honest question. pleased no biased answers

Posted: 1/9/2006 6:18:41 PM

From: eastern canada

Joined: 1/9/2006

is the theremin really as insanly difficult to learn as ive heard? and could anyone compare it in difficulty to guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, fretless bass or any other conventional instruments as far as difficulty?
Posted: 1/9/2006 7:48:59 PM

Joined: 4/28/2005

I had one for a month. I found it nearly impossible to play, but about the time my month's trial was over, I learned that my instrument was defective....it had a slow drift of about a half step every 30-60 seconds (even after an hour's warmup). So, after a three minute song, your hand position would be about 2 inches closer to your body than when you started. It was a very discouraging experience, and I haven't mustered the courage to buy another one. Obviously, after a month of making deplorable music, my family isn't interested in me getting another one either.

The manufacturer was good about it, and took it back, so I have no complaints about that.


Posted: 1/10/2006 1:19:25 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

The Theremin makes a unique set of demands on a musician. One must have a good ear -- for one is constantly tuning every note as one plays the Theremin.

The Theremin requires a unique focus and a level of hand/ear coordination that most other instruments do not require.

So, is it harder than other instruments?

I would say that all instruments are insanely difficult to play at the highest levels. For example, I maintain a concert repertoire on pipe organ and some of the most difficult music has an "insane" amount of notes and makes nearly impossible demands on the performer.

The Theremin can be tougher at the beginner level than most instruments are at their beginner levels. A simple keyboard melody (for example, "Brahms Lulluby") would present some challenges for a Thereminist.

Your own motivation will have a great effect on your progress. I would suggest that to make progress on the Theremin, start with a playable model and do not let yourself become discouraged. The first few practice sessions will probably be pretty rough and it may take awhile before you will be comfortable playing tunes on it.

Not too long ago I was standing in a similar place ... wanting to get a more expensive Theremin and not really sure about plopping down the money.

My personal experience with electronic music instruments and equipment is that the only purchases I regretted were the ones where I didn't spend enough money to get what I really wanted.

To learn to play the Theremin and tap into its expressive possibilities has been extremely rewarding. May your Theremin journey bring you moments of excitement, serenity, and joy.

-- Kevin
Posted: 1/13/2006 6:02:57 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

I will offer you a dissenting viewpoint regarding the theremin: To assert that it's nearly impossible to play is a myth. It's a myth perpetuated, in part, by theremin players themselves (for a variety of reasons).

However, I've been playing for over eight years, and I believe that to make such an assertion is, at the individual level, self-defeating. What other endeavor have you ever entered into by telling yourself, "This is probably impossible becuase others say it is." The theremin CAN be played, and played well, by those who take it up, commit to it, and practice. It's that simple. In that respect it is no different than any other instrument. Pick up a tuba and try to play it! If it's your first time, you'll think to yourself, "This is impossible!" Any instrument is hard at first.

Where the theremin TRULY differs ( and this is rarely discussed) is that, unlike any other instrument, it carries with it a psycholgical barrier -- you are not touching anything. THAT is the true obstacle. We are tactile and visual beings. The theremin denies us these two sensory feedback systems. When playing, your hands feel nothing as a reference -- no fret, string, key, etc. When playing, your eyes have no reference point for the location of notes.

However, this obstacle, too, is an illusion -- disguised in the form of a purely psychological yet unnecessary dependence upon the sensory feedback that we rely on so often.

You can prove this to yourself in the following manner. When you are done, you will be able to play the theremin better than you did a few minutes before. To proceed and actually complete what you will read below, you will need an open mind. Ready?

You're going to use a simple scale: Do Re Mi Fa So, etc. You already know it backwards and forwards. You've grown up hearing it all your life. If you're more comfortable knowing that you're starting on middle C, go ahead and sound that note out on a piano or something, just to orient yourself. But, in reality, you can start anywhere for the purposes of this exercise.

Okay. Stand in front of your theremin and concentrate on only one thing: playing the scale. Just slide from one note to the other (DO NOT WORRY ABOUT RYTHYM, CLEAN NOTE ARTICULATION, VOLUME OR ANYTHING ELSE) and just reach each pure pitch. Go slow and when you hit the pitch correctly just hold and let it sing out ... "Do-o-o-o-o-o" for about five seconds. Then move on to the next, just slide up to it and hold... "Re-e-e-e-e-e-e-e" etc., all the way up, then all the way back down.

Go get a WOODEN spoon from your kitchen. Hold the STEM END of the spoon and repeat the same exercise, playing your notes with the wide bowl end of the spoon. Take your time. All the way up and down the scale.

Stand as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes. Repeat the same scale using YOUR HEAD. DO NOT LOOK. Just lean in, find the note, get it right, then HOLD, then move on. Go all the way up and down the scale.

Do the same thing with each of your elbows.

Repeat all four steps above, only choose a very simple SONG that you know inside and out. SIMPLE: "Happy Birthday" or something.

Go away for fifteen minutes. Relax. Come back to the theremin. Plant yourself, and play the simple song you chose straight through. I will let you be the judge of the result.

Silly as the above sounds, you'll never regret it. You are teaching your body to move past the psychological obstacle placed there by your CONSCIOUS MIND. You are circumventing your thinking, your inner voice and all you've heard about the theremin's difficulty. The awkward nature of the activity of using both your head, elbows and a spoon bypasses not only your intellect but the assumptions you have been forcing your body to make about how to play a theremin (becuase we all watch the documentaries and see
Posted: 1/13/2006 6:44:46 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

That was fun thank you.
I agree the psycho barrier is great with the theremin. Also it involves the entire body in a way no other instrument does. You cannot sway or bob without affecting your note.

Having some sort of musical experience singing or playing another instrument helps if melodic playing is the goal.
Other things I think that help are experience in finger spelling, pantomime, Indian classical dance, conducting, anything that requires gesture accuracy to communicate meaning. Conducting also helps as the hand which indicates volume matches the volume hand for right handed theremin players. Putting the theremin through it's own speaker and getting it close to head level. For me reading music, either on paper or in my head, helps, mostly because I can see the next note and plan accordingly.

It mostly helps to love the sound of it. Like Peter Pringle wrote to levnet "you are the note" that's a great way to think of it. All of you does it, you can't suddenly slouch while playing the theremin and not affect your pitch.

It is also an always expanding electronic interface, if you want to develop sounds and music systems no one has ever head before it is better than the electronic keyboard I think.

Posted: 1/13/2006 9:30:28 PM

From: eastern canada

Joined: 1/9/2006

thanks for the info everybody, i feel rather inspired. cant wait to get my theremin
Posted: 1/14/2006 4:57:09 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I am not an expert - I've only had a theremin for a few months - but nonetheless I would like to add a thought of mine to schielenkrahe's comment that the theremin lacks tactile and visual feedback. This ties in with Peter Pringle's observation as quoted by omhoge that "you are the note" and the thought is: Proprioception.

Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of the various parts of one's body. It's how come you can touch your nose with your eyes closed.

It seems to me that this could be used to the thereminist's advantage - while you have no innate sense of where your hand is relative to the pitch aerial proprioception does inform you where your hand is relative to, say, your breastbone. So perhaps it makes sense to suggest that instead of thinking about moving your pitch hand towards and away from the antenna, you should focus on moving your hand away from and towards your chest.

Posted: 1/14/2006 9:19:39 AM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

Mid September 2005: I had never learned to read music or play an instrument. Now I can play passable theremin to the point that people don't run from the room screaming.

I think motivation and a desire to practice are very important. You must practice every day and WANT to practice. Find some music you like and play along with it. Get Mr. Pringle's CD. Join Levnet and ask questions of the masters.

Good luck. I still can't read music.

Posted: 1/14/2006 11:37:39 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Kkissinger's advice was excellently laid out. I could not have put it better myself - so instead I'll try to bring up a few other points:

The theremin has a very unusually shaped learning curve. One can make leaps and bounds one week, and then being hitting a brick wall for months afterwards. Whilst it doesn't normally take ages for a player to get to the stage where they can pick out something recognisable, it takes a huge amount of dedication and skill to make the instrument sound pleasing to the ear. That's where the near impossible challenge lies.

The idea that it is 'the most difficult instrument ever invented' seems to me like the fabrication of those who buy the instrument, and fail after a few hours of trying in vain. I'd think of it more as the most 'unusual' instrument to learn. :-)

It's worth remembering that the vast majority of people who buy a theremin aren't hugely musical - Peter Pringle once referred to the theremin as 'a magnet for musical wanabees,' and in many ways I agree. It's a novel instrument, and many people think that the novelty factor compensates for a lack of skill. If only it were true. . . Clara Rockmore spent her life trying to prevent that sort of thing happening!

If you approach the theremin, as an instrument, and are disciplined in practice, then I expect you'll be surprised at what you can acheive. Good musicians shouldn't find the instrument to bean impossible challenge. Almost all the best thereminists I can name: Clara Rockmore, Peter Pringle, Samuel Hoffman, Carolina Eyck and Pamelia Kurstin were skilled musicians who had a good knowledge of music before they took up the instrument, and this seems to be the best asset a thereminist can have. Most of the professionals agree that it should not be a first instrument, although I cannot talk from experience. Lydia Kavina started the theremin when she was 8 - and I do not believe she had instruction on any other instrument. She is now the world's leading exponent of the theremin.

Sure - it's difficult, but I promise that if you stick with it, you'll be pleasantly surprised. :)
Posted: 1/14/2006 1:53:43 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Charlie, thank you for the compliment. You really are spot-on with your observation about the Theremin's learning curve.

My experience has been that the learning curve is not really a curve -- it is more like a stairway.

To accept plateaus as a normal part of the learning process is the best antidote to any frustration. When you find yourself "stuck" -- don't give up! Hang in there and a jump to a higher level is inevitable.

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