Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 2/17/2006 10:58:03 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Gordon, couldn't agree with you more about aerial fingering -- that to play like Peter Pringle (for example) then one is best served by learning Peter's techniques.

This thread provides an opportunity to learn from each other. I have avoided getting too detailed because different people all have their techniques. Techniques that works for one person or a particular genre may not work so well for another.

This evening while practicing I have paid more attention to what my mind is doing and have to conclude that I do actively think about positions -- in fact, at any given time I am quite aware of what position I am in and what notes are accessable from that position. Thus, my earlier post would have been more accurate had I said that my thinking about positions has become so automatic that it seems unconscious.

I spend a good deal of daily practice doing nothing more than aerial fingering excercises. This kind of practice serves me well for the kind of music that I'm playing these days.

For me, the most useful resources for learning about aerial fingering techniques have been Peter Pringles DVD, Clara's Method Book, and video of Clara's playing.

I think what draws us to the Theremin is the unique kinds of effects and/or melodies that it can produce.

The strong point of a Theremin is that it... sounds like a Theremin! No other instrument can really sound quite like a Theremin.
Posted: 2/18/2006 12:23:31 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Garrgh. I haven't been explaining myself at all well.

I'll admit that I broke Peter's first rule of theremin-playing when I took to the instrument. I just did 'what felt right' - and it seemed to work. As he said, 'the proof is in the pudding and at the moment the pudding tastes pretty good.' This was all before he sent me his DVD, and when I received it I was slightly startled to see that the technique I was using was actually very similar to the one he employs.

I can't help wondering if the *theory* (as opposed to the technique itself) which I employ is not radically different to yours, Kevin. I think I just don't have much of a way with words when it comes to explaining such things.

I understand and concur entirely that aerial fingering is necessary to play fast passages of music with accuracy. It's not essential, but it serves to make a very difficult instrument that tiny bit easier to play. All my 'position' changes and so on are done subconsciously - I don't think to myself "

'I need to move out of position II to position III, so that means I have to extend my wrist to 3o'clock etc. etc."

Rather I think - "There's a big leap coming up, and the next note's going to be approximately at Point X in the air, so that means that I need to shift my hand to point Y so I can reach the note."

'Point Y' will never fall in exactly the same place. It's position is governed by, amongst other things, the size of your hand, the range of the piece, the size of your control zone, the theremin used, the capacitance of the player, the humidity of the room, the note you played last, the note that comes next, the style of playing you wish to evoke. . . . need I go on?

I am aware of the 'status' of my hand - the notes that I can reach and so on, and when I go to move I consider the optimum position into which I should move - but this position can't simply be ascribed a number, and I think that if Lydia or any of the other aforementioned thereminists were to write their position changes 'in full' then they would find themselves jotting down things such as 'position 3.5' and so on.

These other variables are the reason why even if someone did use Peter Pringle's techniques word-for-word, they would still have to make their own adjustments in order to play. Takeuchi's jump from C3-C4 would require an entirely different position change or the equivalent to that which is employed by Lydia Kavina, even though their techniques are very similar indeed.

I may be digging an even deeper hole for myself here - it may be that you still strongly disagree with this, but does any this sound familiar?
Posted: 2/18/2006 1:15:48 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hey, Charlie... lately I have been digging my own holes so we can both dig away and enjoy the trip :)

Your comment about being aware of the hand's "status" is well-put. I take that to mean that while playing one note, one is in a position to play the next note -- that is, one is thinking ahead to the next note or phrase.

In the mean time, we shall continue to dig our holes, knowing precisely what position our hands are in as we dig!

Posted: 2/18/2006 1:55:32 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I suspect a lot of the problem of putting this into words is because - and here I plunge heedless into pop- and possibly even pseudo-psychology - artistic endeavours stem from the right side of brain, the non-linear, non-narrative side; that which we refer to as intuitive, instinctive and so on, while the left-brain rationalises what we do, creating theories and generally telling ourselves the story of what we are doing. As consciousness is most usually located on the left side we tend to credit ourselves with having thought of this stuff consciously while in fact it is coming directly from the subconscious and everything else is merely after-the-fact justification.

This prompts a question - are there any picture-thinkers ( amongst us - i.e people whose primary thinking mode is visual rather than verbal? It would not surprise me - picture-thinkers do tend to be artistic, creative people, and also make excellent electrical engineers, and the Theremin sits in that place where these skills intersect. The classic example of a picture-thinker is Nikola Tesla (, a name which should be familiar to everyone here.

I would certainly be interested to hear what someone with right-brain consciousness has to say about all of this.

Posted: 2/19/2006 9:00:12 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Hi, Gordon and all!

Admittedly, issues such as technique, theory, and form are pretty much the left-brained side of music-making. In some ways it is easier to discuss some of the "dry" issues because we can draw on a common body of knowledge.

To translate a mental picture into words (a contradition, huh! ) is like mapping the round earth onto a flat map. One can get a rough idea: the details are there but the big picture is distorted.

Thus, if I speak of "the perpetual dawn of a surreal, sonic landscape" I know in my mind what I see however when I translate it into words, then you read the words and translate it into your mental image it will likely be a different picture altogether!

The beauty of music is that (assuming one's technique doesn't hinder communication) one can communicate directly to the listener's right-brain.

One example that comes to mind comes from the time when a friend of mine got married. His wife is not particularly photogenic. My friend, a fantastic artist, showed me a series of paintings he had done of his new bride. And, there she was -- perfectly recognizable and BEAUTIFUL beyond belief. I was able to "see" her the way he saw her! All I can say, the experience of seeing those paintings was profound and moving.

My friend (who is likely a bonafide right-brained guy) majored in art, and certainly has expertise with the tools of his craft. He has all that indespensible left-brained knowledge and the knowledge seems to serve his right-brained ideas very well!

Peter Pringle recently wrote that the most difficult thing about playing the Theremin is knowing what to do with the tools and techniques once one has learned them.

The artistic/creative side of me wants to share many things -- I wish to contribute moments of entertainment, beauty, humor, etc... to those who honor me by listening. For me, I desire to acquire every bit of knowledge I can so that I have a plethora of tools at my call in order to realize some of the grand mental pictures into the language of music.

Is there a song that is so beautiful, so perfect that once it is written, it will be impossible to write any more songs?

Well, I go on the assumption that no song will ever have the final word on musical creation -- that the space for artistic creation is infinite, and that there is plenty of room for all to participate. Much beauty awaits all of us.


-- Kevin :)
Posted: 2/24/2006 11:23:41 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

-- the X position
In studying the Rockmore video she seems to use a hand shape I'll call the X position (since it's the same shape as the letter x in ASL) to hold or anchor longer sustained notes.

Just something I'm pondering today; Finding my own X position, the position most stable for holding really long notes... in tune.
Posted: 2/24/2006 1:52:29 PM

From: Colorado

Joined: 4/3/2005

Just a note jumping in again -- not about fingering but stance.

I think where you look or whether you look at your hands has a lot to do with your stance. I find that I tend to look down directly at the instrument while I'm plaing . I rarely look at my hands. And I don't move much or change position until there's a pause in the melody.

I've lately been working into the Pringle tai chi stance for some playing, which makes a lot of sense to my back and gives me some flexibility.

I'm actually trying to work on correcting my posture and eye position because I look SO awkward when I play and it's really not attractive at all. So it made me think about why I do what I do.

I think that looking down at the theremin itself keeps me from swaying inadvertently; it's a stable object close at hand and I'm kinda nearsighted. If I look around, I tend to move more. People often come up afterwards and wonder if I'm looking at some kind of readout. If you watch Lydia K, she has a straight posture, but her eyes are often lookng down. If I look at my hands I totally blow it, every time.

Does anyone play seated? I know some people do. I've tried it and it does give you some added stability and a base from which to work.
Posted: 2/25/2006 5:32:25 AM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

to kkissinger
wow! left brain?, right brain?
you lucky thing! - i only have the one
where can I get another?
Does Moog do them or do I have to make from a kit?

sorry couldn't resist...
Posted: 2/25/2006 11:52:02 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

"My brilliant research in brain transplantation is unsurpassed and will make my name live beyond eternity!"

-- Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr (played by Steve Martin) in "The Man With Two Brains" 1983

Posted: 2/26/2006 4:25:19 PM

Joined: 2/21/2005

My own experience has led to a technique that depends more on musical phrasing than anything else. I usually begin with Rockmore's #1 postion for a phrase that rises in pitch, her #4 position for one that lowers in pitch. Being a piano player, I find curling the fingers from position #4 to what is generally referred to as the 'Tiger's Paw' to be quite effective for dramatic changes downwards of a semitone, or even a full tone. Wrist rotation I likewise find very effective, since it keeps my hand in the proper orientation for tremolo and vibrato. Again, this is a piano player's technique.

Often I find lower-register passages more easily played to the side of the pitch wand rather than behind it, whereas when playing in the upper ranges I find the best spot to be right behind the pitch wand.

The thing that I find most impedes proper and disciplined playing is improper or unstable stance. One foot ahead of the other I find extremely unbalanced, so I make a point of keeping my feet firmly planted, about a foot and a half apart; I find this to be a very stable stance that makes it much easier to hold pitch for long notes.

Theremax players are, of course, familiar with the special problems of non-linear pitch. As my proficiency increases I can see myself incorporating a more linear pitch antenna design into my instrument, such as the 'Lev Antenna' described elswhere in this site.

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