This year for Christmas I received a Theremin from my wife. An odd electronic instrument that is not very common; even less so in popular music. A couple years ago in a museum we ran across an interactive exhibit that had a Theremin and we played with it and both thought it was very cool. More recently we realized that a show we like uses a Theremin to play the melody in the theme song.

Now that I own one, I must say they are very cool and could be used to make some very distinctive and original music. However that seems to be easier said than done.

In concept a Theremin is very simple. Two antennae, one for volume and one for pitch. The proximity of your hand to the antennae controls the pitch and volume. Move your hand close to the volume antenna reduce the volume, move your hand closer to the pitch antenna to increase the pitch. Once these are understood it is pretty easy to control each.

The challenge however is having complete control over the pitch ( the controls are both very sensitive ), and also adding expression to the notes. If both hands are perfectly still, the result is just a cold static sound at a specific pitch; not very pleasing. For pleasing sounds one must increase and decrease volume while phrasing ( as people do when talking: see Ben Stein for what happens when this isn’t done ), and using a vibrato technique with your pitch hand to add some color to the note.

Currently I can control both volume and pitch, but still struggle playing the note that I desire. Furthermore, even when I hit the note it doesn’t sound particularly good, due to lack of expressiveness.

All in all the Theremin has been a lot of fun and seems to have promising potential. One of these days when I can actually play, I will record something and post it on here.


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