Aerial Fingering Technique

Posted: 2/28/2006 5:56:18 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Just doing a post so that this and the "other" thread will be juxtaposed on the recent threads list.

One of my little delights is having Frank Zappa's autobiography and Tipper Gore's book nestled next to each other on my bookshelf!

Of course, there is anti-matter and if it comes into contact with matter, then both are obliterated.

So, if one day kill_pop_tarts and kkissinger disappear, then you will know that we greeted one another and shook hands.

Reminds me of this...

Waiter to Descartes: "Sir, would you like a drink before dinner?"
Descartes: "I think not."
** poof **

Welcome to Thereminworld! :)
Posted: 3/6/2006 3:35:15 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One of the recurring issues for Theremin players is how to find notes. Most of us, having established the location of a pitch, can move to the other pitches however to pluck the starting pitch out of the air can be quite a challenge.

Clara Rockmore stood with the speaker at ear level right behind her such that her fishing for pitches was audible to her and not noticed by the audience.

There are other proposals for finding starting notes that range from visual pitch displays to hash markings on the Theremin case – all with the goal to identify the starting pitch.

Even the best Thereminists have to be prepared to adjust when a note first becomes audible. To play a note that is in-tune requires split second adjustments that exceed the capabilities of visual pitch displays (too slow) and visual cues (not quite accurate enough).

However, there is a tool that allows one to “nail” starting pitches that is fast and accurate: the pitch preview.

I was a little resistant at first to use of a “pitch preview” – after all, many great Thereminists do not use them. What is one to do?

All musical instruments are evolutionary. Originally, French Horns and other brass instruments lacked valves. The addition of valves opened up musical possibilities that were unthinkable without valves. Keyboards originally lacked black notes – and the sharp and flat notes were added gradually over time. The Theremins of old didn’t have pitch previews.

As far as musical instruments go, the Theremin is a new kid on the block. The day may come when pitch previews will be standard on Theremins the same as pads and levers are standard on woodwind instruments. Many people mod their Theremins to provide pitch preview outputs and many more will as time goes on.

Now, the big surprise: use of a pitch preview has not hurt my non-pitch preview playing! Since the preview assures accurate jumps, I am no longer repeating mistakes – my muscle memory is improved. Thus, my experience using a pitch preview has been very encouraging.

The aspect that I enjoy the most is that the preview takes the guesswork out of playing starting pitches and it helps with jumps, too. Thus, I can focus on musical expression which, to me, is the rewarding and fun part of music-making.

Regardless of your chosen genre or fingering style, you might want to add a pitch preview to your arsenal of Theremin-playing tools.


-- Kevin
Posted: 3/7/2006 6:53:49 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Good outline of the pitch preview KK,

this topic deserves it's own thread.

There are lots of opinions on it. I can't wait till my EWPro comes back from Moog with the pp mod done, the tuner output was too annoying and deceptive in terms of octave placement.
Posted: 4/11/2006 6:27:11 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Have you ever recorded a Theremin performance (of yourself or others) and then discovered that what sounded in tune when recording sounds out-of-tune on the playback?

Is this situation the "Florence Foster Jenkins" syndrome (that is, it really WAS bad) or are there technical and physiological factors at work?

One could rightfully assert that tuning is an objective, measurable matter: the pitch is either at the correct frequency or it isn't. And, this is true. In fact, if you play a note at the correct frequency you may fear not. As we all know, with a Theremin, it isn’t quite that easy. We play a note and correct the pitch by ear.

Back to the original premise: that a performance sounds in tune to the performer and sounds out-of-tune to the listeners (definitely not good) -- would it be possible to turn this around so that the performer can hear the inaccuracies and the audience can't? Well, if it works one way it can probably work the other.

The good news is that, assuming you can match pitches in the first place, you can utilize “mother nature” to put things in your favor.

~~ volume ~~

Pitch sensitivity decreases as the volume goes up. The softer that one sets a system’s output, the better the human ear can distinguish pitch. When laying down Theremin tracks in my studio, I monitor and play at excruciatingly SOFT volumes – if I had things set any softer the ambient noise in the room would mask the pitches! The most thunderous passages on my recordings were, none-the-less, recorded at low volume.

Recording situations can be more finicky than live – after all, a little “burble” will pass by the listeners barely noticed however, on a recording, people will listen repeatedly and start to pick up these little things.

In a live performance setting with loud volume levels, things can get a bit dicey. If the music is really loud your ears will mislead you however the audience is in the same boat and all is well. However – your recording will pick it up and when you later listen to the recording at a relatively low volume you may be in for a mild shock! There are other issues with recordings, too… read on…

My game plan in live performance is to play thru my basic sound system at a moderate volume. If a situation demands more sound, I will place the additional speakers such that they aren’t “blasting” me. I will admit, I don’t play real loud (i.e., heavy metal) so moderate levels should work ok.

The other issue with playing at loud volumes is ear fatigue – one can reach a point where one really can’t discern pitch without giving the ears a break.

~~ masking ~~

Masking is the technical term that refers to one sound covering up (masking) another. As a thereminist, you can use this to your advantage. When you play softly (like pppp) on your Theremin you want the Theremin’s sound to be masked from the listeners and NOT masked from you!

Clara Rockmore’s solution was pretty easy: she placed her speaker right behind her at ear level. When she first played a note she could make a quick pitch adjustment that she could hear but the listeners could not.

If you are playing through a house system you are at a disadvantage because you may not be the closest person to the speaker and all the other instruments are mixed in along with you. If you are center stage and the house speakers are off to the sides, you may hear primarily reflected sound while the listeners hear direct sound. When this happens, you will be correcting your pitches in public! This is the absolute worst situation because your initial pitch is masked from you and NOT from the listeners!

The ideal situation is to have the Theremin through its own speaker with nothing else mixed in with it. (Peter Pringle wrote that it isn’t the “ideal” way to play, it is the “only” way to play!) Bear in mind that if the Theremin speaker channel has other instruments mixed in
Posted: 4/11/2006 7:39:01 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Florence Foster Jenkins is available on iTunes.

I suspect her voice has a medical application in softening earwax.

I love it! Thank you for mentioning that, and a very readable piece too, may I add.

Just one thing - pitch decreases with distance? I though pitch varied with velocity - Doppler effect.
Posted: 4/12/2006 7:40:45 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

The Florence Foster Jenkins recordings are a hoot and infamous, the b'way show didn't fully capture the commitment to her own personal key, whatever she was she was one of a kind.

Thank you KK, yes have been noticing that recording realization thank you for the analysis of it. Masking is also a factor in hearing loss and in my case I've only really noticed it in restaurants but have to think about it in this context as well, thank you it hadn't occurred to me till now.

Ear fatigue... my ears took a long time to recover from the NYTS event. Loud music always hurts me but loud theremin really gets me I can feel that little muscle in the inner ear contracting trying to protect it. I hate blocking my ears at a performance, especially when in the front row and I try and do it subtly, but having already some loss I really want to keep what I have. Thereminists really should be aware of the sonic pressure they produce.

My ear training and sight singing teacher back in school was so unpleasant I still cringe at the subject and have to trick myself to make it fun however I can. Since I don't have a keyboard at home with my theremin I use the tuner in my interval exercises.

I've also noticed that a note may sound in tune in the preview but out of tune out loud. I have a decent ear piece, not a radio shack ear phone, and am still figuring this one out.

I'm using the exercises in the recent books but am sticking with the Rockmore based fingering technique I'm working with because besides musicality I want ease of motion and pain free playing. My wrists used to hurt so much after long days of organ playing and I am intent on avoiding that. I'm actually using the Kenny Werner book most of all right now. His approach to effortless playing translates directly to the theremin and suits me very well. No one else seems into it, but I swear by it.

much appreciated!
Posted: 4/12/2006 9:58:20 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


I have read that as the distance from the sound source increases, the frequency drops. And now I am going back to verify my source! If I cannot verify it, I will go back and modify my post.

One thing that happens as the distance from the sound source increases, is that the reflected sound waves will interact with the direct sound waves. The reflected sound waves will be phase-shifted from the direct, and as such can cause interference and a loss of pitch definition.

John, yes indeed, the pitch in the preview is slightly "off" from the pitch from the main speaker. I am not sure why this is although the speed of sound is faster through solids than through the air. With an earpiece, some of the vibrations are going through one's skin/skull. A given wavelength at different speeds of travel through the medium will give a different frequency. Alas, I don't know all the math formulas behind it. Basically, we just learn to live with it and compensate.

-- Kevin K
Posted: 4/12/2006 12:38:01 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Well we all know the doppler effect, but now that you mention it guys when I was an organist playing at the end of the nave and the singer was up at the pulpit the main issue was timeing.
Kevin ever have pitch issues with distant singers?

Pitch Preview:
thanks for the sanity check, yes quick adjustment is what's it all about anyway. another thing I like about the pp is that I can tune silently.

good yack here y'all thanks a million.
Posted: 4/12/2006 1:59:13 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

There are always pitch issues with singers because singers tend to tune to perfect (as opposed to tempered) intervals.

When I accompany a singer, I don't double their pitches! This gives them some wriggle room for their intonation. If the intonation is a little off, doubling the pitch makes the inaccuracy more noticeable to the listeners.

Timing is an important issue. For non-rhythmic chant, etc... the distance is not a factor. I avoid (as do most soloists) doing rhythmic music at a distance.
Posted: 4/12/2006 4:56:05 PM
Marble Field

From: Athens, Greece

Joined: 5/23/2005

To be honest, I got a little confused concerning the "live performance" problem. Any professional Public Adress system is equiped with monitors for the musicians, so each one can hear from them rather than the main house speakers. That reassures that the thereminist is going to be the "first in line" to hear his pitch. Secondly, there is absolutely no way that a reflected soundwave can reach you before the direct sound, as long as you have optical contact with the sound source (meaning there are no walls between you and the speaker). What changes is the mixing percentage of direct versus reflected sound. On the other hand, the phase interaction of the reflected soundwaves to the original sound should be enormous in order to cause noticeable pitch change. Even in such a case, the volume would be greatly attenuated through phase cancellation long before the pitch change would start to be a problem.

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