionate rebuttal that promotes a technique with more than four positions. And that is great. The main point is that one must consider the capabilities and limitations of the various techniques and then make a conscious choice. Once the choice is made, then one can pursue it with vigor.

Happy theremin playing to one and all!

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 9/27/2007 12:01:15 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

I use a mix of the 4 position, and 9 position method. But, I seem to only go into 9 position mode when I'm getting close to the rod. I don't have to reach as far with my whole arm. Sometimes, I just use an alrternating walking finger technique with arm motion when going through multioctave scales. I've become consistant with this method.

As for Flight Of The Bumble Bee, that's easy. Just use a constant, rapid, heavy vibrato throughout the entire piece. You'll hit every note. Just won't sound quite as pretty as on a violin. ;)
Posted: 9/27/2007 12:17:30 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thomas, I'll leave a theremin performance of "Flight of the Bumblebee" to you, then!

I think I'll pass on trying that one. :)
Posted: 9/27/2007 1:38:21 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Thomas, thanks for the note, though I'm still not clear on this. I would like to blame my slow-wittedness on a developing cold. Yeah, that's the ticket...

(Or maybe I missed a previous discussion in another thread?)

Benjamin, are you talking about going through a two-octave chromatic scale (if the first note is "1," then the top note would be "25")? Or are you talking about going through a nearly four-octave diatonic scale (where going from "14" closed to "25" open takes you up a "perfect twelfth," a.k.a. an octave + a perfect fifth)?

Posted: 9/27/2007 1:47:58 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Kevin, thanks for the detailed breakdown of four-position vs. nine-position aerial fingering. I'm partial to the Kavina-Eyck technique, but don't worry: I'm not searching my closets for heavy rope (nor searching the web for knot-tying tutorials).

Yes, it does somewhat invert the challenges: i.e., with four-position, the small intervals are easier to play accurately than the larger ones, and with nine-position, vice versa. And I think you're right about the reasons for this.

On the other hand, I've found that, since I started Kavina/Eyck, I can play much more accurately overall... and looking to the future, the technique suits my harmonic language (e.g., being able to arpeggiate chords like F#-A-D-F, or C#-E-B-D, with comparative ease).

And no, I don't expect ever to reach keyboardish speeds of execution... but I would hope someday to be able to play with the same flexibility and accuracy that I can sing, and that seems like a reasonable goal. And again, I've already gotten closer to it by using the nine-position.

Of course, YMMV, and shockin' awesome goo, and different strokes, etc.
Posted: 9/27/2007 9:18:08 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I know we tend to go on about this technique and how we play poop, but I'm always delighted by the depth and variation we find in using such an extremely simple user interface like the Theremin's.
And it's fantastic that you guys can keep discussing it and sharing new findings and discoveries without just repeating the same discussions many of us have had here over the past two years since the institution of user profile based forums at TW.

Currently there seems to be four or five big "parent styles" in precision playing which I tend to think of in terms of the players who established them:
Hoffman, aka sock puppet technique;
Rockmore, aka four position, knuckles front technique and foundation for those that followed;
Kavina, aka 8-9 position finger tips front technique evloved from Rockmore;
Saxton, aka Lateral or Wing technique
(it may include fingering but has a primarily side ways motion either abducting or adducting the arm);
and Rosser, who's developed a unique technique indipendent of the others.

I have followed the Rockmore path and it's served me very well.
The choice of the path I've taken technically was based on some basic requirements:
ergonomic health.

Like most of us, I started learning from the Rockmore/Kavina double header DVD from Moog.
I worked at the Kavina method, and gained a lot from it, but quickly found it extremely painful and bad for the health of the wrist (an issue I had to address in my former music career and am very aware of).

The music the two them produced with their techniques was equally fine but Rockmore's spoke to me more deeply and Kavina's seemed more dry in comparison.
I found my stamina and the reliability was better as well.
Though I've never used the Saxton variations, I've seen several players who do to great effect, but also see half of them nursing serious wrist pain after a performance.

I studied the Rockmore tape in slow motion and return to it often, starting out pantomiming along in front of the television, then immediately going to the theremin and applying what I saw to the exercises I found in her booklet, Takeuchi's book and some of Saxton's method, and double checking myself in a mirror.

It's now pretty well ingrained in me so I don't think in terms of positions except in the initial learning phase, but rather notes and intrevals, and though I'll go through periodic adjustments and refinements, I have yet to hit any reason to abandon it. Of course I still experiment and there are a couple of my non-melodic pieces where I use a very different gestural technique devised for the specific musical effect, and lots of other crazy things have happened when I'm jamming, but for any precision playing I always come back to the Rockmore base.

Thanks again gang, we've been yacking about this for a long time and it's great to get new impressions here.
Posted: 9/27/2007 9:28:09 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Kevin, in response to your comment about taking lessons from someone with less than a few years of experience on the theremin, I'm inclined to agree with you, but, I put in 8 to 12 hours every day on the theremin. Sinse I started, I now have over 4500 hours total time on instrument, with 30 years of total musical experience. I think I'm qualified to instruct basic entry level technique at this point, thank you.
Posted: 9/27/2007 9:49:01 AM

From: Santa Rosa, California USA

Joined: 7/25/2005


(1) OK, this is a very imperfect analogy, but I hope you catch my drift . . . Vatsyayana, in the Kama Sutra, after detailing a number of techniques for endearing oneself to the beloved, and for beginning lovemaking, warns: when the natural drives take over, forget these rules and follow them.

(2) I have no calibrations on my voice box for reaching notes, but I can navigate any melody pretty well the first time hearing it.

(3)You can get a piece of fruit down off a tree in any number of ways: climbing and picking, chopping down the tree, using a stick, using a ladder, etc. The human brain and nervous system are not so limited and mechanical, I believe, as some of us are making out.

(3) I've been working an hour or two daily on theremin for about three years now, and I notice that the connection between my intention and my hand is getting more and more like the connection between my intention and my voice box. My take on it is that the fingerings are a great learning tool, but that they can be jettisoned like Vatsyayana's rules for romance--or rolled up like a rope ladder once you're up in the top bunk--as you learn to reach the pitches naturally. And then, as with the fruit in the tree, you can hit a note in innumerable ways. (Think of Ms. Rockmore's comments on the joys of the terpistone--that she could strike an interval with a movement of the head or shoulder or . . . ).

(4) I certainly use "aerial fingering" in the sense that I flex my hand as much as possible before moving my elbow--I can get about an octave that way. It just makes ergonomic sense.

(6) Consider the process of (quietly) hunting for pitches (something EVERYBODY does). You don't really have to locate the exact pitch: you just find something close--and then your fingers "know" just what to do in order to trim to the exact note. This "knowing" is the whole point, and this "knowing" is what needs to be cultivated. What's required is constant careful attention to the sensations in the arm and fingers, so that the mind can form the proper associations.

(7) Deaf people have a hard time learning to speak "properly." The better you hear, the better you can learn to speak. Same with sensation and movement: the more precisely you feel, the more precisely you can move. One needs, first and foremost, to make oneself very aware of the subtleties of nervous and muscular activities in the trains of muscles along the arm and hand and fingers (and the whole body, really . . . )and then, with the desire to learn how to hit pitches precisely, learning naturally takes place. By making lots of mistakes and by being thrown into lots of different situations, you learn how to get from here to there--not with a car or a bus or by walking or by running, but JUST HOW TO DO IT, IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. That's what our brain is good at!

(8)I think that all the metric 4- or 5- or whatever number- position systems, if they are not pedagogical devices or psychological props, are the result of a wrong idea of how our mind and body actually work. We're really much more organically, dynamically intelligent than that.

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