If you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, then you’ve probably heard the eerie and unmistakable sound of a theremin. Often credited as the world’s first electronic instrument, the theremin has two antennas that process audio signals using the positioning of the performer’s hands.
While notoriously difficult to master, the theremin is actually a very simple instrument in design, and learning to play one is a unique and satisfying experience. For a theremin that’s versatile and loaded with modern features, the Moog Theremini Theremin is the top pick.
The theremin was invented in 1920 by Leon Theremin, a Russian physicist who was researching early sensor technology, similar to what’s found in modern touchscreens. The instrument is unique because it requires no physical contact and produces musical notes based on the relative positioning of your hands. While any style of music can be played with a theremin, the instrument’s distinct sound is often found in classic horror and sci-fi films, with the occasional appearance in psychedelic or avant-garde music.
The sound is usually controlled by two metal antennas: the loop antenna and the rod antenna. The loop antenna is typically built into the side of the theremin and controls volume. The rod antenna pokes out of the top and controls pitch.
Bring one hand closer to the loop antenna, and the theremin’s volume will increase, while bringing your other hand close to the rod antenna will raise the pitch. Different gestures and hand movements will produce different types of sounds. A fluttering motion near the rod antenna, for instance, can produce a vibrato effect.
After a period of heightened interest in the 1940s, the mainstream popularity of the theremin faded in favor of more conventional electronic instruments like the synthesizer keyboard. It wasn’t until Robert Moog, the pioneering inventor and founder of Moog Music, began mass-producing theremins that the instrument experienced a renewed popularity among electronic music enthusiasts that has lasted to this day.
Theremins can be purchased already built or in an assembly kit with instructions. Assembling your own theremin can be a cost-effective and rewarding experience, but it can also be very challenging for musicians who aren’t experienced with the inner workings of electronic instruments. If you choose to assemble your own theremin, make sure you’re comfortable using a soldering iron and follow the instructions carefully. There are also many video tutorials online that can help you through the process if you get stuck.
Some modern theremins come with features like pitch correction. This effect lets you select a scale and root note that the instrument will switch to if your rod antenna hand isn’t perfectly positioned. This makes playing the theremin much more fun and accessible for beginner and intermediate players.
Many theremins have built-in presets, also known as patches, that deliver different types of sounds from those found in 1950’s sci-fi movies to modern synthesizer tones. In most cases, you can also design and save your own presets. This feature is great for musicians who want to play in a wide variety of styles.
Most theremins will have at least two ¼ inch audio outputs. Others may have a headphone output or built-in speakers. These are particularly important if you value portability or you want the ability to practice your instrument in private.
Since the theremin is a completely hands-free instrument, you’re going to need some kind of stand if you want to perform in public. Look for a theremin that can be mounted on a standard microphone stand or camera tripod.
The cost of an unassembled theremin kit will usually be around $100-$200, while most preassembled theremins will be $200-$500.
A. While it may not be particularly difficult to produce simple melodies with a theremin, mastering the instrument is considered extremely challenging. Modern features, like pitch correction, make learning the instrument much more accessible.
A. The theremin is a one-of-a-kind instrument that produces beautiful and interesting sounds. Experienced musicians looking for a new instrument will find learning the theremin particularly rewarding, while amateur musicians will experience a unique and satisfying challenge.
What you need to know: This sleek and portable instrument is lightweight and loaded with features.
What you’ll love: Backed by Moog Music’s stellar reputation, this versatile theremin comes loaded with 32 presets, pitch correction and selectable scales. The Theremini also features built-in speakers, a headphone jack and a port for a USB connection.
What you should consider: Some users felt this theremin was overpriced.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This affordable kit can be used to build your own mini theremin.
What you’ll love: This kit features everything you need to build a small and simple theremin. With some basic soldering equipment, most users were able to build their instrument in less than half an hour.
What you should consider: This kit is best suited for educational purposes, as the sound delivered isn’t particularly great quality.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: While not a traditional theremin, this effects box nevertheless produces creepy theremin sounds.
What you’ll love: This theremin-like effects box produces eerie sounds perfect for film and experimental music projects. It comes with a five octave range and is packaged in a sturdy metal case. Electro-Faustus also provides a lifetime warranty for their products.
What you should consider: This unit may be even more challenging to play than a traditional theremin.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Patrick Farmer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.