Roll Call! - 2010!

Posted: 9/23/2010 10:34:33 PM

From: Portsmouth, OH

Joined: 9/23/2010

Hi, I'm Keith Miller, and I live in Portsmouth, Ohio, USA. I'm a master's student in mental health counseling with a musical background in guitar.

Theremin has long been my favorite instrument, ever since I was introduced to them a few years back. Until Saturday, I had never seen one in person. I just moved to Portsmouth last week, so Saturday I was checking out the music scene. I cruised up to a small music store about an hour north, in Chillicothe OH. There I was playing the limited selection of guitars, when a child with his father was getting a tour of the place. They went upstairs to where the practice rooms are, and I followed, hoping to find more guitars. Then I overheard them: "this is ___________ and she teaches vocals, piano, and theremin." Turns out the also sell them.

So now I have this theremin and I am learning to play it. It has made me very happy. However, I find the conventional aerial fingerings used by Rockmore and Eyck to be somewhat uncomfortable for me. I have found ways to adapt though, so ever onward, and I don't expect it to happen in a day. =]
Posted: 9/24/2010 1:29:38 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008



You realize that the theremin techniques of Clara Rockmore and Carolina Eyck are very different from one another.

One of the challenges for serious precision theremin beginners who choose not to follow a traditional approach to fingering, and who prefer to devise their own method tailored to their own needs, is to come up with a technique that will not eventually limit their progress.

Unfortunately, only someone who has "been there & done that" is in a position to know what will work in the long term and what will not. The beginner, by definition, is ignorant of what lies ahead and can waste months of effort on dead ends.

I know, I did it.

People just starting out on the violin, or the flute, or the French horn, do not decide to improvise or adapt their own techniques, because they recognize that there are reasons why the traditional methods that exist have evolved as they have over many generations of working musicians. With the theremin, most people are the student, the teacher and the final judge of their own level of achievement.

If someone had come to me and offered the above observations when I was just starting out with the theremin, I would have thanked them and told them politely to piss off.

We all need to make our OWN mistakes.

Someone just posted the following video to YouTube of his 4th day with his new theremin. He too is devising his own way of playing, and is evidently unaware of why this approach (what we call the "finger wiggle") won't work in the long run.

The Swan (

I shall now piss off.

Posted: 9/24/2010 2:44:37 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008


"If you have music in your soul, you will find a way to do it!"

Clara Rockmore
Posted: 9/24/2010 6:42:39 PM

From: Portsmouth, OH

Joined: 9/23/2010

Thanks for that. I am aware the techniques are different, what is difficult for me is that I have a hard time closing my palm that way due to the size of my hand. I _can_ play in Eyck's style, but it's less intuitive to me and feels strange. That said, so does every single guitar chord feel strange and yet you can't go improvising those either. So I understand the importance of method. I do have a teacher in the area who I am meeting with tomorrow to discuss this very issue and see if what I'm doing will work.

That finger wiggle just hurt my brain. I at least try to follow the same general technique as other thereminists. I've seen you tell people before to find the thereminist whose music one most appreciates and then follow their method, so I may be looking into Randy George's technique. For now I think I will make a point to adapt to a method until I've confirmed that what comes naturally to me is viable. Thanks for your input. =]
Posted: 9/25/2010 11:24:27 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Randy George plays with a modified Clara Rockmore style of aerial fingering. He has fairly fine hands with what appear to be long fingers, and he uses knuckle extensions. These are hard for people who have heavier hands with cocktail sausage fingers. Unlike Clara, he does not always grip his thumb to his index finger and he sometimes plays with an open hand.

From what I have seen, like Clara, he never straightens his fingers and he never points them directly toward the pitch antenna (something both Lydia Kavina and Carolina Eyck do frequently).

Try Randy's technique. If it works, USE IT.

The real challenge with precision theremin playing is not so much finding a comfortable position in which to play the notes accurately and consistently, but finding a way to play them with passion and flare.
Posted: 9/25/2010 4:01:35 PM

From: Portsmouth, OH

Joined: 9/23/2010

As it turns out, when I showed my teacher the technique that came naturally and instinctively to me (palm towards the pitch antenna with fingers curled back for the root, and then extend the fingers out), she said "you should probably study Dorit Chrysler's technique." Indeed, it's very similar. I will probably be using this technique, since it is apparently viable, though I plan to experiment with them to see which one fits best and which one I can use to the greatest effect.

Thanks again for your input coalport, I really appreciate your support as I embark with this instrument.

Edit: Though I'm not nearly as animated as she is and play much more traditional music. And I tend to extend my fingers forward unless I'm doing an octave jump rather than moving my whole palm forward.
Posted: 9/26/2010 5:02:48 AM

From: A Coruña, Spain

Joined: 9/26/2010

Hi everyone!

I'm the author of the "Swan" video above. This is a funny coincidence, because my plan this morning was to register here to make a question along the lines of "should I stick to what I'm doing at the moment and learn fingering later when I get a better hang of the instrument, or should I try to learn fingering techniques from right now so as not to get bad habits?". And then I went to the newbie introduction forum and I saw the link to my video. So I guess coalport's answer would have been to do the latter, then.

Could you please explain me why my approach can't work in the long run? Not that I distrust you, it's just that I want to understand the reasons, I think the best way to learn is understanding what one is doing wrong and why one's doing it wrong.

Also, are there any good resources for learning fingering techniques apart from the instructional DVD's by Peter Pringle and Thomas Grillo? (I'm planning to buy these, but first I have to save the money for DVD's + possible crazy Spanish customs charges).

And now, let me introduce myself (sorry for doing this in the wrong order, but it made sense since you were talking about the video).

My name is Carlos and I live in Spain. Unfortunately, I have never studied the theory of music. My only musical background comes from tinkering with computer programs to make electronic music when I was 15 or so. This means that I only know the very basics and I'm not able to read sheet music in real time, for example. But I think I have a decent feel for the notes even if I don't know their names.

I have always wanted to play the theremin and now I have bought a Burns B3, which as you can see in that video is working fine except for my own lack of skill :)
Posted: 10/4/2010 9:20:45 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

The problem with the "finger wiggle" vibrato technique is CONTROL.

It is very easy for newcomers to an instrument, if they do not have a competent teacher, to start doing things that will get immediate and gratifying results in the short run but, in the long run, after the student has advanced to a higher level, will seriously hamper progress. The "finger wiggle" and "wrist wiggle" vibrato techniques don't work very well for two reasons. First of all, precise control of the rate and depth of your vibrato (necessary for expression) is impossible. The "fluttering" and "flicking" movements used in the wiggling action have a mind of their own and SOMETIMES they will work very nicely. Sometimes they won't.

You will notice that Clara Rockmore plays vibrato with a motion of her entire forearm. There is no independent movement of either the fingers or the hand that is involved with vibrato. They move as a single unit, riding the gentle rocking motion of the arm. This brings me to the second reason why the wiggles don't work very well. Clara uses "aerial fingering" for articulation. This involves extensions of the knuckles of her pitch hand, so her fingers are already engaged in the task of playing the notes. It would be inefficient, if not impossible, to have the fingers simultaneously execute a vibrato motion (which is an entirely separate task) when they are already involved in the job of articulation.

One of the secrets of Clara's unequalled theremin control is the DISTRIBUTION OF TASKS. She does not require any part of her arm or hand to perform any more than one single job. This gives her both CONTROL and STAMINA. If you are using your fingers and/or knuckles for articulation, you can't expect them to play vibrato at the same time. It is the distribution of tasks that permits maximum relaxation while playing. If a single muscle group is expected to do two things at once, there is bound to be tension and both tasks will suffer. The theremin is transparent and the tension will show immediately in your music.

Violinists do not play vibrato with their fingers. The fingers rock naturally as an extension of the hand and forearm, as they independently go about their job of finding the notes on the fingerboard. As with the theremin, vibrato is an alternating flexing/relaxing of the biceps and triceps. These are powerful muscles and we have a good deal of control over them. There is no fluttering, flicking or wiggling of either the wrist or fingers.

There is no RIGHT WAY or WRONG WAY here. There are, however, more and less efficient techniques and methods to get you what you want. I have had many people ask me for advice on theremin technique over the years and then, when it is offered, tell me very politely they are quite happy with the way they are already doing things. So why did they bother to ask for advice in the first place? The fact is, they didn't really want advice. They were fishing for compliments. They wanted me to tell them that what they were doing was brilliant. I am flattered that they thought enough of a compliment from me to go fishing for one!

We all love praise, regardless of whether or not it is at the expense of the truth!
Posted: 10/4/2010 12:41:38 PM

From: A Coruña, Spain

Joined: 9/26/2010

Thanks a lot for the detailed answer, now I understand some things that shouldn't be done and why.

During the last days I have started trying aerial fingering (using my own interpretation of the written descriptions of the four positions by Clara Rockmore, but I will soon order a couple of instructional DVD's to learn more about this). About vibrato, I think I have been using mostly wrist muscles rather than arm muscles. I will now try to use the arm instead, in fact my wrists were getting a bit tired when I played with vibrato so I hope to get more stamina by changing this.

I know what you mean when you mention people asking for advice but not really wanting it, because I have seen it several times... I work with computers and sometimes people ask me about which computer to buy. They have already decided which one they want to buy (although they won't admit it), and if I recommend a different one, they say "but don't you think this one is great?". If I explain why I think it is not so great, they keep insisting until one of us gets tired. They aren't really looking for advice but for confirmation of their decision.

I personally prefer truthful advice to praise, praise doesn't teach anything and truthful advice (by people who know what they're talking about) does.
Posted: 10/4/2010 1:36:00 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]"I personally prefer truthful advice to praise, praise doesn't teach anything and truthful advice (by people who know what they're talking about) does."[/i]

Be careful what you ask for. :)

The first thing you should do, if to play "The Swan" is your goal, is to get a better theremin -- one at least as good as an Etherwave Standard.

Of the thereminists mentioned on this thread... consider:

Peter Pringle plays an Ethervox most of the time, Dorit Chrysler plays an Epro, Randy George plays an Epro, Carolina Eyck plays an Epro, Clara Rockmore played a custom theremin built to her specs by Leon Theremin, and Thomas Grillo -- when he plays "The Swan" -- plays an Epro.

In other words, you are attempting to perform a difficult piece that others perform on high-end theremins on a theremin that is not particularly playable.

There are relatively few theremin builders and inexpensive models, while ok for messing around and sound effects, do not have a wide linear range or subtle volume response to support classical music. The Moog Etherwave Standard (for example) is predictable and allows precision playing through a range that is adequate for much classical music (including "The Swan").

The techniques that you have examined: Carolina's, Peter's, etc... will make more sense on a theremin that can be set to predictable intervals.

Don't mean to sound like an "instrument snob" here... however to tackle difficult music one needs to utilize an instrument that meets minimal standards of performance.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]

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