Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 12/8/2005 9:37:27 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

The more I have practiced I am becoming convinced that use of a back-handed (note -- see my posting on 12/18/2005 -- it is not really a backhanded technique) technique yields the greatest accuracy. Here are some notes:

~~ stress, pain, and arm position ~~

At first, I was playing with my hand in a somewhat low position -- holding it about even with the bottom of my ribcage and with a relatively low height adjustment on my Theremin. This worked well however to to turn my hand such that my knuckles were in a vertical position really causes stress, particularly when adding some vibrato. While I could accurately navigate first and second position it was just too stressful (too much twisting of the wrist).

However, revisted the Pringle DVD and the Kurstin DVD and noticed that they hold their hands higher -- almost up to shoulder height. The fingertips point more "up" than "out". Well, I found in holding my arm in this position that a backhanded (note -- a little backhanded however I added a disclaimer above) hand position results without twisting the wrist.

Also, the knuckle extensions as described by Peter Pringle work well from this position.

~~ back to the Pringle gliss ~~

I have just about got this... I am positioning my hand a 3rd below the target note and then using knuckle extensions to reach to third position. The "gliss" is not really a smooth slide -- it is almost like a few separate notes -- a "mini scale" leading up to the target note. The vibrato heightens the effect. Of course, Peter backs off the volume antenna just enough that the gliss is not overdone. It is a subtle shade... too little volume and the gliss disappears -- too much and well... it starts to sound a little "over the top"!

Peter always does this upward. To do it downward is well... uh... even more over the top! (Well worth a try). Sometimes we "milk" a phrase a little, sometimes a lot!
Posted: 12/15/2005 9:47:01 AM

From: COWafornia

Joined: 3/23/2005

Popa Teremin:
From watching video of him looks like he moved his hand back and forth - that is not side to side but back to front. I have tried that but like Lydia's techniques better. Is there any video of Peter's on the web so I can see what this backhand technique is before buying his video?
Posted: 12/15/2005 10:22:32 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Dulcimoo, haven't seen any videos of Peter on the Web. His DVD is really great and would highly recommend it. He discusses many aspects of the Theremin including aerial fingering and includes complete performances where you can see his stance, fingering, etc.
Posted: 12/15/2005 10:37:43 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Peter Pringle does not dwell overly long on aerial fingering techniques in his DVD - (Peter, if you're reading, I'm ready for lesson two now!)

The best video I have found so far on the 'net for fingering is a six minute clip of Armen Ra playing two songs, the first is very familiar but I can't call the name to mind, and the second is the Star Trek (original series) theme tune.

The camera stays still, both hands are in full view the whole time and the pitch hand is well differentiated from the background (sorry - starting to talk like a photographer) i.e. plenty of opportunity for watching fingering technique.

I am not qualified to comment of the quality of Armen's technique, but I certainly enjoyed listening to the music.

The Vid is on Veoh ( so you'll need to install that - bringing Quicktime ( up to version 7 is a good idea too. I have submitted it for listing on the Theremin Video's page along with a bunch of others, but until it appears there here is the permalink...

Posted: 12/18/2005 4:33:01 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Peter Pringle was kind enough to clarify the backhanded / not-backhanded issue by responding directly to my question in Levnet.

You may want to go to Levnet and checkout the thread "Backhanded technique" there (though I could simply cut and paste Peter's response I haven't asked his permission to do so).

His technique approaches the antenna with the side of the hand -- similar to a Karate chop and doesn't utilize a backhand such as a backhanded tennis grip.

I own both the Pamelia Kurstin CD and the Pringle DVD -- I review them both regularly...

The other day I was trying to get a good take on a recording and was having intonation problems. I discovered that I was being sloppy on my finger positions... so I returned to the Rockmore Method book, made sure that I was clearly using positions 1, 2, 3, or 4. Went back to the recording and things went much better.

I practice the Rockmore excercises because they work for me... and when I can hit the notes cleanly then I feel free to work on shading and musicality. After all... hard to make music when struggling to hit notes.
Posted: 12/22/2005 3:49:03 PM

From: Portland, OR, USA, Terra, Sol, Milkyway

Joined: 3/1/2005

When practicing today, I tried exercise 5 in Clara Rockmore’s Method for Theremin book. In the description of the different fingering positions, Mrs. Rockmore said for positions 2,3,4 stretch all three fingers forward towards the vertical antenna. But, she did not mention which three fingers to stretch. Which finger do you not use? Do you keep your index finger on your thumb and extend the rest or is it another finger you don’t use? What do you do with that forth finger? Does it stay on your palm? :-S
Posted: 12/22/2005 11:16:08 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Since I utilize the isometric grip where the tips of fingers 1 and 2 are always together (the thumb and pointer), fingers 3, 4, and 5 are free to extend towards the antenna. I lead with the 5th finger. In first position, the fingertips off 3, 4, and 5 are all touching the "fat" part of below the base of the thumb, in positions 2, 3, and 4 the knuckles and fingers are stretching towards the antenna. Note that I am doing this in such a way that it does not stress my hand.

My playing was starting to get a little sloppy and I finally found the cause to be an inconsistant 1st position. So, I have been back to basics making sure I "nail" the basic intervals and positions.

I would suggest focus heavily on lesson 1. The other excercises build on lesson 1. Lesson 1 places all the position 1 notes. The other excercises fill in the notes (via finger extension) that are skipped in Lesson 1.

The important concept in lesson 1 is NOT speed. In fact, I would suggest to not even try to mask/speed thru the gliss. The important concept is NOT to overshoot the note. Slide to it if you must, but dont overshoot then reverse direction. It is harder than it looks :)

I force myself to practice slow, focusing on accuracy. Too easy to glance over notes when playing fast.

Good luck! :)
Posted: 12/23/2005 9:23:27 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

I'm really enjoying this thread. It's like a virtual theremin lesson.

I use the same grip as kkissinger. The trouble I have is keeping my arm relaxed while playing. After about 30 minutes, my arm is tired and my notes start getting sloppy again. Pamelia told me she plays with a very relaxed arm, and I've tried that, but obviously I just haven't practiced enough that way. Following the Rockmore exercises with a relaxed arm is probably just the thing I need to do to really give it a good try.
Posted: 12/23/2005 11:52:55 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

I too, struggle with tension in my arm. Usually the tension results from me holding my elbow up. I am getting good results when I let my elbow relax -- as if there is a string attached to my elbow that is gently tugging it down... as such, the elbow becomes the support for my forearm.
Posted: 12/26/2005 6:34:19 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

~~ detached notes are harder than legato ~~

Well, lately my playing had become a little "slippery" and I discovered that I wasn't quite hitting my notes and I was making little corrections to put them on pitch.

So... back to the finger positions... really working to nail the notes.

Detached playing with short notes is tough because there is no opportunity to adjust the note before it is "gone".

Detached playing really forces one to hit the notes right on pitch.

I am back to the Rockmore drills -- oh, I know they can get boring however they do force one to nail the notes.

Oh, so much fun to play tunes -- however, have to stop the onset of "incremental degradation". So... back to basics.

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