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6 Tips For Learning To Play Your New Theremin

Got a theremin as a holiday present this year?  Congratulations!  Learning to play can be a little daunting, so we've put together this list of resources to help you begin your theremin journey!

1. Know Thy Antennas

The first thing to learn is what the 2 antennas do.  The left antenna (usually a loop) controls volume.  Like an orchestra conductor, raising your hand up in the air increases volume, and placing it down closer to the antenna lowers the volume. 

The vertical antenna controls pitch.  The closer your hand is to the antenna, the higher the pitch.  The farther away, the lower the pitch.  Moving your hand up and down along the pitch antenna doesn't change the pitch.  The key is to move closer and farther away from the antenna.

2. One Hand At A Time

Before you try using both hands at once, take a moment to practice with only 1 hand at a time.  To practice with your volume hand, place your other hand behind your back.  Then simply move your volume hand up and down to get a feel for how your theremin responds.  Now switch hands and place your volume hand behind your back as you move your pitch hand closer to and further from the pitch antenna.

3. Steady...  Steady...

Now you're ready to try both hands together, but one will be kept still.  Find a pitch and try to hold it perfectly steady with your pitch hand while you move your volume hand up and down.  Now switch hands and hold your volume hand perfectly steady while you change the pitch.  The idea is to get both hands working independently at the same time and to not let motions of one hand affect the other.

4.  Headphones

Perhaps this should have been the first tip... but your friends and family might really appreciate you wearing headphones until you're ready to debut your new theremin concert career.  The ability to use headphones is a huge benefit the theremin has over the banjo, by the way!

5.  Thereoke!

As you begin, it might be helpful to play along with the vocal tracks on your favorite songs to get a feel for how to find notes in air.  Start with something slow.  Holiday music can be a great choice, especially at this time of year!  Try songs like "What Child Is This?", "Silent Night", or "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear".

6.  Video Lessons

Now that you're familiar with the instrument and you're ready to move on, consider watching some video theremin lessons.  Several thereminists have produced videos on YouTube (see Thomas Grillo, Kip Rosser, and Carolina Eyck, for example).  Thomas Grillo also gives private lessons online via Skype!  Visit his website, for more information.