Theremin | What is a Theremin | Theremin Music | How to Play a Theremin
What is a Theremin
In short, it is probably the most Interesting Instrument in the world. Presumably being the only instrument ever, that you play without touching.
The Theremin saw the day of light in Russia around the year 1920. Created by a Russian inventor named Lev Sergeyevich Termen, or Léon Theremin as they called him in the United States.
The Theremin consists of two antennas, which are connected to a box-like body. The antennas sit on either side of the box, one vertically and the other one horizontally.
These antennas sense the relative position of the Theremin players hand. The vertical antenna controls the pitch whereas the horizontal antenna controls the volume. The signals from the antenna are transmitted to the box, where the sounds are amplified and played through loudspeakers.
The antennas usually sense objects up to four feet away, and any object that enters this radius, will affect the sound. Therefore a Theremin has to be placed a bit away from other performers. The Theremin player can then increase the pitch of the sound by moving closer to the vertical antenna, while deciding the volume on the horizontal antenna. If the hand is touching the horizontal antenna, the sound is silenced.
The Theremin has an incredible range of sounds. The sound is determined by what is set by the player and his or her technique. This results in the Theremin being able to sound like a human voice, clarinet, cello or something completely different.
There are also DIY Theremin kits, which a person assembles him or herself.
The History of the Theremin
The Theremin is the result of a government sponsored project, researching proximity sensors, which in other words are sensors that can detect physical objects nearby without any contact. The inventor, Lev Sergeyevich Termen toured Europe with his new instrument, playing in front of large crowds in packed houses. In the late 1920s, Termen moved to the United States to show off his innovative and strange instrument. The Theremin wasn’t a huge commercial success in the United States at first, but it’s sounds mesmerized a lot of people.
With the increase in new electronic instruments following world war 2, the Theremin had a decrease in popularity. The reason for this was that the newer instruments were easier to play and could achieve the same sound. Many of the sounds can be approximated with many new synthesizers. Yet the Theremin still had its loyal followers.
Originally the Theremin was used to play classic music, by musicians such as Lev Termen and his students. It was when Lev Termen met the young and talented violin player by the name Clara Rockmore, that the Thermin saw its new star player. Clara Rockmore soon became the greatest Theremin player, and she devised new methods of playing the Theremin. It was Clara Rockmore’s talent that established the Theremin as a serious instrument.
The Theremin was after some time discovered by film composers, and it was used in movie soundtracks such as “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Lost Weekend”. The Theremin has been used for a spooky sound effect and has been used in many B movies.
The Theremin saw a great rise in popularity after the release of the film: “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey“, and became widely used by contemporary musicians.
The Theremin has even been featured in the hit series “The Big Bang Theory”
Theremin music has as earlier mentioned changed quite a lot over time. From the solely classic music played by Lev Termen and his students to creepy sound effects in B movies. The Theremin is now a day used in all sorts of music imaginable. From classic pieces, where the Theremin sounds like the beautiful voice of a female singer to guitar solos in some of the most popular rock songs out there.
Below you can see the musical spectrum of the Theremin:
How to Play a Theremin
As previously mentioned, the Theremin is played using two antennas, which are connecting to a box. Usually the antenna on the right is vertical and controls the pitch and the antenna on the left, which is horizontal, controls the volume. Depending on how far away the hands are from the antenna, the pitch or volume changes. The range of the Theremin is very wide, eight or more octaves.
Carolina Eyck, a German-born musician and composer, is one of the world’s foremost Theremin genius, and she has a Youtube channel where she shows her work and also has a great instructional video on the Theremin. You can see this video below:
How to Buy a Theremin
The Theremin is not the easiest instrument to get a hold of. There are some websites that sell the Theremin, for example:
There is also a fun website and app, which is a Theremin. Try it out:
Down below you can find some interesting Theremin stuff from Amazon:
(Keep in mind that the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase via those, the website gets a small portion of the sale, which will help greatly in keeping it running).