Moog Theremini Owners

Posted: 10/18/2014 4:06:44 AM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Hi Guys,

I have a Theremini too (and an Etherwave), and am quite new to the whole Theremin scene. I am nowhere the expert that other folks are here but perhaps my experiences are much closer to yours at this point.

First, if you are just starting, I don't care what you have, believe me you are going to have to just grit your teeth and listen critically to yourself and practice. I don't have perfect pitch and you don't need it at all as long as you have a decent ear (and I even have quite a bit of hearing loss but am still doing ok to start).

So here are my tips to start having some fun with the Theremini - take 'em or leave 'em.

Start by using Dewster's calibration suggestion. Then...

1. Make sure you set your sound to Chromatic mode to start getting used to playing a full pitch field. Sure play around with the other scale settings and sounds for fun - you can get some cool sounds. But you want to try getting used to playing in a full pitch field.

2. Set your sound to theremin or you can use one of the others too that are close to it, but again make sure to set to chromatic scale. When you change sounds the scale used changes.

3. This step is totally up to you: I set that Pitch correction knob to about 10-12 O'clock to start. You'll still get a full note range with portamento but it will start correcting pitch a bit - you might not really notice too much other than it might seem a bit easier to play to you.  Or just keep it to the left if you prefer. I would just experiment here. You will quickly determine how you want to use the Pitch correction knob.

4. I recommend setting the note range a bit more compressed than the default. I tried setting mine to C2 to C5, for the theremin sound. That will give you a bit more widened field with a lower high end that you might find easier to deal with to start. You probably don't need to play a really large range yet. I have an Etherwave too and this setting kind of maps to a similar pitch field for a good portion of the range. I really started having fun playing the Theremini once I did this step (remember I'm a relative beginner too).

5. Put on some slow music and try playing along as best you can to the melody but make sure you can hear the Theremini well above the music. It's what I did to start. All I did for a couple weeks in fact to try and play in tune. If you don't have perfect pitch you might have a hard time hearing you are in tune if you play solo. But with another pitch reference it will be easier for now. I found a funny thing that happens is that your ear starts getting used to the instrument and you start playing more in tune over time as your ear adjusts (and of course you get used to the thing and get a feel for how much hand motion you need to separate notes).

6. Yes it will be hard. It might be frustrating. Don't blame lack of perfect pitch. But just try and have fun right now and not worry about trying to be a virtuoso. I can say, however, people at this site have helped me tremendously and I am sure they will help you too. There is no better resource on the topic than here that I have found.

That's my two cents. I'm no expert here yet, but I know a heck of a lot about music. Good luck on your journey! For now just try and have fun.


Posted: 10/18/2014 4:42:47 AM

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


My post was a humerous reply to Coalport.

I cannot help the fact that you have no sense of humor or that you bought a theremini or that you have never played a theremin - those are your problems ;-)

You may however find more encouragement and adoration for the theremini with fellow muff-wigglers.


"Trying to play it without the notes marked on the sheet was very difficult for me " - Gary

The reason for this, and the reason you need the cheat sheet, is simple - LATENCY!  Without the sheet, you dont know where to put your hand, because the note lags your hand movement by 1/10th of a second!! You need a "Closed loop" between the pitch from the instrument and your movements - you need to hear the pitch that the position your hand is at SHOULD be making, but with the theremini YOU DONT HEAR THIS - You hear a pitch moving towards the point where your hand is, and because the pitch you hear isnt  where your hand is, you "correct" and in so correcting you screw up... THE TOY IS UNPLAYABLE!

MOOG LIED! - They never made a "more playable theremin" they made something that can NEVER be played like a theremin!! - Peter Pringle cannot play it like a theremin, Kevin Kissinger cannot play it like a theremin, Thomas Grillo cannot play it like a theremin, Randy George cannot play it like a theremin, and I am certain even Lydia Kavina couldnt play it like a theremin! - If these people cannot play it, NOBODY CAN!

The cheat sheet gives aproximate positions - but tiny mm differences, differences in your body posture, whether you have just inhaled or exhaled, will all alter the pitch relative to these markings.. so (as seen) you can be +/- 50 cents easily!

Until you understand what we are saying, you will see us as just being bitchy - TOUGH!

This thread, and the idea behind it, are fine - the theremini may well be usable in some musical roles.... But forget about playing the damn thing like a theremin, because it is NOT a theremin !!!  Use it for drones or pads or stuff like that.

I only posted on this thread because you were talknig about playing it like a theremin - my advice there was that YOU CANNOT! -just like you couldnt play a hurdy-gurdy like a theremin... You can almost certainly use it musically, BUT YOU CANNOT PLAY THE THEREMINI LIKE A THEREMIN !!!

You say " I get it.  " But the truth is that YOU DONT!


"Moog seems to have me on the hook indefinitely for the promised update. " - Dewster

Aw, c'mon Dewster - ! ... You are way too technical to take that hook!   --- Even you couldnt produce a software update that would correct the latency problem (even if you knew the design inside-out) without replacing the pitch oscillator! - And even after replacing the oscillator, you know it would require a total re-write of the code to improve the myriad of flaws right at its heart, and in all probability, even with a new oscillator and entirely new code, its almost certain that the topology has not been designed competently enough that it could ever be turned into a good theremin!

One look at the theremini oscillator circuit, one look at the step response times, and any engineer with any knowlege of music electronics or theremins can see what the theremini is and what utter incompetence and/or disregard for the usibility and quality the "designers" had.

If this was an electronic piano which took 100ms (1/10th of a second!) to play the correct note after the key was pressed, would you hang onto it in the hope that the manufacturer migh issue a software update to get it to 50ms response, or would you get rid of it?

100ms !!! - 10ms would be bad, but just usable - Do you think the coming update will give a 10x improvement in speed? - Dream on! ;-)

Posted: 10/18/2014 8:11:17 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Gary, 

I hope that the video didn't come as too much of a nasty surprise! Everyone's a bit wobbly the first time they get on a bicycle. :-)

I'm probably the worst person here to offer advice - if you've been lurking a while you'll know that I chose a different path to the melodic players for my theremin adventures, but what Rich said makes a lot of sense to me. And I would add that it's as much about your ear for music as it is about the instrument. I'm honestly not sure how far the theremini's "training wheels" will take you - you may want to supplement your theremini practice with an ear training course - there are apps for that. (I have no idea which are good ones, if any.)

Posted: 10/18/2014 11:51:53 AM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

"Do you think the coming update will give a 10x improvement in speed? - Dream on! ;-)"  - FredM

Hey, a boy can dream! ;-)  Heck, maybe it's something as simple as a digital filter in the signal path that was accidentally set too low?  The oscillators could almost certainly be hacked for higher swing, but I'd have to see evidence of significantly lower latency first.

Posted: 10/18/2014 12:26:23 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

People have been experimenting for years with marking the notes within the electrostatic fields of theremins on bits of paper, on pieces of cotton string tied to the rod, etc. etc., So far, no one has found a method of doing this that is dependable and helpful in learning to play the instrument. 


Each noob who tries it seems unaware that it has been tried before, because there is no tradition of theremin playing, and most of us are learning in a bubble. Imagine if someone gave you a violin and a bow and left it entirely up to you how you were going to make music with these implements. You would have no idea how to tune the thing, no idea how to hold the bow, etc. You'd have to figure it all out by trial and error, you'd waste a lot of time, and you'd probably never be able to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto. 


About the updates for the Moog THEREMINI. We were promised updates for the Moog ETHERVOX back in 1998........I'm still waitin'......


Posted: 10/18/2014 2:59:44 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

No, you probably won't cover Sibelius, but you might play Flowers Of Romance by PiL, and that would make me happy.

Posted: 10/18/2014 4:41:59 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


Thats a great track - but you could not play anything of it except the constant pitch backing rythm on a theremini! - The violin could not be played if it had a 100ms portamento continuously applied to its pitch.

If the theremini could be played that performance, there would be no debate.

I really cannot comprehend why people find this so difficult to figure out, or why there is any ambiguity about what the theremini could possibly do and what it cannot possibly do.

I played a Timpani for the first time in my life today, and this really brought a load of theremin related issues sharply into focus for me.. Like the theremin, the timpani (or at least this one - it was a salvage in a local music project I am helping to set up.. I understand that there are inteval guides on timpani's that show the interval related to the pedal position, but this one never had those) .. Pedal controlls the pitch, there is no 'preview', so if the pedal isnt in the right position when you hit the drum, the wrong pitch sounds..

I found that I could correct slight pitch errors while the drum was still resonating - something that I could not have done at all if there had been any added delay in the pedal mechanism.. So playing 'tunes' or accurate bass sequences in tune, would be impossible..

However - One doesnt need to play 'tunes' or 'sequences' - most of the time I spent on the timpani we were doing early Pink Floyd (Ummagumma era) type experimentations - It may be that latency may not have been as important for this sort of thing as it certainly would be for "tunes" - I dont know.

In my gut, I feel that even for that sort of "piece", any delay would be impossible to live with and would make the instrument impossible to play. - I am absolutely certain that if there had been even a 20ms delay to the performers of "Flowers of Romance" it would have been detrimental to the performance, and that if there had been a 100ms latency the piece could not have been played.


(BTW - I want my own timpani! ;-)

Posted: 10/18/2014 4:45:43 PM
Gary Honis

From: Sugarloaf, PA

Joined: 10/17/2014

"So here are my tips to start having some fun with the Theremini - take 'em or leave 'em."

Thanks Rich for the tips.

I tried Dewster's suggestion of using a longer antenna.  I bought a 20" hollow chrome faucet riser that is 3/8" in diameter from my local hardware store for $5.  It fits perfectly in the antenna slot for the Theremini.  I went through the same calibration procedure for both the new 20" antenna and the original 13.4 inch solid antenna.  I calibrated two times with each antenna.  The first time putting my hand very near the pitch antenna and the second time, keeping my hand about 5 " away.  I had the Theremini set up for its full note range from C1 to D8.

What I found was that there was no difference in the note range between the antennas.  I was able to get the full note range from C1 to D8 with both antennas.  D8 was reached at the 5" mark when calibration was done at the 5" near point with both antennas. 

I don't have a way to measure the linearity between using both antennas. Can anyone suggest a method?

I notice that Preset 01 for the Classic Theremin comes up in Ionian Scale.  When I change it to the Chromatic Scale, I loose that setting once the Theremini is powered off.  It would be nice if the Theremini had a feature for saving changes to the presets.  I guess the only way that will happen is using MIDI librarian software.






Posted: 10/18/2014 5:38:00 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Fred - the Flowers Of Romance was in response to Peter's comments about playing a violin without instruction, not a suggestion for a theremini piece.

(Actually not a violin, it's a bowed banjo played by Lu Edmonds.)

Posted: 10/18/2014 9:30:29 PM
Gary Honis

From: Sugarloaf, PA

Joined: 10/17/2014

I used the cardboard box setup that I had used in my youtube video to try to record the linearity of using both the original and the longer 20" antennas.  I placed a graphic showing the results below.

I placed my hand on the paper and marked the location of my middle finger for each note using the Theremini display.  For this test I changed the note range to "C2 through C5" on the Theremini.  I calibrated the Theremini when each antenna was installed with the near point for pitch close to the antenna. From E3 down the note locations were nearly the same for both antennas. From E3 up, the spacings between the notes were a little larger with the 20" replacement antenna.


Theremini Antennas Compared

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