theremin major

notes from me and my moog etherwave pro

Technique 1 April 6, 2007

Filed under: Technique — jenhammaker @ 11:21 pm

I’m a gal who likes to figure things out for myself, or rather, without spending too much time reading the 17 page discussion on the Aerial Fingering Technique on Theremin World. I’m sure there’s as lengthy a conversation on Levnet (email list for the theremin-obsessed), but Levnet already drives me a little crazy.

When I was in college, my fellow actors and directors would sit around and talk about acting and directing at great length and in intimate detail for hours on end but I could never sit there for more than 10 minutes before my skin would begin to crawl.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m all about action. Doing it rather than discussing it.

I have watched the videos that came with my standard etherwave and I can watch YouTube clips for hours. I just can’t read spend the same amount of time reading about theremin technique.

In the same vein, I’m glad all of us thereminists are developing a vernacular. So for anyone who is a discussion-type, I’m gonna run down some topics on theremin technique and briefly sum up what I’ve learned so far on the topic. Please forgive me if the same things have been discussed elswhere on these crazy internets as it is most likely that I have not read these discussions.

At Ethermusic 2005, if I’m not mistaken, there was a great emphasis on the idea that everyone has their own technique. That was exciting for me, a gal who likes to learn things for myself.

In the last few months, from the time I began at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education], my technique has changed at least 5 times! I have been hesitant to post about it because of that reason, but now, with help from teachers and coaches. I think we have figured out a way of playing that produces a full, rich sound and at the same time, does not cause arm tension or fatigue. Eureka? Sure, Eureka!! (For now.)

Basic Theremin Stance: Brace yourselves. This might sound crazy. I don’t face the front of the theremin. Instead I turn stand at about a 45 degree angle so I’m looking at the volume antennae and and my pitch arm is coming at the pitch antennae pinky-first.

My volume arm is directly out in front of me and my pitch arm looks like I’m waving at you with my arm out to the side, while holding my wrist up, but with as little tension as possible.

Boy, if you understood that description perfectly, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

Still confused??!! What is wrong with you!? Just kidding.

I’ll try to draw a picture later.

Aerial Fingering Technique: When I first started playing, I didn’t try too hard to master this techinique. After I started to become a better player, I started experimenting with this idea more and more until I kind-of created my own version of it. I was hitting the notes precisely, but there was so much tension in my hand and in my wrist that my vibrato suffered. I could only maintain vibrato for a few seconds. Two weeks ago, after mentioning it to me before (”Do you have to do all that crap with your fingers???!!!”), one of my chamber music coaches encouraged me to scrap it altogether. Eureka. Not only is my vibrato free and full, my phrases are legato instead of strained and choppy. It only took me a week or so to get my exact pitches back.

Vibrato: Keeping my arm close to my body to the elbow, I shake my arm from the elbow so that my wrist moves from side to side, but with no wrist tension. The wrist just kinda wobbles there on top. Because of my stance, this side to side motion is should give the the sound a full, rich vibrato – going from the note I’m on to a half step below and back. That’s the goal. String players practice this 1/2 step vibrato thing. Sure, sometimes the wobble includes a less than precise interval, but what can you do.

I will write more as I learn more. Hope this helps at least one person!

See you later, thereminators! Gotta go see Grindhouse.


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