A Theremin-issue for final exams in Germany

Posted: 11/16/2013 8:04:51 PM

Joined: 11/16/2013

[Note: I have requested to delete a double post, but then i found the edit/delete function. I did not mean to delete the whole topic. :D I hope everything is fine]

Hello community,

I am new in this area so, beforehand, please excuse me for possible mistakes.

My circumstance: I am a 18-year-old student from Berlin, Germany and am also a hobby-musician.
Here in Germany at the end of high-school we have to pass final exams and one of them is a presentation on a topic we can choose. I discovered the Theremin a while ago and was so impressed I decided to pick it as an issue for my presentation. The purpose of it is to present a controversial theme. A question has to be formulated as a heading of the presentation and at the end of the exposure we have to answer the question. So it should be some kind of a controversial question.

Well, at the beginning I have thought of "To what extend can the theremin be considered as a music instrument?". But once I found some really impressing performances of Lydia Kavina, I got really uncertain about the controversy of this question. You will possibly agree. But I still think that this Item still can be an interesting object of my presentation. I plan to analyze its features on a physical level and compare them with other instruments. I have overtones, roots in mind. I also thought to build a theremin on my own. Or build a primitive version of it. I am a layperson in electronics but have like 4 months left.

Is this a good plan? Well, there is almost no step back, I have to make something about the Theremin. But is my question still acceptable since the Instrument is not really popular? I take every single advice gratefully! Are there any further Ideas which I should approach? Like other aspects than what i have already.. Do you have any ideas who I can address to potentially help me? (even though in Germany?) I don't have any connections yet.

Hopefully someone could help me. (: I wish you a nice day!


sincerely, Alexander

Posted: 11/16/2013 8:16:09 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

Hello Alexander,

Germany, that would make you a distant cousin of mine. The biggest controversy I think surrounding a theremin is defining what characteristics define what should or should not carry the proud name of the original designer. A friend of mine, Paul Tanner was burned at the stake for fifty years because some publicist called his instrument a theremin. Rarely was he recognized for the great contribution he made for theremin awareness. In life insecurities make it easier for all of us to tear down than to encourage even if we mask it as constructive criticism.

IMHO There is no greater controversy about the theremin than this one.


Posted: 11/16/2013 8:56:51 PM

Joined: 11/16/2013

Hey, RS Theremin!

well, this was one of the most helpful posts Ive read so far. I could possibly even change the direction of my presentation completely because of you - in a positive way. The only thing i forgot to say: My presentation has the following conditions:

The presentation time is limited down to 20 minutes.

Since my subjects are Physics as a main subject + Music,  i MUST NOT drift off these two subjects - especially for the physics part (80% and 20% has to be the proportion of the emphasize)


I didnt understand your last sentence, sorry. What do you mean by "to tare down"?



Posted: 11/16/2013 9:31:03 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

I didn't understand your last sentence, sorry. What do you mean by "to tare down"?

I can't spell,  "tear down" I meant it as "to discourage someones efforts at trying".

Even I am guilty, my grandson says he wants to be a rock star, that's nice, but in the back of my mind... should I have said don't waste your time. )-'

The differences in what should be called a theremin are a bit psychological but mostly made up of different aspects of the physics used. As a hint, Lev Sergeyevich had an untouched musical instrument and Paul Tanner's was hands on. Your research should expand way beyond this example.

I think at the end of the day public opinion will have the most weight in defining what is a theremin.

Other opinions should chime in and help with your direction, I have my own but no one holds the community agreed upon answer. At the end of your research you just might set into motion the accepted answer that all the world will refer to in the future. That is what makes the theremin special, someone can still do something new with it, even original.


Posted: 11/16/2013 9:51:15 PM

Joined: 11/16/2013

Hey, RS Theremin!


I am going to exploit your very helpful and fast answering a little bit, if you don't mind. :P

Yes, with the help of my research, I plan to use a synthesizer to depict the constellations of both instruments' timbres. I will "just" pile the elemental oscillations until the sound of the respective instrument can be recognized (I don't know how hard this might be. Any idea?) .This will be a nice visualization I think.

Furthermore the electronic construction of both instruments will be a indispensable physical aspect to approach. And I am not really sure, but I suspect that all this will be enough information in 20 minutes. The key to success will be to deliver only the most important and intriguing things..

Another thing I didn't quite get - again, sorry^^ - is your last sentence. What accepted answer? And who is "all others"?


Thank you very much! (:


Posted: 11/16/2013 10:07:18 PM

Joined: 11/16/2013

Hey! Thanks, I really have to get used to the edit function.. - I accidentally found the edited paragraph!

But that would be a nice conclusion, thanks!

Posted: 11/16/2013 10:15:15 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

RS Said: At the end of your research you just might set into motion the accepted answer that all others will refer to in the future.

In other words:  accepted answer I meant your answer to what is a theremin and all others would be people with interest around the World.   

I am retired, not an engineer or musician so other people should respond to your topic, there just aren't many of us left that like the interaction.

You are musically advanced over me as I have never experienced a synthesizer or any musical instrument other than what I put together on my hobby table top.

Good luck and have fun along the way.



Posted: 11/17/2013 11:40:09 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

You are correct that the theremin presents at least two controversial issues:

1. What exactly IS, or is not, a theremin?

2. Is it, or can it ever be, considered a legitimate musical instrument?

Since opinions may vary so widely, giving a definitive answer may be impossible, however the precepts of the project you gave us did not require a "definitive" answer - only an answer.

I'm not sure how a synthesizer would come into play here other than to demonstrate the "beat frequency" created with two out of tune oscillators.  The actual sound of a theremin can vary from a simple sine wave, a "flute" sound to a "string" sound with many harmonics, all of which can be produced, to some degree, by most true synthesizers.

Many people would argue that the thing that makes the theremin unique is the original manner of sound creation (heterodyning) and the unique, and wickedly difficult, manner of capacitive (no touch) control.

Both can be used to define what a theremin is, but the latter arguably may define whether it can ever be a legitimate and practical instrument.  Of course, this depends on the type of music one intends to make with the instrument.  While there are examples of a rare few creating beautiful melodic music on the theremin, there are also examples where some are not quite so successful.  It is exceedingly difficult and rare for those of us who lack the necessary gifts, such as excellent pitch perception and muscular control.  Muscular control can be learned, but if you cannot perceive sound accurately, you will usually sound like you're playing slightly out of tune.

Posted: 11/18/2013 2:27:05 AM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

One controversial question to present to a high school class might be:

Does something exist if no one experiences it, can beautiful music come from a non mechanical instrument in which the musician never touches?

Let me introduce you to the theremin and tell about it to those unable to listen.

A Mystic

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