Why has the theremin never gained popularity?

Posted: 12/29/2009 3:29:19 PM

Joined: 3/21/2008

Why is the theremin such an obscure instrument? It is undoubtably interesting; I've never seen someone not take at least a slight interest. Is it because it's too difficult to play? What do you think?
Posted: 12/29/2009 7:03:48 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Theremins are still quite rare, mainly because they're still in their infancy.

Compared with conventional instruments, they've only been around for less than a century.

Their difficulty in playing, combined with the scarceness of qualified instructors, difficulty in manufacturing, and relatively low demand has also contributed to the rather low numbers of players.

Theremins were also feared at one time early in their history as a threat to the job security of conventional musicians as theremins were once intended to replace instruments in orchestras.

After a while, theremins eventually went into obscurity after only a couple of decades, only to be rediscovered by a handful of musicians, and film-makers in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. However, theremins were mostly used as emotionally influincial devices in horror films, and thrillers at that time.

Theremins are gaining visibility more and more since folks like Bob Moog, Burns, and several other manufacturers started producing theremins in greater numbers over the last few decades.

It's important to remember, that theremins are still only mostly available from online instrument shops, or the manufacturers. There are very few stand alone / walk-in instrument shops where one can buy an off the shelf theremin. Again, this is partly due to the still relatively low numbers of musicians looking for them until they discover them on youtube videos, or see them in public.

As more musicians take up the theremin, and eventually become instructors them selves, and start providing quality instruction at the local level as with conventional musicians, we'll eventually see the instrument become more readily available in more places.

I don't think it will ever be as widely used as conventional instruments for at least another half century, or so. Unless I'm terribly mistaken, there have only been about 20 to 25 thousand theremins produced throughout the theremin's entire history when you account for kit builders, as well as munufacturers.

There are millions of keyboards, guitars, and likely hundreds of thousands of pianos. Not to mention all the other conventional instruments out there.

There are thousands of professional instructors, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of musicians on conventional instruments.

We thereminists are a small group in the greater scheme of things indeed. But, our numbers are growning over time.
Posted: 12/30/2009 6:49:23 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

glue, I think you hit the nail smack on the head! The theremin is much too difficult to play with accuracy and precision to ever enjoy the popularity of traditional instruments.

The theremin is monophonic (it can play only a single note) so it will never enjoy the universal popularity of guitars, keyboards, etc., which are polyphonic. Even violins and cellos can play two notes at once (as well as broken chords) so they are far more versatile musically.

The theremin is a "one trick pony" but if you can pull off the trick without screwing up, it's magical.

The addition of electronic pitch correction (the so-called "Cher effect") has made the theremin a lot easier to play on key but unfortunately it also removes the "magic" which is what makes the theremin so fascinating in the first place. It turns the theremin into a "cheremin".

Only time will tell, but I don't believe the theremin will ever enjoy the popularity of conventional instruments. The old RCA goal of "A THEREMIN IN EVERY HOME" was a pipe dream. It was unrealistic to begin with and if they had managed to get a theremin into every home, would it have been a good thing?

Posted: 12/30/2009 6:52:32 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I just noticed that Thomas Grillo wrote in regard to the popularity of theremins, "Our numbers are growning over time".

I'm not sure if this is deliberate humor or a typo but it's BRILLIANT!
Posted: 12/30/2009 10:31:52 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Dear, oh dear. That's why they don't let me drive.

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