Scales Patterns Exercises

Posted: 9/4/2008 9:20:56 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Hey theremin friends,
Some changes in how I was working on a few nagging notes really helped me.

Scales with another Instrument...
Something I've been doing lately to shake-up and wake-up the 'exercise' part of my daily practice, is to review basic scales and patterns (like arpeggios) on another instrument and alternate with the theremin. When things just felt fuzzy on the theremin I went to the harmonium and ran through the basic Amj scale exercises; each hand alone, then together, then in opposite directions, then together separated by a third. This really woke up my fingers, and got the key and progressions in my head and ear, though the fingering's totally different it helped sharpened the aerial intonation and proved a good reference point.

I also did the theremin scale with at least two different fingering patterns up and down. On both instruments never going faster than I can play it accurately. It was fun to try on the trombone too, which has similar arm motion to the theremin,
but I'm not as strong on it anymore so it was more fun than profitable.

Making it into an Exercise...
After hitting a short passage that was giving me trouble, I returned to something my teacher would often do, to take the short pattern and make exercises out of it (also some basic improvisation benefit here too). First I did what you'd do at the keyboard and worked each hand alone: just the notes without rhythm, then with; just the volume hand not worrying about the pitches; never going faster than I can play it accurately. (This is an approach Kip Rosser uses extensively in his teaching technique).

Then forming an exercise out of the pattern: reversing direction, changing the order of the notes and returning to the original, changing the rhythm. Once that much was feeling solid add just the one or two notes that precede the pattern. When that's settled in add a note or two after. And finally work through the full measures before and after several times.

This really helped a lot in a short amount time.

Slow it Down...
When working with a recorded accompaniment, if there's no way to slow it down and keep the original pitch, playing it a cappella and slower then working up to tempo is a big help too. But most of all a few intense minutes at full concentration followed by a break seems to work way much better for me than banging my head against it for half an hour.

It probably sounds strange, but I have to say, sometimes it's just very relaxing to play in slow motion or just do scales and exercises.

So, y'all...?
What sort things do you use to tackle sections that aren't coming out right?
Posted: 9/4/2008 7:09:35 PM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

Thanks for this - this kind of input is exactly what I need right now. I've been trying to learn the theremin for just six months, and, lately, I feel like I've reached a plateau of mediocrity. Early on, it was possible to see a small advancement from one week to the next, but now I feel like I've levelled out, even though I'm painfully aware that I still have a huge amount of work to do before I can (if ever) call myself a thereminist.

Your ideas here for general practice are all really excellent. I especially like the idea of returning to other instruments to "support" the theremin practice. For the last 6 months I haven't touched the piano at all, (and, unlike the theremin, that isn't a good thing!!) I can see how running over scales and arpeggios on the piano will give my fingers and brain a good workout, and allow me to return to the theremin refreshed.

I think a large part of the problem with learning the theremin is that, for myself and possibly many others, one-to-one tuition isn't readily available. I think I've studied everything I ought to have studied, and have practiced daily ... but having someone who can guide you and, more importantly, correct bad technique before it gets ingrained would make things much easier!
Posted: 9/6/2008 8:53:55 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

One of the major problems with theremin playing in general is that because most thereminists are teaching themselves, they are also assessing their own progress.

An aspiring thereminist I know recently went through his warm-up routine for me. It consisted of a series of simple scales and arpeggios which he played with confidence and gusto. When he finished, he explained that the exercises I had just heard were part of his daily practice and he felt sure that he was really getting somewhere.

I asked him if he was aware that the “doh” he started his routine on was approximately one whole tone higher than the “doh” on which he had ended.

He was mortified!

Last week, a nearby town had a festival of Gregorian Chant. There was a concert with a number of different Gregorian choirs at the local church and needless to say, I went. The whole event was in honor of the 100th anniversary of the publication of the GRADUALE ROMANUM (the Roman Catholic Gregorian hymn book). I had a good seat right up front and I enjoyed myself immensely.

The real stars of the evening were the singers in a Montreal-based choir called the SCHOLA SAINT GREGOIRE. These guys were wonderful! The blend of voices was superb and the precision of the intonation was impeccable. ***I noticed that every single one of the singers had a tuning fork in his right pocket to which he would make constant reference. ***

I kept thinking to myself what a great thing it would be if thereminists kept a pitch pipe or tuning fork handy while practicing (or better still, scales with another instrument, as “omhoge” suggested).

The guys in the SCHOLA SAINT GREGOIRE turned out to be hard-drivin’, smokin’, drinkin’, fighters! Not at all the Gregorian goodie-goodies I had feared they might be when I heard them sing. We partied afterwards and lemme tellya, it was quite an evening.

When you play your theremin scales and arpeggios, don’t play them as if they were just notes. Play them expressively. Play them as if they were great music. We are told that the celebrated German composer and pianist, Robert Schumann, could play a minor scale and make listeners weep.

No, it is not possible to move all the people all of the time, but you can move some of them some of the time.

If you're not sure what it is about theremin playing that has the potential to move people, LISTEN TO CLARA ROCKMORE.

Posted: 9/7/2008 12:42:54 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

[i]It probably sounds strange, but I have to say, sometimes it's just very relaxing to play in slow motion or just do scales and exercises.[/i]

I agree wholeheartedly. When my schedule becomes hectic, it's hard to feel I can carve out time to do the most basic scales and whatnot ("I just don't have time for that simple stuff!")... but that practice can be gratifying in itself, in the moment... and putting the time into those exercises pays off tremendously in real repertoire.

(Which, as with any instrument, is why we practice scales and arpeggios: not because they're somehow desirable in the abstract, but because they recur time and time again in real repertoire. Same goes for "making a pattern" of any troublesome passage: real repertoire is rife with melodic sequences.]

For slow pieces, Music Minus One (or Wagner-without-words*) recordings work well. For faster ones, there's that problem of slowing them down. For several items, I work with accompaniments I've created in Sibelius notation software, but it's enough of a chore to record the output that I seldom make truly enough versions (e.g., for an item I'd like to perform at MM=160, I need at least five versions: at 80, 96, 120, 144, and 160).

For practice purposes, you can import an audio track into the freeware Audacity audio editing program, and alter its tempo without changing its pitch. Of course, the more extreme the tempo change, the more weird artifacts you'll get... but if you can stand them, the slower practice will pay off geometrically.

* OK, so I've been working on "Isolde's Transfiguration"... but now that you mention it... wouldn't the Ride of the Valkyries be fun with theremin? At the very least, an excellent mid-tempo arpeggio etude.

Posted: 9/7/2008 11:02:31 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

John, Is that harmonium a Story & Clark"? My folks have one.

One of the fun ways I do warm ups is to take a passage, or a measure from a favorite tune I know well, and then keep transposing it up the scale each time I repeat it. It makes doing scales a lot less boring. ;)
Posted: 9/7/2008 7:50:05 PM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

Coalport: "I kept thinking to myself what a great thing it would be if thereminists kept a pitch pipe or tuning fork handy while practicing."

I got a pitch-pipe a couple of months ago, and use it during practice of scales/arpeggios to check I haven't drifted offkey.

I also agree with the comment that it's "very relaxing to play in slow motion or just do scales and exercises." I find a half-hour of scales very de-stressing and thereputic!
Posted: 9/7/2008 9:37:23 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]"When you play your theremin scales and arpeggios, don’t play them as if they were just notes. Play them expressively. Play them as if they were great music."[/i]

This comment is a real gem. Much appreciated.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 2/2/2009 6:47:06 PM

From: Chillicothe, Ohio USA

Joined: 1/29/2009

I know this is an old thread, but maybe new members (like myself) will read it still. I always wear a tuning fork around my neck at gigs (it hangs on a necklace a Korean friend from music school wove for me), and I refer to it as frequently as possible, but when you are in the midst of playing during a gig and do not have the opportunity to stop at random, I find a stomp box tuner works really well (see my gear list). Only trouble is staying as static as possible while stomping on the damn thing!
Posted: 2/2/2009 6:50:16 PM

From: Chillicothe, Ohio USA

Joined: 1/29/2009

Okay, no signature--I'm thinking of my Harmony Central profile. Anyway, I use a Fender PT-100. The stand-by mode is great cuz I like to dance around when I'm not playing!
Posted: 2/3/2009 5:21:23 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Of all the theremin method books I've collected, the fact that the Takeuchi one comes with a practice CD for intervals and scales puts it above the rest for me.

Maybe it's been the bleak midwinter, but I've been finding myself exploring the first five notes of the major and minor scales a lot. Every once in a while I hit that sense that I'm watching and listening from outside my body and can catch the tiny, momentary movements of the body that throw one note or another a hair off.
It's paying off in all sorts of pieces.

Can't forget the tunning too, that sets the size of your intervals and if I shift my weight even a little, the note spacing will change a bit.
Of course we spend hours doing all of this so we don't have to think about it at all when playing.

I use a visual tuner when in doubt, it's easier and faster than the tuning fork.

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