Does the theremin make you a better musician?

Posted: 9/30/2006 5:15:15 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I'm not there yet, but I feel my playing has got to a point where I can envisage playing melodically without needing to use vibrato to mask slightly off notes.

I also don't play another instrument, but it did occur to me whilst basking in the glow of the light at the end of the tunnel that the process of learning to play the theremin might impact on other playing skills.

It seems to me that perhaps the theremin is the most unforgiving of instruments and certainly demands at least as much precision and concentration as any other instrument, and that many of the skills acquired learning the theremin should be readily transferrable to other instruments.

Perhaps some of the people here who play more than one instrument would care to comment on how this theory works out in practice...

Posted: 9/30/2006 10:06:59 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

An interesting question. I'm not sure if the physical technique you develop with the theremin would make you a better musician, but becoming aware of pitches and relationships between them would certainly apply to just about any other instrument imaginable.

I'm curious to hear what other people think about this. Did you drop another instrument for the theremin then return to it only to discover a new level of ability?
Posted: 10/1/2006 4:45:50 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Why not physical skills? The three aspects I was thinking of that the theremin demands are:

1. The ear - I am sure my musical ear has improved, both in terms of absolute and relative pitch.

2. Concentration - ever seen a thereminist who is less than 100% focussed?

3. Fine motor control - precise, accurate and reproducible hand movements are a requirement. Outside of the musical field a friend observed that his photography has improved in that he can now take long exposures without a tripod.

Posted: 10/1/2006 9:08:43 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

I guess I wasn't counting the ear training as a physical skill - I definitely think that would carry over.

As far as fine motor skills, I suppose it probably depends on your playing technique. But even if you have a complex aerial fingering process, I suspect that's going to do more for your ear than for your digit's dexterity. For example, the finger skills required for playing the piano or guitar are very different than for the theremin.

That said, I do believe playing the theremin is a great way to re-build basic motor skills for people who have suffered some form of loss of motion (e.g. arthritis, accidents, etc.) I've thought that the theremin is the perfect instrument for physical rehab/music therapy for a long time. Even if you only have gross motor skills, you can have a lot of fun with it, experience something magical, and work on building your fine motor skills.

As far as concentration, I guess that also depends on how you define "thereminist" :) I definitely think it would help with concentration... but I wonder, does it help you build concentration if you have none (like a child with ADHD), or is it a good way to relax and concentrate if you are already good at concentration?
Posted: 10/4/2006 11:42:17 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

First of all, I believe practicing the theremin has a number of benefits to musicians, regardless of what type of music they make. Experimenting with the instrument leads to discoveries that impact movement, concentration, tension release, ear training, musicianship, muscle memory, as well as meditative possibilities.

Jason wrote:

>As far as concentration, I guess that also depends on how you define "thereminist" :) I definitely think it would help with concentration... but I wonder, does it help you build concentration if you have none (like a child with ADHD), or is it a good way to relax and concentrate if you are already good at concentration?>

Interesting you should mention ADHD. You are introducing the subject of Music Therapy, an amazing profession that has been known and praised for years. To become a Certified Music Therapist takes years of study and schooling. There's a tremendous body of work out there; cases studies, theoretical and research papers and more -- Music therapy's applications encompass successful work with ADHD, Schizphrenic patients, autistic children and adults. Depression, Downs Syndrome, people with cancer, heart conditions, even Parkinsons Disease and much much more.

Why do I mention this? Because in November, Moog Music, Inc. is sending me to Kansas City for the three-day convention of the American Music Therapy Association -- SPECIFICALLY to demonstrate the efficacy of using a theremin in professional therapy settings. The theremin stands alone as a therapeutic tool, responding and "interacting" with a person as no other instrument can. There are too many areas to go into here, but YES -- a theremin can be used to help people with many different types of conditions. FUN, hunh?
Posted: 10/5/2006 8:02:25 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

That's fantastic! I've wanted to get involved with combining music therapy and theremins for years, and I'm excited to hear you're doing it! I am eager to hear about your experience and how well the concept is received in MT circles.
Posted: 10/6/2006 3:46:07 AM

From: UK

Joined: 5/16/2006

Greetings All,

Before I submit my threepenny-bits, can I just ask a question to 'schielenkrahe' - a friend of mine is a music therapist - and a very good one at that (and an excellent cellist) - she once heard of a theremin instrument but with added 'bits' (I'm assuming that it was some sort of MIDI interface) that allowed it to pick out the individual semi-tones, tones, and notes of scales/arpeggios so that even a heavily disabled user could conceivably make structured music on it - she mentioned that it was called something like 'sound-wave', but she's never seen one since, and is interested in them - do you know anywhere that would supply something like that? Just wondering...

Anyway, I personally have only been playing the theremin for a few months - having recieved my Etherwave Standard in late July - so my experience so far is based purely on this (prior theremins I have built weren't really up to playing standard).

I don't want to sound too pretentious or arrogant, but I am clasically trained and play semi-professionally - I play violin and viola with quartets, orchestras etc. as well as various other instruments in various other groups. [However, I play the Theremin the 'classical' way, i.e. l-hand vol, r-hand pitch - not sure why, but I do!]

The only real difference that I have found is that my internal pitch-hearing has improved quite a bit. I don't mean that when I hear a note I'm more likely to know if it's out of tune or not (that came with my Aural training), I mean the internal 'note' that I hear before I play the next note has improved greatly - it is now far more accurate. I've also found that I've developed quite an instinctive 'feel' for where notes that I'm jumping/moving to are in the EM field around the pitch ariel, which I have found quite suprising!!

The thing that is more important with playing the theremin, so far as I can see - more so than it is for playing other instruments - is knowing which note you are going to and its distance (in chromatic/enharmonic semitones) from the note you are starting at. If you keep this in mind whilst playing, and play accordingly, then even tonally awkward jumps (such as tritones) are made much easier (well, that's what I've found, anyway!).

Perhaps it's my personal training that I've had, but I haven't found anything on the violin/viola any easier since playing the theremin, nor have I found anything harder! The only thing that I can recommend to any other thereminists would be to have a look at some Alexander technique, and apply it accordingly. I did some whilst learning a new violin technique - with a view to getting rid of my then left-hand 'vice-grip' on the neck of the instrument - and it helps you no end in avoiding RSI, strains etc. that are all to common in musicians.

Well, hope that wasn't too long. If I think of anything else I notice, I will post on these fora first!

Have fun,

Posted: 10/6/2006 9:50:26 AM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

You wrote:

>a friend of mine is a music therapist - and a very good one at that (and an excellent cellist) - she once heard of a theremin instrument but with added 'bits' (I'm assuming that it was some sort of MIDI interface) that allowed it to pick out the individual semi-tones, tones, and notes of scales/arpeggios so that even a heavily disabled user could conceivably make structured music on it>

That's definitely possible. I've seen theremins used in dozens of different ways. One of them was that somehow, using a midi interface ( I think; I'm woefully ignorant about midi ) the theremin was interfacing with a keyboard. Somehow, the only time a tone would sound was when the theremin landed on a "pure" tone, that is, one in the twelve tone scale. The result was a sort of random structure.

For someone like yourself, who's classically trained -- particularly on a violin -- you've already extraordinary experience with ear training and matters of pitch. I'd venture to guess that 95% or more of the theremin players out there are not classically trained on other instruments, including myself.

However, when I began (almost nine years ago - time flies when you're zoning out, straing into space in front of a theremin for that long) my sole interest was in developing a classical repertoire. Once that was well underway, I believe I "snapped." Possibilities for jazz and conceptual esoterica presented themselvs, too. (visit -- both the "listen here" section and "theremin dose" section will melt your ear wax)

Sounds like you're well on your way to having a marvelous time. Keep us posted.
Posted: 10/6/2006 11:45:42 AM

From: new haven ct.

Joined: 7/8/2005

well I have something for both sides of this thread.
As far as learning other instruments after you learn the theremin, i believe it doesn't make it any easier. One of the things on most instruments is learnikng how to make a sound on it, ether good or bad. The theremin you can get a sound right out of the box, and with a little serious practice you can coax simple melodies. That's part of the problem. Too many people get a theremin, find ouit how easy it is to make a souind, add a bunch of effects and hang a shingle saying theremin player.
and that's as far as the go. Peopl,e are more forgiving of a theremin than other instruments, i won't go into that whole thing.
A more traditional instrument has a more traditiona; route you really should go through. Excerises, scales patterns physical cordination, ect.
Like gordon said earlier, learning the theremin will help know if you have the ear and patience to learn another inststrument. It's so much easier if you know howto play something else before you attempt a theremin.
it's almpost like you never learnt how to talk, but spent your how life reading minds. Then you decide you want to learn to talk. i don't even know what i'm saying anymore, not enough coffee yet.
now for physical therapy, this i have some firsat hand knowledge of.
I've played theremin for over ten years at this point. About two and a half years ago I lost a leg. A lttle side not i got my wavefront classic three weeks after I got out of the hospital.
While I was waiting for my new leg, I practised sitting down, a bad habbit I still have especialy when gigging out on bass.
When i got fitted for my leg and was able to stand unassisted, I would spend my standing time playing theremin. It helped in relearning who to balance, how to stand and do something without concentrating on my standing as well as building up my strength. I believe the theremin helped with my rehabilatation,


PS. Ifilled out the survey that showed up in the corner, and I'm still waiting for my free 2,500 $ tuba
Posted: 10/7/2006 7:38:42 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

To play the Theremin well requires an intense mental focus that can translate to other instruments.

One of the challenges in a live performance situation is to deal with distractions. The distractions include one's own nerves, audience noise, and things that are unexpected. When distractions take focus from the task of performing, then wrong notes, memory lapses, or other things start to happen.

Theremin performance requires unique focus. I discovered that playing the Theremin is completely engaging -- the distractions dissolve away. When I have performed live on the Theremin, I inevitably feel some nervousness prior to the performance -- within a few seconds of starting to play I'm back into my "mental zone" -- literally, the same "zone" that high-performing atheletes attempt to enter.

So, for starters, the same mental focus that is REQUIRED to play the theremin can be utilized when playing any instrument. I have discovered that with the experience of playing the theremin, my pipe organ playing seems much more focused and relaxed than before.

Another unexpected result of Theremin playing was its impact on my improvisation. In my pipe organ work, I must improvise all the time -- in fact, I spend as much time improvising as I do playing directly from the score.

I had the good fortune to visit Mr. Scheilenkrahe a few months back. He told me that it is possible to play such that "you cannot hit a wrong note". He put on some jazz backing tracks and we traded fours -- the goal was to hit any note at random then run with it. The results were rather astonishing.

The big surprise was to find that it is also true on a keyboard -- that I can jump to ANY note and then resolve it. This works for the improvisations that I do, which have rather rich harmonic textures (this is less successful with triad chords, however with 7th, 11th, and 13th chords, it works quite well).

[i](My improvs tend to be classical -- mainly meditations for quiet parts of the the mass. But hey, we can't let the jazz folks have all the good harmony, right? :) )[/i]

The focus that one develops from playing the Theremin certainly can elevate one's performance.

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