Finding your middle C

Posted: 9/10/2015 10:09:42 PM

From: Oak Harbor, WA

Joined: 12/26/2013

Theremin World,

I always find it fascinating how much "work" is put into this instrument to be in pitch, tone, or finding your middle C. So... Here's something I did with my Theremin when I was showing a fellow artists the instrument. I stuck the Guitar Tuner to the Theremin-stand and waved my hands in the air. Looked down at the tuner and noted the amp was then guiding me to what was in note value being produced.

This seemed to work till I realized how annoying it is to keep looking down. However, my friend thought it was a cool instrument with & without the tuner too. And it seemed to produce an easy 'hunt' and 'hold' tone values to keep a note value.

I began to wonder why, and not taking the hours of work professionals have devout to this instrument, not install a tuner imbedded on a Theremin case which operates and takes its energy from the main power source? Or is this too Theremini? I'm saying, simply, a B3 Theremin or EWS with the top of the case imbedded with a tuner. Possibly with on/off features so you (the player) can not be held by the added guidance of a tuner per performance.

Any thoughts or simple reasons or additions would be interesting for me to read.




Posted: 9/10/2015 11:51:36 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

I just stick my iphone running a tuning app on the Etherwave that has a flat top if I need to get a pitch like that. Or I can even prop it up at eye level across the room if I don't want to look down. The more I use pitch preview the less I like it. Fortunately since I'm only interested in recording in my studio right now I can test a note before I come in to get my bearings and then just erase it. Frankly I don't use a tuner at all unless I'm playing the Theremini where it does come in useful. Of course there's no option if you are playing a piece that needs you to start when the accompaniment does (but then you can get a soft starting note too).

What I want is to see a little LCD display that has internal pitch preview that displays the current note on a staff for me on the screen with a little bar or something above or beneath it to give me an indication of how off I am (could be done by turning the note different colors too). Of course not everyone tunes A to the same pitch, but this would satisfy most people I would think. A little video out to throw that musical notation on a screen across the room would be nice too. It would be cool to see your notes play as you do. Sound to MIDI converters are still not up to the task.

In short, I'm not sure how valuable a tuner is. But if it is there, I do use it.

Posted: 9/11/2015 1:07:25 AM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

In short, I'm not sure how valuable a tuner is. But if it is there, I do use it.  -- rkram53

I think the value of a tuner is direct proportion to how responsive it is and how easy it is to interpret on-the-fly. Guitar type tuners are necessarily sluggish, with fairly worthless displays for real-time playing scenarios.  Wrong tool for the (Theremin) job, but likely better than nothing.

Posted: 9/11/2015 1:14:17 AM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

Hello RePO,

For more than a decade I have used this program, before they were called Apps, to get my musical note reference. It runs on a PC when recording. It was this program that revealed my theremin design held the same musical note over a 10° F room temperature change. In other words I had no thermal drift, no readjustment after setup. There is no noticeable latency with this program.

My Webpage


Posted: 9/30/2015 10:22:12 AM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

Putting a tuner on top of an Etherwave theremin has a serious impact on the pitch field (Range, tone spacing, linearity) which can not always be fully compensated with the pitch knob. That's why fixing a tuner on the mic stand, slightly angled and below the theremin, is the better solution for the professional/precision player. I suggest at the same time to add a dedicated tuner output socket with the small circuit shown in the Etherwave's hot rodding manual. This allows to have a stable signal and thus a precise tuner display, independent of the waveform/brightness settings and the actual volume, thus it will also work when the instrument is muted.

But all these electronic solutions remain "crutches". The only very reliable "tuner" should be the musicians ear, trained for years.

Posted: 9/30/2015 11:57:05 AM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

There is one application however where a tuner can be of great use, even to someone with a supremely trained ear. That of course is when playing live with an accompaniment of some sort after taking a long rest and having to come in on some note far from where you last played.

Unless you are using pitch preview (which I hate), or "sneak a listen" which may be difficult in a very quiet piece, that tuner function can be important and benefit any player. I think a pitch display integrated into the theremin with indication of how far off you are is valuable and something all newer theremins (especially ones with digital interfaces of some kind) should have.

Posted: 10/1/2015 11:29:49 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

What do you have against the pitch preview? 


There are a number of inherent disadvantages with the theremin, and a few of them can be overcome by the use of either a visual or audio pitch preview. Some players have complained that the constant tone of the audio preview in their ear prevents them from being able to forget themselves and just flow with the music. Unfortunately, they are not particularly good theremin players and would be well advised to do a little less “flowing” and a little more concentrating! 


Others have suggested that any pitch preview is cheating. This might be a valid argument if there were some way, through dedicated practice and training, to eliminate the need for it, BUT THERE ISN’T. Even the great Clara Rockmore can clearly be heard searching for her notes in her recordings. 


Paul Tanner invented his “Electro-theremin” or “Tannerin” in order to facilitate accuracy in the recording studio, and save time and money. He had seen the difficulties Samuel Hoffman had getting a usable take for film soundtracks in the days when an entire orchestra had to do endless retakes because of off-key false starts on the theremin. Back then, all the microphones were open and it was not possible to audibly “pitch fish” because it would be heard on the track. You had to be bang on right out of the gate!


Unfortunately, by eliminating space control, Tanner killed the butterflies and changed the entire musical character of the instrument. 



No butterflies, no magic.

Posted: 10/1/2015 12:18:55 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

I have absolutely nothing against it. It's a wonderful function. I can't stick an earbud in my ear due to hearing issues. Even using headphones now severely sets of my tinnitus - as does any loud music. And the top few notes of the piano are just clicks to me now. So my ears are in bad shape.

I think pitch preview of some sort is essential! I can get around it when I record to some extent by finding a note before I come in when recording and then just erasing it with the DAW. That's may be cheating, but I'm never likely to be doing much playing in front of people so it's a valid way to do it in the studio.

But hey - connecting the pitch preview output to a pitch display that has a line in is a great idea. Don't know why I didn't think of that as I've actually put it on a scope to look at it. Thanks!!

Posted: 10/1/2015 9:48:09 PM

From: Minnesota

Joined: 3/9/2013

I think audio pitch-preview is great.  I just want a sort of momentary-on foot-switch I can use to enable it when needed so I don't have to listen to it when playing.  The quality of the pitch preview audio from my Etherwave  plus is really annoying.

I do feed my etherwave audio out to an app running on my laptop that does a great job of displaying pitch.  Its plenty fast but visually distracting!  So I prefer the ear-bud route.


Posted: 10/1/2015 11:16:48 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Thereminist Roger Ballenger had Bob Moog design an audio pitch preview that only operated when the theremin was NOT sending an audible audio signal. As the thereminist withdraws the volume hand and volume output rises, the preview volume fades in inverse proportion.

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