One of the most unique and sometimes even considered “freaky” electronic musical instrument out there is the Theremin.
What is a Theremin
This theremin instrument looks like any other electronic device, but when you play it and especially “the way” you play it would freak anyone out.
In fact, it’s pretty much the only instrument out there that doesn’t require ‘touching’.
It’s actually pretty crazy but the sounds produced are awesome. If you’re a fan of Deadmau5’s music, you might hear some similar tones (Especially the drones that he uses).
How Does A Theremin Work
Invented by Léon Theremin in the 1920s (Yeah it’s that old), a Theremin has 2 antennas.
One on each side.
The way the theremin works is when you plug it in and turn it on, there is a magnetic field that is produced on each antenna and your hand actually “interrupts” that field.
This “interruption” causes a single or a sound wave to go into a little component in the theremin which is amplified. This is basically how a theremin works. it actually broadcasts a signal to itself.
This vertical antenna would control the pitch (Helps you create the octaves), and the loop horizontal antenna would control the volume.
Believe it or not, there is a proper way of playing this so called instrument and we’ll get into that as well.
What’s up with the loop antenna?
Now the reason the loop antenna is “looped” because back in the 20s, when the Theremin first came out it had a lots of vacuum tubes and lots of other components that were not in solid state.
Plus the 2 oscillators (The ones that controls the pitch and the volume) would interfere with each other.
By the way, Oscillator is just a fancy word for something that creates sound. When you “oscillate”, you are simply controlling the sound. That’s why when you get a synthesizer or a plugin for a synth, one oscillator means one thing is creating sound (Creating electricity basically).
If you know electronic music or music production in general, you already know what Moog is. However, before even Dr. Bob Moog (Founder of Moog) made a name for themselves, guess what was the first musical instrument that they made?
You guessed it, a theremin.
Just like Leo was the man who invented the machine, Moog is the one who commercialized it and brought it to the masses. I guess you can say Moog was the Thomas Edison of the theremin. By the way, I’ve never mentioned so many old guys at once in my entire life . . . oh boy . . .
This Moog theremin or better known as Etherwave Theremin is made by Robert Moog. It is set up pretty much like the original theremin was just like in the 1920s. Heck even the volume antenna is to the left and the pitch antenna (Vertical antenna) on the right.
By the way, this is only because most people are right handed and you want your prominent hand playing the pitch, and controlling the volume with your other hand.
If you’re left handed, simply turn the theremin around and you’re good to go.
Let’s learn a bit more about Moog Music, which happens to be the actual name of the company.
Founded by Dr. Bob Moog, today they are known for making one of the best synthesizers in the music game. I believe even to this day, their instruments are handmade in North Carolina.
If you already produce music, you’ve probably came across their bass sound samples, etc
Anyways, check out the current Theremin models by Moog.
The Moog Etherwave Standard Theremin
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Okay this is the basic model but there is nothing “basic” about it. To get started, this all you need. It comes in something called Brazilian cherry and looks stunning if I may add. It truly gives it that classic analog look.
By the way, the “Etherwave” models are most original adaptation of the original design by our main man Leon Theremin. It’s a perfect way to pay tribute to it.
Now going back to this instrument, it comes with a 5 Octave Pitch range. Which is pretty good. It’s like having a 31 key invisible midi keyboard.
The main parts which are the antennas are nickel plated so they act as very good conductors and the Moog team also added an adapter so you can connect it to an amp.
The best part about owning a Theremin is even if you don’t play one, it can be a great conversation piece. I think all music lovers should have it just as an homage to the earlier legends who came before us.
If you’re really interested in using this as an instrument in one of your recordings, then I would suggest the Theremini.
Just because it’s more practical.
Moog Etherwave Plus Theremin
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Is basically the standard version but with a few more features. One of the features that I really like is the “pitch preview” with the headphone output (Not on the standard). That means you can hear what you play before the crowd. Kind of cool but I wish there was a way to hear it and if you don’t like what you hear, you can cancel it. Perhaps in the future?
Moog Etherwave Theremini
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This is a theremin on steroids (Modern version of theremin basically). It’s what the Theremin would look like if it was invented today. It literally contains the same engine as the one of the famous Moog synthesizers. Like you’ll get some awesome drones out of this one. Highly recommended for today’s music producer. It has 32 built in presets and own built in speakers as well.
Theremin Kit by Moog
- Antennas: authentic shape, nickel-plated 3/8 in. brass
- Cabinet: furniture-grade hardwoods and Birch plywood; Black instrument-grade finish; mounts on standard mic stand
- Power: durable rocker switch, 110v wall transformer power supply
- Audio Out: 1/4 in. phone jack on front panel, direct audio into your own amp/speaker
- Pitch Range: 5 octaves (3 above and 2 below middle C)
This kit can show you how to build a theremin. If you’re a DIY kind of person, this Moog Etherwave Theremin Kit is for you. For most it’s pretty easy to assemble but then again, there are always people who struggle to setup their own. If you’re into building one, you might be able to pick one up for sale at a local garage sale or something. That would be one lucky day I can tell you that much.
How To Play The Theremin For Beginners
Now to play a Theremin, you first need to get to the lowest note. To achieve this, simply put your prominent hand about 2 feet from the pitch antenna.
This will give you the the lowest note right away. This will only happen if the Theremin is in tune.
if the theremin is in tune properly. Which you will learn later.
The lowest note should be about an A.
If you want to increase the pitch, simply move your hand close to the pitch antenna (Vertical).
Your right hand which would be covering the volume antenna or loop antenna, should remain about 2 inches or less away from it.
That damping of the theremin won’t make any sound but as you raise your hand, this is when you’ll get the volume. When you get to about 8 inches away, thi is when the theremin swells to its fullest volume. Also considered somewhat of a sweet spot.
Of course you can always connect an amplifier to raise the volume on these Moog Theremins so that should be that.
How to tune a Theremin
Okay now to tune a theremin, again you first put your hand about two feet away from the pitch antenna.
Now start tuning it with the pitch controller on the actual Theremin (Using the knob). The trick here is to imagine your hand is on a keyboard, the more you tune, the more octaves (Set of 7 keys) appear. It’s like playing an “air” keyboard.
Once you start experimenting with it, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. It’s actually quite an interesting experience.
Just like with any instrument, you do need some patience and few practice sessions before getting the hang of it. So don’t rush into playing it or you’ll get disappointed and may put it aside.
Take your time with the Theremin, it’s really something unique.
Last update on 2019-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API