Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 10/8/2005 9:41:13 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hi! I am new to the Theremin and I have been reading all that I can about technique in an attempt to avoid bad habits.

Clara Rockmore's descibes 1st position as fingers against the thumb and 2nd thru 4th positions as fingers outstretched towards the antenna.

However, on the DVD that comes with the Etherwave pro, Pamelia Kurstin appears to be stretching her fingers sideways towards the antenna. Difficult to move to and from the antenna with one's elbow against one's body without a left/right motion of the arm. I wish they would have made some camera shots from overhead to see exact arm motions.

I ordered Peter Pringle's CD last week and should recieve it any time -- am hoping that his CD will be enlighenning.

In her walking bass technique, Pamelia seems to hold her pitch hand up a bit moving her arm in an arc motion along with the aerial fingering. I fear the camera angle could be misleading.

Has anyone taken lessons from Pamelia or others? Would anyone here be able to recommend teachers. My thought has been to hold off on lessons/master classes until I have learned some repertoire.

To summarize my questions:

Does one move their arm forward and backwards from the antenna or keep the elbow at ones side and move from left to right?

Would anyone be able to recommend a Theremin teacher?

Posted: 10/8/2005 10:08:31 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

This is a great topic. I'm going to predict this will be one of the busiest threads on our forums over time :)

Clara, Lydia, and Pamelia have very different playing styles. You've seen Clara's aerial fingering, which some believe is as much related to the palsy in her hand & simple showmanship as an actual playing "technique".

Pamelia told us at EtherMusic 2005 that her arm is competely relaxed as she plays. I've tried that technique, and so far it just doesn't work for me. I "grew up" playing using Lydia's technique, which involves a bit more muscle tension.

You don't want to use too much tension, or your arm will tire quickly as you play.

Lydia places her elbow at the right side of her stomach and moves her hand between her body and the pitch antenna. I'll have to watch the 'Pro video again to see Pamelia's style, but I didn't recall that from EtherMusic 2005. In general terms, the "rudder" style of playing, popularized by the Sexton book "Method for the theremin", has been widely dismissed as not allowing enough fine control.

You should definitely think about going to EtherMusic 2006 if you want professional advice on playing. You'll be able to take lessons from Lydia or Pamelia (or both), and possibly from other theremin masters.
Posted: 10/8/2005 10:41:40 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thank you for the reply.

Seems that the camera angle doesn't really show what's going on in the EPro DVD.

Would like to get some tutoring/lessons prior to EtherMusic 2006 that since it not until next summer. I am planning to attend.

Hope many will contribute to this thread. Later...
Posted: 10/8/2005 10:59:55 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I'm not trying to be smart, but one does what works best for THEM.

Peter Pringle more closely follows Clara Rockmore's example of using knuckle extentions. He comes at it a little more back-handed than the others. Pamelia is a little more inbetween as she spreads her fingers apart more and a little more side-handed. While Lydia and her disciples use full finger extentions in more of a vertical, side-handed karate chop. These are just my observations. Personally, I tend to use a style like Peter or Pamelia as I haven't been able to decide which one I prefer. As Peter always says, it's probably best to emulate the style of the person who's playing you prefer.

It's best to keep your elbow at your side and relaxed as much as possible, but you will always have to reach a bit for really big jumps. Peter moves his body back and forth from the pitch antenna to accomplish this, whereas Pamelia, who stands closer to the volume antenna, tends to play in a somewhat limited range so doesn't seem to move much, although I'm sure she can. I don't recall exactly, but I think Lydia extends her arm a little more than the others along with the finger extentions.

My vote is to avoid playing by moving your pitch arm "left to right". I did this in the beginning as well, but I don't think you have as much control as you do going to and fro. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Jason gives some good advice. Theremin instructors are few and far between. I can't recall of any in the Kansas City area, or Ohio for that matter.

JASON!!! So, are you giving us the inside scoop to be the first to announce that Lydia and Pamelia will be attending Ether Music 2006??? I've said it would be tough to top 2005, but that would be a great start!
Posted: 10/9/2005 12:43:41 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Jason and Jeff,

Thank you very much for the info.

I am kind of relieved that the left/right movement is considered unstable. Happens that I have found forward/back motion much easier to control.

Since I am new to all of this I have listened to the Spellbound broadcast and am learning the different styles and performers. I do wish to play melodies in a beautiful fashion -- not that I eschew special effects -- just that, for me, to develop a melodic style of playing will open some doors artistically.

Posted: 10/9/2005 4:21:27 AM

From: Liverpool, United Kingdom

Joined: 7/20/2005

I received Peter Pringles dvd yesterday and its great.Invaluable. Your in for a real treat, I have no technique though, so Im going to watch it through a few times then try out some stuff. Honest to God that fella cant half play !!! Tips galore.
Posted: 10/9/2005 6:22:59 AM

From: Madrid, Spain

Joined: 2/19/2005

As we use to say in Spain, "Cada maestrillo tiene su librillo", and that means in a funny way that "every little master has his/her own little handbook".

I don't think that there is a specifical technique which is the best one. It depends on the performer body, the model of theremin used, and which instruments you used to play prior to the theremin, which means, if you were violinist you will probably approach a body &arm position completely different than a bass-guitar player (like I am).

I started playing one year ago an enkelaar. So, that time, I only watched little videos and photos from the internet in my beginning. 2 months ago I got an E. Standard and watched lydia & Clara video included with it , and later I bougt Mr. Pringle DVD.

It simply does not work FOR ME me to try to play in a violinist approach like Clara and Lydia in the beginning. I started to have back aching because of too much tension, but I was forcing myself to get the "right way". When I bought Mr. Pringle's, I found that the "technique" I was developing by myself was very close to his. Going slightly by the side, not back and forth, and not moving my arms too much, including the volume antenna's one.

When Pamelia came to Madrid, I realized I was pretty close to her way too. She even moves less than me, pivoting her arms and trying to have the antennas as close as possible to be quicker. And I agreed completely with her that the best way is to have your volume hand very close to the antenna, not forcing arm muscles and moving if possible only your hand or fingers.

Now I have my third theremin, an EPro, from few days ago. The things I have learned from Pamelia and Peter seem to work with no effort. I can play quick passages without being tired or having any back problems like one year ago I started to have.

But for other people it could be better to follow other techniques. Or you can develop a new one, if it seems to work well and you can play quick staccatos, if you need them. The point is, ┬┐how much freedom do you feel you can have when playing, compared to others?

Any of the techniques followed should keep special attention on not forcing muscles nor tendons. If it hurts, stop!
I myself want to be able to play the theremin all the rest of my life.
Posted: 10/9/2005 8:10:34 AM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

It is well to remember how it is with other instruments - Stefan Grapelli and Yehudi Menuin had very different styles that worked for them. Similarly Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana both had different techniques - not just related to style - but thru messing around with the instrument they came up with their own style.

I'm sure it's the same with the theremin.

I started following Lydia's style, but I always find entering a higher octave when the hand is fully open (after a jump or run) pretty damn hard. Having seen the Pamelia DVD (which I'd hoped would have more finger demonstration and less "chat" about stuff I would of thought those owning a theremin might know anyway) - I suspect her style might be better for improvisers who possibly don't know what their next note will be, and Lydia's is fine if you have a tune mapped out and rehearsed already. I doubt tho whether my fingers move the same way as hers.

At the moment I am in the process of "changing embrasure" as a reed player might say. I have a kindof half Lydia style with perhaps more wrist movement than is good in the long term for acuracy. So I'm trying to remember to use finger movements more and develop more of a "muscle memory" in my fingers as opposed to my wrist.

So at the moment when I try the new fingery way I'm more sloppy coz it's not all there yet but I'm hoping it will be better in the long run coz moving the arm less makes perfect sense.
And when I gig I slip into the old way coz for now it works for me.

In the end i dare say I'll end up a kind of compromise - where I am more fingery but still use the good muscle memory i seem to have in my wrist.

Sorry for rambling - I was thinking as I was typing
Posted: 10/9/2005 5:54:37 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hello to all -- and thank you for all the information...

How do you tune your pitch antenna? Do you prefer the notes closer or farther apart?

On the Epro -- when I follow Pamelia's procedure for tuning where she sets the lowest pitch (just above zero-beat) with her pitch hand retracted clear to her body the pitches seem a bit far apart -- seems like a lot of arm motion just to get an octave jump.

On my Theremax (on which I am using the stock antenna) the zero beat point is only about 14" from the antenna -- and the notes are pretty close together. So, to move my hand an octave is faster however to hit the "center of the note" is tougher, too.

On the Epro, it seems the notes are closer together in the bass and a bit farther apart in the treble -- the opposite of the Tmax.

Will appreciate you sharing info on this topic. Thanks!
Posted: 10/9/2005 8:00:07 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Doesn't the Theremax have any more adjustment of the pitch range than that?

Tuning of the pitch response is going to be different for each person. It will depend on body size, playing technique, and personal preference.

At first I tuned the pitch so that zero beat was at arms length from the pitch antenna. Unfortunately, I wasn't making a lot of progress that way. I now tune according to what produces the best result with the technique I use. I guess that would be described as the notes being far apart because my zero beat is well behind me when I play. So, now my playing is much improved. As Peter Pringle says...."don't be greedy". For playing most music you don't need to be able to play the entire range of the theremin.

Tuning this way I don't feel I have a problem making big jumps even though I have to move a considerable distance. I have no problem hitting octaves be cause of the distance. In fact, I can probably do it more accurately. I guess if I manage to enter this months contest we'd find out for sure. ;-)

It's not a bad thing to be ambitious, but it's a wise thereminist who acknowledges and accepts the limitations of the instrument. For instance, I never plan on playing something like "Flight of the Bumblebee" or "Sabre Dance".

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