honest question. pleased no biased answers

Posted: 1/22/2006 8:18:12 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Sidecars, I disagree. I believe that those stereotypes do not exist.

Peter Pringle plays *at least* twenty different instruments, and plays the majority of them at concert standard (including the theremin, sitar, surbahar and voice). The best thereminists, and in my experience those who take to the instrument most quickly, are not 'dabblers' who take up a different instrument every week and get bored in a few months. They are people who are true musicians - usually skilled at another instrument (although those who play theremin alone would probably have no problem taking to other instruments), and always dedicated to their cause.

'Dabblers' may well become fairly proficient at their instruments, but are unlikely to redeem themselves on any of them. You don't go and hear a one-man band for good music. You go because it's a novelty and pretty good fun.

There is a boy at my school who is two years younger than me, and a masterclass pianist. He also plays violin at masterclass standard, and is soon to take up the Organ. He is naturally gifted, and can master things incredibly quickly. Irrelevant of how hard I practise, I will never be able to surpass him.

I think naive to believe that people who do not take to an instrument instantly will ever be able to surpass those who do. Sure - they can get good. But it is the whiz kids, the virtuosos and the wunderkinder that will get the upper hand 99.99% of the time. I know it's unfortunate, and it's very annoying to see someone (after a few years of practise)suddenly surpass you and become oh-so-much-better at whatever it is you do. The fact is that it happens, and there is something inate that causes it - something that cannot be learnt through hours of practice.

Only one historical figure who truly breaks this rule jumps to mind, and that is Anton Bruckner. But even he was a fantastic organist and musician from a young age.

I dunno. I'd be interested to hear your response.
Posted: 1/22/2006 12:43:51 PM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for the note.

All I am saying is, in my opinion, there are two kinds of people: Those that get a thrill at working hard to be really good, and those who enjoy the thrill of a new challenge. And I think the theremin is going to be a huge challenge for those who enjoy that initial rush of challenge and accomplishment. VERY possible, but I am just warning that kind of person, as a fellow adrenaline rusher, this is a hard one!

There are some remarkable people like Peter who can become very accomplished on MANY instruments but he clearly belongs to the MASTERY group, those who enjoy the challenge of excellence more than exposure.

Just a side thought. You mention something to the effect of how few of the dabblers will redeem themselves. Actually, that is a mindset I struggled with for quite a few years as a dabbler/experimenter. Excellence is not the standard I am forging toward. I was, at times, embarassed that is was not. But now I feel I don't have to prove that to anyone including myself, as there is no lack of virtue in not striving for excellence.

I had a best friend that I often compared myself to in my youth, at times not very favorably. We were opposites in one important way that relates to this thought: He valued excellence, I valued exposure. We have, though the years, each been able to find the value of our respective approaches. Since I don't have the burden/goal of excellence I have done far more different things than he has. I built several boats, but they weren't all straight or beautiful. http://classics.nu/boat
Like Peter I learned Surbahar but after a year and a half of study really only learned one tune.
My friend, on the other hand, has spent all his time on one project, a race car. Now, if he had time it could have been five things, but he and I both have kids and full time jobs. His car is amazing in level of craftsmanship.

So, has he redeemed himself? Have I?

All I know is he has a beautiful car and has enjoyed countless hours making it as close to perfect as possible.
For my part I have been exposed to so much that I have learned to love. Nobody will turn to me to build them a boat, but I have so many wonderful hours with my son on "our" river. I have learned about the wonderful classical music of Northern India and spent countless hours playing, listening, and enjoying. I have done far MORE things but not as well. We each chose our own path.

Bringing this all back to the initial question:

This instrument IS harder in my opinion.It is also pretty fun! Just be aware of the kind of person you are and match it to your goals.
Posted: 2/11/2006 10:38:15 AM

From: washingtondc metro area

Joined: 2/8/2006

the theremin is the most difficult and the easiest instrument to play. the trick is to either stand perfectly still so that body motion (and breathing) doesn't interfere with staying on the note, or constantly correcting for pitch variations. i prefer the latter. caffiene helps speed up the feedback response process and unless you can make sure that the area around your playing is free from other persons intereference you will be better off being able to accomadate the umexpected.

if you have an etherwave or a similar designed instrument, i would suggest that for immediated gratification that you place your pitch hand ON THE INSTRUMENT, thumb side up. slide your hand to a position where you can be satified with the beginning note with you hand perpendicular to the horizontal plane. then to play a sequnce of notes, all you have to do is lean your hand one way or the other until you find the note. it is easier for you to remember the angle of your hand rather than a distance from the antenna. this method allows for pitch accuracy and satifaction for beginners. when you need to go father away from the starting pitch, you have to slide your hand.

after you get the hang of that, try the hand off of the instrument techniques.

concerning those techniques, it isn't the technique, it is simply the amount of mass that you present to the antenna and the distance of said mass is from the antenna that plays the instrument. whatever works for you is fine. i would suggest trying a wide variety rather than sticking with just one.

rather than moving your hand, try making adjustments with finger motion. again, remembering the angles is easier than remembering distances. if you can stand like a statue, then you are well suited to remember the distances to achieve the pitch.

keep in mind that most performers still just wave their hands around like they just don't care so any melodic playing that you manage should make you proud.

finally, sometimes a sow's ear cannot be made into a silk purse. the theremin is not a violin and is not a human voice. the very "offness" of the pitch on the theremin is part of its inherent characteristic and charm. besides, hitting a note accurately and staying on pitch perfectly is kinda boring, unless you really like midi playback files that you here on the web. strings, woodwinds and brass, also have pitch variation upon the playing of a note and that is part of the art and charm of the instrument and the performance. bending notes is cool. with a theremin and the right attitude, you can't help but achieve that.

why settle for a western tempered scale (an imperfect kludge to satify keyboard design) when you can have all of the frequencies?
Posted: 2/11/2006 4:22:52 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

rupert wrote: "[i]why settle for a western tempered scale (an imperfect kludge to satify keyboard design) when you can have all of the frequencies?[/i]

Welcome to Theremin world Rupert.

Why a scale? Because folk like frequencies that are in simple ratio to one another; and the rule of thumb is that the more complicated the ratio, the odder the relationship sounds. This leads to keys where each element is in some simple ratio to each other element.

Why western? Because the preference for one absolute frequency over another is culturally based. Folk in western culture grow up with western music. If you're making music to appeal to western ears, give them western sounds.

Why tempered? Unfortunately the rational arithmetic underlying untempered music means that to change from one key to another would require retuning the instruments. Tempering is far from a kludge - the maths underlying it is rock solid, and 12th roots of 2 do yield acceptable approximations to simple ratios.

All put together this yields a very rational (pun intended) musical form that has a lot of scope for exploration and is more likely to be appreciated by the great unwashed.

But, as you point out - it divides the continuum into a few evenly spaced points. One might well call atonal music "real music" because it uses the whole continuum, in contrast to rational music.

I am interested in real music, and want to end on a question - but here is a thought first, as the number [i]e[/i] is the hardest of all the irrationals to approximate as a rational number then I suspect notes in that ratio would be the least harmonious to our ears. (If maths-programming is your thing, rational numbers are a vastly underrated tool, but you need approximation, it's in Knuth and the maths and the resultant code are just beautiful.)

So here's the question - the mathematics and psychology of rational music have been extensively studied (wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics_of_musical_scales)) - have any similar studies been made of real music?

Posted: 2/11/2006 4:52:12 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I think Rupert makes an excellent point. That the thereminist needn't use the Western Equal temperament scale - in comparison with the tunings used by Bach (and the different tunings used by Mozart and Haydn). The Even temperament scale is considered by many musical purists to sound characterless and dull in comparison with some of the other now less orthodox scales, in which the different notes are not all evenly spaced.

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