NewB Question about sound: Run away

Posted: 3/30/2009 2:18:27 PM

From: Toronto

Joined: 3/30/2009

Hi everyone,

I'm new here, and I'm looking into getting a theremin.

I tried googling my question, and found your forums, but not my answer. If it's been discussed and you don't want to repeat it, just send me the link and tell me to shut up, but I did try to find it.

Anyways, my question is about the actual noise the themin makes, the voice. Is there a way to change it? I've been looking a bit into the schematics, and while I'm no expert, I don't see why the sound of a theremin is still limited to that same ethereal tone. Is it possible to create and use other voices for the theremin?

I know unlike other instruments, there is more "bending" involved with the notes, but when I was taking 'MIDI and Music' back in High School, we had keyboards which could bend the notes drastically, so I know bending voices is possible. So I guess, after my long winded, and twice repeated question, I'm just curious, can you change the "voice" of the theremin, and if so, where can I get information on that, cause the terms I was searching and googling didn't yield results.


Posted: 3/30/2009 2:35:24 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

[i]"I've been looking a bit into the schematics, and while I'm no expert, I don't see why the sound of a theremin is still limited to that same ethereal tone. Is it possible to create and use other voices for the theremin?"[/i]

Yes it is possible, and there are as many routes to this as are available on analogue synthesisers.. This topic has been discussed technically (if you can read schematics, you should not have too many problems understanding most of what follows) recently in the threads how do I distort thee ( and its preceding thread building a Theremin (
Posted: 3/30/2009 4:44:16 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Are there any particular sorts of sounds you want to make? It always helps to know what kind of stuff you're into. Grindcore? 14th century madrigals?

Guitar effects like fuzz and wah work pretty well, or you can process the sound through a synth - even take CVs from the rod and loop and generate a completely new waveform that varies in timbre according to pitch or volume. Or both. (If you have a theremin with CV out like moog's new etherwave plus.)

(Remember that a sound is more than just its waveform - you control the envelope and pitch-bend with your hands.)

Posted: 4/13/2009 7:44:53 PM

From: Toronto

Joined: 3/30/2009

Huh, I never got the email that there were replies, sorry for my delay.

FredM: Thanks for the link, perhaps I should have stressed the "not an expert" part of my first post, hah. Most of that link is beyond me currently, but it's bookmarked, and with some of my reading on theremins, it's starting to make sense in places.

GordonC: I was thinking something along the line of having voices to switch to, so that the sounds come out more like a piano, violin, clarinet, etc. rather than the general ethereal voice it has.
Posted: 4/13/2009 7:58:00 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

The timbre controls of the Moog Etherwave Standard allow to adjust the voice. Trombone, cello, clarinet, violin, recorder, flute, all is possible. But it is not only the "electronic" waveform or the harmonics spectrum which gives the sound. The fitting envelope shaping has to be done by your left hand and the transition from one tone to another with your right hand. The best waveform setting is useless if you have basically a trombone sound but shape the tones as with a violin bow instead of doing the typical slight sliding from tone to tone. Your vibrato has also to be different from one voice to another.

80% of the theremin's voice is playing technique and only 20% depends on the audio spectrum. That's why one may recognize some players even when they are playing different instruments and why the same theremin with the same settings sounds totally different when played by different players.

But remember: The theremin is an unique musical instrument with unique characteristics. So intending only to simulate other instruments would be a degradation of its own character. A good theremin should rather sound like a good theremin instead of a bad clarinet.

It is naturally preferable to vary slightly the timbre, depending on what kind of music you are playing and on which instruments do the accompaniment. If playing with a string quartet, you will be acoustically lost with a violin or cello timbre...
Posted: 4/14/2009 12:43:49 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Thierry has already provided a thorough and elequent reply to your question.

Unfortunately, what you are asking is not (yet) possible and your reasoning eludes me. Your stated goal and the method you propose are incongruent.

You could best achieve your goal with any good synthesizer that has a glide/potramento feature.

However, in the same way a synthesizer functions, the simple voice of the theremin can be shaped using any number of effects and processing units.
A theremin with a "harsher" (as some say), richer voice can more effectively drive distortion units.
Posted: 4/14/2009 10:06:27 PM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

One small thing to add...You can change the voice a bit on the Etherwave. If I could get a little technical for a moment, there is a knob that makes it go from "spooky" to "singing lady".

Seriously, it chnages the shape of the waveform a bit.
Posted: 4/19/2009 7:48:41 PM

From: Toronto

Joined: 3/30/2009


Thanks for the information about the Moog Etherwave Standard, and clarifying more on how the sounds are produced. (Reading more on forums as opposed to information pages is starting to give me a better understanding)

Jeff S:
My reasoning (which eluded you) seems to have been based on a misunderstanding of how theremins produced the sound, what I had been reading before gave me the impression that you only controlled the pitch and the volume. As well as seeing some videos on youtube, which after talking with the people who made them, I understand people were using different voices by feeding their theremin through a secondary device, and into the computer to use midi voices.

DiggyDog: You get points for your technical language.

Posted: 4/21/2009 10:12:35 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Just a little bit off-topic.

Gesi - I stumbled across this today and immediately thought of you!

Bowed Piano (

I've heard "prepared" piano before, but I thought this was an interesting and novel approach.
Be sure to check out the demo's on the left side of the page.
Posted: 4/23/2009 7:57:27 PM

From: Toledo, Ohio United States of America

Joined: 2/22/2006

And, then there is the ThereMax. Not for the timid, especially for those that are not up to electronic kit-building. But, the voices avaible with parts swapping,(modding), can get you many more "knobs that go from spooky" to violin to horn, a singing lady, to the last gasps of a dying feline.
I like "spooky" and "singing lady" best, but I love to hear a violin-like dying cat once in a while.
If you are brave, at least check out .

Good Luck,


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