Hello! Tips for a newbie? How long have you been playing?

Posted: 5/30/2009 4:27:29 PM

From: Hampshire, UK

Joined: 4/24/2009

Hi, I'm Daniel, living in Hampshire, UK.

I have no musical training, well, a little bit of piano back in school but that's it, and it was years ago. I think the first I saw the Theremin was Lydia Kavina playing Clare de Lune on youtube and I was absolutely captivated by the instrument.

So now I finally have my Etherwave Standard. It's brilliant and I love it, the sooner I can learn to play anything on it then the better. I'm not talking the Proms or anything, but if I could get to the point where I don't mind if there's someone else around while I'm playing then i'll be happy. :)

I was wondering if anyone had any advice for someone essentially trying to learn from scratch?

Also, how long have you been practicing/playing to get to where you are now? Do you practice in short spurts or lock yourself away for an evening?

I've found a tuner app for the computer, though I don't know if that's really helping me, I think I spend too much time looking at the computer screen and not enough looking at my hand positions. Do you find that you need to look at your hands while you're playing or do you rely more on muscle memory?

One way or there other, as a computer programmer, it's about time I gave the other half of my brain something to do! :D

Anyway, thanks for letting me introduce myself and I hope to make new friends here and have a great time thereminning!

Posted: 5/30/2009 5:55:34 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

Welcome to ThereminWorld macdanuk!
Congratulations on starting your theremin adventure. Playing along to a song you know by heart and can sing is a good start, then simple interval exercises.

Definitely search here at TW, there's been *a lot* of discussion on this. Check out youtube also.

A tuner can be handy for pitch spot checks but probably would be better to have one that can set on the theremin or within easy glance.

Playing every day is essential, and a little bit of practice ever day is better than a marathon one day a week, I hear it works for novel writing too.

Because of the concentration required for theremin playing, it's a great respite from computer work and definitely stimulates a different set of neurons.

Good luck and keep us posted,
Happy Thereminizing and
Keep On Playing!
Posted: 5/30/2009 8:02:16 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Dan,

I was in the same position three and a half years ago. A little bit of piano as a kid then nothing, computer programming in my background and a fascination with my new theremin.

The conclusion I came to is, do what you know.

To give myself as an example, the music in my formative teen years was late 70's bands with a strong DIY ethic and a penchant for going against established wisdom - The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, Pere Ubu and the like, and I enjoy analysing things - that's the programmer in me. So I have spent my time finding parallels between the process of making music on a theremin and other creative processes (I enjoy photoshopping images for instance and there are plenty of parallels to be drawn there) and playing the instrument in ways that stem from an understanding of how it works rather than trying to impose an established musical form on it - I enjoy conventional music, but I do not understand how it works - I would rather work within the theremin paradigm - do what comes naturally for the instrument. It is a controversial view amongst thereminists, but it seems to me that as an electronic instrument it is well suited to electronic music, and for me at least, better suited to musical forms where exact pitch is not a prerequisite, given the idiosyncratic user interface and my lack of formal training.

The other conclusion I came to is that learning to play a musical instrument is about learning to hear, and the theremin epitomises this, just as learning to use a camera is about learning to see. (As bad photos are taken by people who are not looking properly - they just didn't notice the subject's head wasn't in the shot, let alone that the picture was lopsided and lacking in any aesthetic qualities whatsoever - so the mediocre thereminist has no idea what he sounds like, while the great ones hear [i]everything[/i].) So, look at your hands if you want, and muscle memory plays a part, but most of all, listen!

Here are a few basic resources...

Posted: 5/30/2009 10:18:45 PM

From: Asheville, NC

Joined: 1/25/2008

I would have to say developing your ear would be much better than trying to exactly match a pitch on your tuner. I haven't tried playing with a tuner myself, mainly because I think it would drive me nuts trying to constantly correct myself.

I find that if you can get the intervals right (the "spaces" between different notes) then all you have to do is start out on the right note. I have a pitch pipe hooked on my Etherwave stand and just figure out what the first note is in what I want to play, blow that note, match it on the theremin, and off I go (if your playing with other folks and have to come in on just the right note, I imagine this is where a silent tuner output, and a tuner, would be invaluable. I believe this falls under the heading of "pitch preview")

My theory on the pitch pipe being: if you can hear the note and replicate it, your doing a whole lot better for your mind/pitch/hand/theremin connection than just putting your hand where the tuner tells you to, if that makes any sense.

I also find looking at my hand while I'm playing does not do me any favors. It seems every thereminist stares at some unknown point in space while playing, myself included.

I grew up playing bass so did not jump into the theremin as a first instrument which I would imagine that would be very difficult. I would venture to guess that taking some piano lessons along with learning the theremin would help greatly.

A second on the opinion about playing songs you know really well. I find learning songs from scratch on the theremin is a whole other world.
Posted: 5/30/2009 10:29:07 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

I recommend you the theremin method from Carolina Eyck. The exercises help you to learn systematically the right hand positions, ear training, expression with the left hand and vibrato.

Normally a DVD with 6 short lessons by Lydia K. has been shipped with your Etherwave. This is already a good point to start.

Do not look at your hands! Let your ears and only your ears help with all issues. This allows you to keep your eyes on the sheet music in a first step and later on the conductor when you are a soloist in front of an orchestra.
Posted: 5/30/2009 11:46:23 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I'll try not to repeat too much of what's been said already. The good thing for you is there seems to be an explosion of interest in the theremin in Great Britain and the rest of Europe.

The first thing is to determine *where do you want to go*. Do you wish to play in a "traditional" melodic style, or do you prefer free-form or "experimental" compositions? Do you need to play in only 2-1/2 to 3 octaves, or do you need to play up to 5 octaves or more?

Once you determine this, find the technique that best suits you. The best references are videos of people who play in your preferred style.

Trying to play melodically in traditional scales over four, five, or six octaves is impractical. The note spacing would be extremely small and accuracy extremely difficult.

As already stated, consistent practice is very important. Equally important are realistic expectations, determination, and a great deal of patience. We all possess different skill sets when it comes to pitch perception and ear/hand coordination. Some people seem to progress very rapidly, while others do not. I'm one of the slow ones. I had to practice about one hour every day for two years before I felt I was getting anywhere near my goal.

Do not trust your own ears. Every once in a while you will need to record yourself to hear what you really sound like through the cold, unforgiving, objective ears of a machine.

Practice as often as you can for as long as you are comfortable. You will have good days and bad days. Enjoy the good ones. If you are having a bad day, shut it down and come back tomorrow. The best way to stay the course is to not let frustration get the better of you.

The connections that need to be made starts at your ears, go to the brain, and flow through the rest of your body to the tips of your fingers.
A tuner can act as a pitch preview to find a starting note. However, I do not believe it is a good idea to start to rely on visual cues. I think there will always be too much of a delay in your reactions, and they will be more of a distraction than a benefit.
Posted: 5/31/2009 4:54:33 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

This bit is worth repeating: [i]The good thing for you is there seems to be an explosion of interest in the theremin in Great Britain and the rest of Europe.[/i]

This means that data mining Google for local thereminists can be a worthwhile exercise. For instance, if you search on [i]theremin hampshire[/i] the first page of results will inform you that there is a jolly helpful TW member nearby - just the person to talk to if you're having technical problems with the electronics, and it will reveal an interesting historical connection: the noted conductor Leopold Stokowski (who commissioned ten theremins from Leon Theremin) passed away in Nether Wallop.

Going slightly further afield, if you want to go down the classical path there are two excellent thereminists in the south of England who offer theremin tuition. Lydia Kavina (http://www.lydiakavina.com/) is currently based in the Oxford area, and Charlie Draper (http://www.charliedraper.co.uk/) is based in Bristol, but currently studying at Cambridge. The other option available to you is to take a theremin holiday with Barbara Buchholz (http://www.theremin-workshop.com/).

(I concur with Jeff about the use of visual tuning aids. They are probably best employed after the fact, whilst reviewing a recording of your playing. If you're a Mac user, I suggest Vocal Lab (http://rustykat.com/).)

Posted: 6/1/2009 8:00:33 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I believe that the most important tip for any theremin newbie is: Never take any advice about theremin technique from anyone whose playing you have not heard, or do not enjoy.

Yes, the world is teeming with thereminists these days but you need to be selective when seeking advice.

The worst mistake you can make, if you are at all serious about becoming a good precision player, is to believe that you can either figure it out for yourself, or simply absorb everything everybody has to say on the subject and then pick and choose whatever suits your fancy. You wouldn't do that with a traditional instrument - don't do it with the theremin.

You should strive to imitate, as closely as possible, the technique of the thereminist you admire most until your own style begins to emerge spontaneously. Beginners usually do not realize that stance, hand/arm position etc., will ultimately determine what they are going to sound like. You will not sound like Samuel Hoffman if you play with the technique of Clara Rockmore (and vice versa).

I used two dead thereminists in the foregoing example in order not to raise the ire of any living ones.

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