Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 10/15/2005 5:05:49 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hello. FYI -- my Epro is #0052.

Here are my latest observations -- applications of aerial fingering:

Peter Pringle advocates keeping the pointer finger in contact with the thumb at all times because it stabilizes the pitch hand. This approach is working for me.

However, to use knuckles doesn't work very well for me because I barely can change the pitch with only my knuckles. I find that I must outstretch my fingers.

I like Pamelia's idea of a relaxed arm position -- elbows at side however I find that I must stretch for the upper register.

Since I play keyboards, the notion of putting ones hand into position to cover the notes of a music phrase is pretty natural.

Time to revisit the CD's now. More later...
Posted: 10/20/2005 2:14:39 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

It's probably apparent by now that, in the final analysis, players find what's comfortable and right for them through experimentaton and a natural evolution of playing technique that happens over time. Truthfully, it is unique to each individual. In the early stages of learning to play, the mid-back muscle tension (between the shoulder blades) and tension in the rotator cuff of the right shoulder is very common and, peoples' playing style -- everything from where they stand, to how they create vibrato, to where they position their arms, and the height of theremin in relation to the body -- is impacted so greatly that many times, the playing technique unconsciously adapts primarily to minimize the discomfort. It can really affect one's ability to be expressive.

When I teach others, I help them to find their settings and techniques by having them do the following -- try this for just fifteen minutes each time you practice. I refer to this as "getting out of your own way." Consciously, we try to do what's correct, but unconsciously YOUR BODY ALREADY KNOWS. Sounds a little heady, but this works with every student I've had, regardless of age or experience.

a) You've seen lots of people play by now and tried a lot of things. For fifteen minutes, FORGET EVERYTHING.

b) Stand where you normally stand and close your eyes, hands at your sides. Take ten very deep and slow breaths.

c) Keep your eyes closed. Remain unconcerned about PLAYING MUSIC. Once you've completed your tenth breath, exhale completely. Now you're ready...

d) As you inhale again, allow your arms to float up in any way THEY want to and just let them float around as the theremin begins to respond any way IT wants to. Allow the theremin to make sound ONLY as you inhale. Now just breathe deeply as the sound plays and your arms move, become acutely aware of where the points of tension are, where things feel relaxed and where things feel strained. As you continue to breathe, relax all the spots you felt tension in WHILE YOU PLAY. When you feel that tension release, THEN exhale, allowing your arms to float back to your sides. Do this for at least five more slow, deep breaths. Eyes closed the entire time.

e) Think of any melody or song you absolutely love -- one that carries all the joy and passion that no other song seems to have. Hear it in your head as fully as you can.

f) Know this: whatever energy or combination of energies out there in the universe that is required to play a theremin -- it's always out there. Move out of your own way and begin to allow a shift in your thinking. Allow whatever the universe requires to flow through you. Stop thinking of yourself as the solid entity that bends this instrument to your will -- rather, think of yourself as the conduit and ALLOW THE THEREMIN TO PLAY YOU -- and still with your eyes closed, play that song you love. It doesn't matter if you get all the notes right or the speed -- JUST PLAY. Your body knows what's comfortable. Let it find that place for you.

I promise you, odd as it may sound, this mindset will do more to help you as a player than you can imagine. Your body will arrive at techniques you would never have conceived of if you'd kept your eyes open. We are so visually oriented that we look so hard we disallow the intuition.

Try this for a few days and see what happens.

Posted: 10/20/2005 3:36:46 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thank you for your thoughtful post.

I am writing from the office at the moment and can't wait to get home and try your suggestions this evening.

In fact, I am going to try a similar approach to the other instruments I play. My nerves get in my way -- often times a piece that goes well in practice is labored in performance. (Performance anxiety, perhaps??)

The link in your profile revealed your identity... I have very much enjoyed your music on the Spellbound broadcast.

As you can see, many people here are anxious to share helpful information and I appreciate you and everyone else for contributing time and expertise.
Posted: 10/20/2005 11:42:57 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Started my practice session this evening with the technique that schielenkrahe recommended.

And, yes, I will have to give it a few days. As far as just letting the "Theremin play me" -- well... I am working on it. I feel more liberated when I have an effect going... such as a loop/echo. And, by golly, I stumbled on to an idea that I will likely record.

After really just gesturing and breathing as you recommended (actually went more than 15 minutes) then I started playing thru a Bach Fugue (actually, a slow one that is playable on the Theremin though one must overdub to do the four parts).

There is so much music that I enjoy that it is tough for me to identify the one piece that, above all others, brings me joy. However, MANY musical works and styles bring me great satisfaction so I just played various things.

A common thread that runs through all the postings is that one must find their own style of playing that works for them.

The only time I experience "stress" is when I attempt to play music that doesn't "fit" will on the Theremin... such as music with rapid passages and jumps. When I play music that sits well on the instrument, I feel quite relaxed.
Posted: 10/21/2005 12:08:47 PM

From: Los Angeles

Joined: 3/8/2005

"whatever energy or combination of energies out there in the universe that is required to play a theremin -- it's always out there. Move out of your own way and begin to allow a shift in your thinking. Allow whatever the universe requires to flow through you. Stop thinking of yourself as the solid entity that bends this instrument to your will -- rather, think of yourself as the conduit and ALLOW THE THEREMIN TO PLAY YOU"

Is this some kind of joke?
Posted: 10/21/2005 12:42:03 PM

From: Colorado

Joined: 4/3/2005

I have an odd technique. (and Jason has seen it!)

It's kind of a hybrid of the Pamelia position, and uses aerial fingering but with fingered vibrato rather than hand or arm generated vibrato. The typical position is kind of curling my forefinger and middle finger at the pitch antenna, with my palm rotated mostly toward me. I primarily use these more precise and stronger fingers rather than the ring and pinky. I use a very fast and controlled finger vibrato when I want vibrato. It wiggles side to side, NOT front and back, and it is a very fast and very small movement.

I have tried for years to master the traditional "OK" style aerial finger technique with very limited success. I've had a theremin since 1997, and there was little guidance at that time; the amount of help out there now seems astonishing to me!

I've become serious about the instrument in the last couple years and I must say that I am making much more progress since EW 2005. I took classes with Lydia (who basically told me to start over, technique wise) and was able to really learn something "in person" for the first time.

The good thing is that I've been able to integrate all I learned from her -- and Pamelia, and everyone who played at EW 2005 -- into my playing and I'm making some real progress.
Posted: 10/21/2005 12:51:29 PM

From: Colorado

Joined: 4/3/2005

One more thing to add. I have decided NOT to abandon my technique entirely, despite what Lydia Kavina said. My approach has some merit, I believe. I'm trying to integrate what I learned from Lydia into a new and different approach.

However, although I've had some requests, I don't teach. I don't want to teach my "faulty" technique to anyone and "ruin" them.

Remember, this is a relatively NEW instrument. It's likely the final word on technique has not been spoken yet; it has no relatives from which to draw techniques and practices, so it's kind of a free for all at this point in time.
Posted: 10/21/2005 3:29:47 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

I'm never surprised when someone asks "is this a joke?" The fact is, it DOES sound silly. For the past seven years, I've done a great deal to dispel the myth that the theremin is impossible to play, or the more popular verbalization of it as "the most difficult instrument in the world to play," along with the mistaken notion that it's impossible to execute fast passages, or sharp staccatto, or jump across difficult intervals. The truth is, it's very much like any other instrument -- is anyone able to play a violin or a tuba the first time one picks it up? ALL instruments require a lot of practice.

However, the difference with the theremin (the dozen or so thereminists I know have confirmed this fact) is the psychological obstacle one's own mind creates when faced with an instrument that disallows physical contact. In addition, the movement of the wrist that produces volume and articulation of notes is the OPPOSITE of all other instruments. A musician either strikes down, strums, plucks other instruments, while the theremin requires that you LIFT your hand AWAY from the instrument in order to sound a note.

The exercise I described is not solely intended as a relaxation technique. It is a way to free oneself of the visual self-evealuation a player constantly measures him or herself by (am I standing close enough, am I using the right fingering technique, are my hands position correctly, etc.) Secondly, closing the eyes allows a player to feel more acutely where tension, holding of breath, and even overthinking may be hindering one's ability.

Ultimately, this process of discovery as one learns to play is very intuitive; there will never be only one technique.

For me, it continues to be a process of watching and listening to everything my eyes and ears can absorb, then finding what works for me. Even the silly stuff.
Posted: 10/21/2005 11:23:55 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Well, just have to jump in to this conversation...

Actually, I tend to be somewhat of a technician and I tend to focus on correct position, posture, etc. (While new to the Theremin, I have played classical pipe organ for more years than I care to mention :) )

Vic makes a good point that we may not yet have the final word on the "best" Theremin technique.

Note that in the early days of keyboard playing, the use of the thumb was considered poor practice -- contrary to modern keyboard technique.

After the notes are learned and the music is rehearsed, the difference between a "competent" performance and a "musical" one is the performer's ability to get "in the zone". For me, to be in the zone is to achieve a state of physical and mental calm that allows peak performance. As a performer I strive for this -- I will add that I can achieve this only after thoughtful practice.

People have different learning styles, too. Some learn by starting with the details and building outward, others start with an overall picture and dig inward.

To learn by starting with details -- learning to play individual notes, etc... is pretty traditional (the way I learned to play the piano)... however, to make broad gestures without regard for individual notes opens doors, too.

While I benefit greatly from detailed practice (such as the Clara Rockmore method), I find that when practicing notes and finger excercises I may not notice subtle muscle tension. schielenkrahe's excercise allows me to identify and correct tension in my arms, neck, and shoulders. I found that after doing the 15 minute warmup suggested by schielenkrahe, my Rockmore exercises went very well -- if not better than before, perhaps a little more relaxed.

Rockmore's method is tremendous for playing with precision and the exercises have been extremely valuable to me. However, to eschew glisses -- to try to make the Theremin sound like a violin or a voice risks missing the Theremin's unique language.

To let my arms float while breathing deeply is to simply experience the Theremin's sound and revel in it. I find that I enter a place where ideas flow freely -- indeed that place where the "inspiration" happens.

And, I am comfortable with the "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration rule". While, for me, the "cosmic" approach to playing will never be a replacement for "nuts and bolts technique" I enjoy visiting the realm where I can tap into "the energy of the universe" as needed.

Pretty good deal, huh? :)
Posted: 10/22/2005 12:21:25 AM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

Here's my final comment, then I'll hush up. The exercise I described is not an "either/or" proposition. There is more than enough room for ALL approaches. Different people respond to different things, and at different rates, with varying degrees of success.

For me, when learning a new piece, particularly one in the classical realm, there's never a substitute for sitting with the score and learning to play it note-for-note, correctly: some of the nuts and bolts you speak of.

The strangest playing technique I've ever witnessed is used by a wonderful thereminist who's also a keyboard player and pianist. Since his orientation was that low notes on the piano are on the left, and higher notes as you proceed to the right, he chooses to play sideways. He sets the theremin very low, below his waist. Then he extends his hand forward, just like if you were to reach out and shake hands, and wiggles or "swims" his hand like a fish across the top of the theremin (an Etherwave standard) from left to right. It's even weirder than watching someone play in a more conventional orientation. The result: beautiful music.

What other instrument offers such freedom? Try blowing into the bell end of a trombone and getting anything, or holding the bow of a violin under your chin and stroke the violin upside down across it.

Ultimately, if the player's desired result is achieved, it's as good a method as any other.

For brain-bending fun, try playing two theremins in harmony simultaneously... by yourself. It's hilarious.

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