Considering playing...

Posted: 9/9/2007 1:18:01 AM

From: Florida

Joined: 9/9/2007

I'm really interested in getting a theremin and learning to play, but I have a few concerns, mostly about if it'd be a good idea for me to go for it or not, seeing as they're fairly pricey and all.

I don't know any music - reading, playing any instrument, anything like that. I do run soundboard often, for a live band, but I don't know if that really has anything to do with anything, and I can sing, carry a tune, but I don't actually have skills in the musical area, mostly 'cause I've never found anything that really clicked.

I just really want to know if this is this the sort of instrument that requires knowledge first, requires actual known musical talent (I failed miiiiserably at playing guitar a few years back, mostly because it was structured and made my head hurt with the way the guy was teaching me)? Or can it just be picked up as it's own separate thing?

I understand it's obviously hard to learn, requires patience and practice and all. I'm just wanting to know if it requires anything other than that, y'know? XD

So, yeah, if anyone can offer advice, that'd be grand! <3

--Edit: In addition, and totally separate, as it doesn't influence my decision - is there a way to add distortion to the instrument, as with electric guitar? Or is that not needed and in there already with just skill in playing or whatever? I was just curious after hearing some samples online that sounded sorta life effects on guitar or something, figured I'd throw it in as a side-question. XD
Posted: 9/9/2007 2:16:31 AM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

Welcome to ThereminWorld, Shinyone!

I've only been playing my Theremon for a few weeks, but a couple thoughts come to mind for your situation.

First off, I LOVE my Theremin! It's a wonderfully rewarding instrument, given the time and care it deserves. I do play some other instruments, so I really don't have that presective for you. However, the Theremin does require a very keen ear. If you are tone deaf, this will show in Theremin playing, as each note is picked out strictly by ear, not touch. If you're not sure if you are tone deaf, I would recommend singing or humming a common song to someone that will give you honest feedback, preferably someone with a musical background. A lot of people who can't sing, really think they can because they only sing for people who would say nice things back to them (American Idol auditions, anyone?). Also, good music will still sound good to people who are tone deaf. I'm not saying you are one of these people, I'm just saying to make sure that you are not (if you haven't already). I also hope I am not being too blunt or assuming. For all I know, I could be tone deaf and no one will tell me (I don't sing in front of people). The Theremin is still fun, anyway...even if I don't get a career due to being tone deaf. :P Buuuuut, I'm just rambling now...

Second, if you are able to, try one out first. If you know someone who has one, this would be a great way to see if you like it. If you don't know anyone with a Theremin, call around to local music shops to see if they have one you can try out. You may have to search around, though, as it is not nearly as common as the guitar. In fact, you might find some puzzeled shop workers before you find a Theremin (I know I did!).

Third, price considerations. If you are very tight on cash, this may be a set back. There are some cheap models out there (a couple hundred dollars), but it shows in how playable they are. Even though some of them are playable (if not barely so), they could frustrate you to the point of quitting. I would highly recommend the Moog EtherWave Standard (starting around $350-$400) as a beginning Theremin. This is the model I got. It is very playable for the price and from what I hear, Moog has EXCELLENT customer service may something go wrong (nothing has gone wrong with mine in the few weeks I've had it, by the way). Theremin world has an excellent buyers guide here ( Make sure you check it out!

I hope this helps. Be sure to let us know what you decide!
Posted: 9/9/2007 2:23:51 AM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

PS. I often plug my Theremin into my effects pedal just like I do my guitar for some dazzling results. This is not difficult to do. If you can plug a guitar into it, you can plug a Theremin into it, as long as the Theremin has an audio out (some Theremins - usually cheap 'toy' ones - only have a basic speaker built in).
Posted: 9/9/2007 6:17:10 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Greetings, shiny one.

I found myself in a similar position a couple of years ago, with the differences that I can't sing (and I don't need a forthright friend to tell me) and I have a bit of a background of listening to fairly hard-core experimental/atonal/noise music.

So, working on the basis that you will never miss if you shoot first, see what you hit and then call it the target, I bought myself an instrument and started finding ways to make sounds that I find pleasing without relying on consonance. In some ways it is easier than melodic playing, but it is the path less trod, so there is little guidance to be had and consequently my time not spent honing intonation is occupied in theorising and experimentation. (I am indebted to the denizens of Theremin World for their encouragement, suggestions and feedback during this process.)

The downside is I am involved in a campaign to eradicate the last scraps of my already vestigial attachment to making tonal music, so I shall probably never play a "proper" tune, and I am fully aware that what I do produce has minority appeal, but I am OK with this. I've played a few gigs for the East London art/noise crowd and been invited back by the organisers, and a small amount of my playing appears on iTunes courtesy of White Label Music - an independent electronica label, so it's all good. :-)

Also I can confirm carport888's observation that many guitar effects work well with the theremin (not all; the theremin produces, harmonically speaking, a very simple signal, so effects that rely on harmonic complexity are not so hot without dirtying up the signal first.)

My effect of choice is the delay - working on the theory that having abandoned consonance I should replace it with another interesting acoustic phenomenon, and an echo box is an inexpensive way of adding complexity to the sound. In common with many thereminists I am a solo performer, and I doubt even the best players could devise a set for solo unadulterated theremin that an audience would not tire of rapidly.

As to whether my experiments work for you is something you should judge for yourself, so here is a link to my mySpace videos page ( (They are a bit strange. You have been warned.)
Posted: 9/9/2007 2:38:54 PM

From: Florida

Joined: 9/9/2007

Thanks for the welcome and quick response, you guys! <3

Re: Carport -

I'm pretty much sure I'm not tone-deaf - can't be to run soundboard, or there would be a lynch mob after me, I think; and I tend to be the one in the room cringing if there's a sour note floating around, even if I haven't the foggiest idea what that note's actually supposed to be in title - but will possibly get up the nerve t'ask someone 'bout that. Haha.

I'm not sure if anyplace local will have theremins, but I'm definitely going to look around, ask around, all that. I'd really like to try one out first, mostly to see if it's as neat in-person as it is in these videos and audio clips (though I'm sure it is just as cool, if not more-so), and if I'm still wow'd into wanting one. XD Puzzling store employees is always fun anyway, so yay!

Price-wise, I don't actually have pretty much any money at the moment, but I'm looking to see if I can save for it. If by the time I have enough, I'm still interested, it's probably something I won't lose interest in and not-play, so I think that should work. Funny enough, the one you mention is the one I was looking into most, too. XD And while that's expensive for me, I figure if I'm going to do it I may as well do it right, so it only makes sense to pay that much, and get something good instead of junk for cheap. ^_^

Thanks for your help!<3

Re: Gordon -

First of all, your samples on Myspace was one of the first I was listening to, actually, even before I found this site (so that's pretty awesome; and I'm probably friending you, hehe) and very, very awesome and unique. Mildly creepy in an artsy and relaxing sort of way, and that's very definitely a good thing. <3

Sort of the sort of thing I was thinking about doing, not actually playing "songs" in the traditional sense, following notes (mostly 'cause I can't read music, heh), but not just making noises for the sake of making noises, either.

The guitar effects pedals - is there a way of figuring out, before playing with, what will work? I'm not real technical (heh), so while i sorta-get what you're saying, in theory, I'm not sure what to look for as what would-or-wouldn't work; would there be any actual detail in the specs of the pedal/device, or is it just a specific effect here and there that wouldn't work nicely?

Thank you for your help! <3

In general - So it sounds like while you have to hear the sounds right, you don't actually have to "know music" already to play... which was my main worry and so that's very awesome, and if I can get the money I'm most likely going to go for it. XD
Posted: 9/9/2007 2:45:02 PM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

I can read a note of music. And I play everyday.

Posted: 9/9/2007 4:57:01 PM

From: Fresno, California USA

Joined: 3/26/2006

I am preparing to build a Theremax from a kit--but the principal objective is to increase my psychological investment. Looks like it won't be much less expensive than a ready-made Etherwave, if any. The amplifier I purchased has a CD input, so that will allow me to have a vocalist or backup, which should help with learning tunes. I seem to recall that there may be some effects available through the amp also, but I'm not sure and too lazy to dig out the manual right now.

By the way, does anyone know how to edit a piece of music on a CD? I have a Mac computer, but have never had any need for such a think until recently. I have a (public domain) vocal recording I would like to learn to play with (I am repeatedly playing it on the way to work in order to get the tune right), but there is a gratuitous bit of voice by the recording technician at the end that I would like to eliminate.
Posted: 9/9/2007 6:38:18 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Shinyone - Thank you very much indeed. It's warming to be told that. I play for myself, primarily - I find messing around on the theremin therapeutic - relaxing, focusing and cathartic. I take my messing around seriously - there wouldn't be much point doing it if I didn't enjoy it, and I know when I like something and when I don't. I share it because I can, and it is pleasant to think I brought someone a little pleasure once in a while. So thank you.

Incidentally, please pass my compliments on to your photographer - that's a good avatar. As the judges at my local camera club might well say, I'm enjoying it very much. A contra jour profile of an attractive young woman, completely silhouetted against an open evening sky, nicely exposed and composed, with a strong contrast between the intimacy and anonymity of the figure and the windswept hair adding a note of pensiveness against the lightness of the sky with its spattering of fluffy clouds, leaving an overall impression of a subject thoughtful beyond her years, with an air of mystery and longing.

With regard to effects pedals, it goes very much to what you like, and what works with your music. Visit your local music store and ask to try some of their pedals out on your theremin. Take a pair of headphones with you! Also ask your band. Effects pedals are not designed with theremins in mind so it is a bit hit and miss without knowing a good deal of theory. And read on...

AlaninCA - I'm assuming you're running iLife 08. There may be minor differences if you have an older one, but nothing drastic. Open iTunes. Open Garageband, choose Create New Music Project and click Create on the next panel. Click on the plus icon in the bottom left and Create a Real Instrument Track. Now drag the CD track from iTunes onto the new track to import it. Click on the information (i) icon to select what effects are applied to your track.

Shinyone -This also works on live instruments. (I'll assume you have a mac as I don't know much about Windows - I assume equivalent software is available.) Instead of dragging on a track from iTunes, if you have an audio in on your computer you can just plug the theremin straight in to it. There will, inevitably be a delay between the sound going into the computer, being processed and coming out of the speakers, which is a major disadvantage for theremin playing. But it's good enough to try out software emulations of different sorts of effects. Not the same as the real thing, but might give you an idea.
Posted: 9/9/2007 8:52:38 PM

From: Fresno, California USA

Joined: 3/26/2006

Thanks, Gordon; I suspected Garage Band might be mixed up in it somewhere, but have never had any reason to use it; now I will get educated, I guess!

P.S.: I successfully bent the volume antenna for my theremin just about an hour ago!! Yay!
Posted: 9/10/2007 12:35:56 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

I can also vouch for the Etherwave Standard as a "good" first theremin. I also have the B3 by Burns, which is a bit challenging to play because of it's size, but it's also a nice one to start with, especially when run through effects gear. It only costs 150. Evin though I have an etherwave pro, I still take the B3, or the standard out on gigs sometimes.

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