Pulling out the correct note from silence...

Posted: 12/30/2022 1:31:02 PM

Joined: 11/18/2022

Hi - first post.

Learning the Theremin for a couple of months now. [font=Helvetica Neue]I have a new Moog Etherwave.[/font]

Been watching a lot of videos and my 2 favorites are Carolina Eyck and Grégoire Blanc. I think Mr Blanc is somewhat of a musical genius. Anyway, I digress...

So, what I find most incomprehensible is their ability to accurately pull any note out from complete silence. 

For example, they play a complex phrase and then go to rest position at the volume antenna. Then they’ll move their pitch hand to a different position, while still in silence, and then when they raise the volume, the exact perfect note comes out beginning the next phrase.

It just blows my mind… I’m not sure how they do it.

As I practice my small repertoire, even my very first note needs to be quietly previewed before I start playing. If I were playing live for real, the audience would surely hear me sliding around to get to the correct first note of the piece. Even if I was trying to be quiet about it. 

What's the secret? Is it just countless hours of practice?

Posted: 12/30/2022 2:56:03 PM

From: germany, kiel

Joined: 5/10/2007

Is it just countless hours of practice?

Yep. And then talent. Btw Carolina started at the age of 7.

Posted: 12/30/2022 7:18:28 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

Hi Galaxy Soup:

Dominik is correct in that practice is necessary. I'd add that it's beneficial for your practice to be the right kind of practice relative to what you are trying to learn. There are loads of tutorials online, but very few of them focus solely on the techniques that will enable you to accurately locate and play pitches in the manner you refer to. Most of the thereminist/instructors reference various fingering positions that, within general parameters, will actually yield a predictable result. However, what's needed, in addition to such techniques is ear training that is specific to the theremin. I've offered these techniques for over a decade, online and free of charge. Give them a try and I believe you'll find you can develop the ability within a reasonably short period of time.

To prepare, you can do a quick self-assessment (being able to read music is unnecessary for this); Make sure to record yourself so that you can listen to the results. 1) Record yourself singing part of a song. Sing it solo. Then sing the same song along with music accompaniment (the song could be something from a CD you have); 2) Record yourself whistling a song solo, and then again while whistling along with musical accompaniment; 3) Listen to the recordings you've made and evaluate – are you on pitch? Are you singing and whistling in key solo as well as with the music that was playing while you sang and whistled? I'd even suggest allowing a friend to hear the results as well – and evaluate your ability to sing and whistle on pitch. You may be A) perfect; you may B) stray at times, and in rare cases you may be C) consistently off pitch. In the case of "C," it may prove extremely difficult to play a theremin on pitch. This is because (and people are entitled to disagree with me) it is my opinion that while a fingering position helps, in the final analysis it is your "ear" that governs whether you are accurately on pitch. Your ability to listen to yourself while playing is the most crucial determining factor.

As for intuiting the location of the pitches and being able to go from one to another or jump from one to another, we are talking now about a combination of your "ear" and muscle memory – how your body and hand are able to know/intuit where to go. The tutorial links below accomplish both ear training and your ability to intuit the location of pitches. The following will get you started:

First, go to


Then try these. Go to YouTube and type in:

Kip Rosser Lesson 06
Kip Rosser Lesson 07
Kip Rosser Lesson 08
Kip Rosser Lesson 15
Kip Rosser Lesson 45

As I say in many tutorials: ALWAYS record yourself so that you can evaluate your progress. I hope this helps, and please, let me know how it goes. If your theremin is the Moog Theremini, there is also an entire suite of tutorials just for that theremin. But the above links are where to start regardless.

- Kip Rosser

Posted: 12/30/2022 10:32:15 PM

Joined: 11/18/2022

Thank you so much for all the great info and taking the time to reply in such detail. I’ll try everything you suggested and report back. 

For a little context, I’ve been composing music for many years. I have very good relative pitch. I play and compose all by ear as a self taught keyboardist. Mostly orchestral type arrangements. I do read a bit but can’t sight read. 

I started a YouTube channel to chronicle my theremin journey and posted up a very early attempt at a demo recording. 

Check it out if you want. It’s pretty rough around the edges and I’ve improved a little since that recording. 


Thanks again!!

Posted: 1/3/2023 3:14:09 AM

From: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Joined: 1/1/2011

"As I practice my small repertoire, even my first note needs to be quietly previewed before I start playing."

You are using Phishing or audio pitch location which is a good option once you get better at it. I don't know how any artist can start playing a theremin without locating the pitch first since there are no physical markers for notes. If you see an earphone in someone's ear in a video they are likely using a pitch preview that is built into the theremin...remember the earphone may be wireless.  One can also find the pitch at full volume then edit it out of the theremin sound track if recording it separately from the backing track.

Thomas Grillo uses the "Phishing" method. Since his speaker is in a classic location behind his head he can initiate the note quietly enough so he can hear it but hopefully not the audience.  Thomas said he prefers using this method over a pitch preview because it is more dependable. If you watch him in this video you will clearly see him finding that first note.  He was very close when he lifted his hand but then had to make a small adjustment.

I have also seen Thomas use a pitch pipe to begin playing in some of his instructional videos.

At the 3:30 time marker in this video Gregoire Blanc is finding his pitch before playing.   

I noticed that Carolina Eyck's videos usually start on the first note of the song or she will play her first note with another scene being played. In one video (which I can't find now) she started playing with an almost unnoticeable glissando into the first note of the song.

Peter Pringle uses pitch preview as you can see him place the earphone in his ear and begin vibrato with his pitch hand before he raises the volume hand.  With this method he can find pitch anywhere, anytime during the song.

If you haven't already done so get a speaker that you can set up behind you as close as to the height of your head as possible.  I personally have my theremin speaker in that position and play my backing tracks on a separate speaker to my left and in front of me which helps me to quietly find the first note while my small audience (usually family or friends) is fixated on the sound track intro. When no one is around I don't worry about all that but still practice finding the note as discreetly as possible.

You will get used to finding the pitch during a pause in the middle of a piece once you get more experience.  If your next note after a pause is a few notes away from where you left off you may be able to quietly glissando into the next note.  Play your scales and develop a technique for jumping octaves.  That way you can come close to where you need to be through muscle memory.

Anyone seeing a theremin being played will have a very magical experience and finding your pitch is something they won't notice since they often can't figure out what you are doing anyway. Once you give your audience the chance to play for themselves they will really think you have super powers!  On one occasion I had someone ask what I was doing with my hands since he thought I was just playing a recording. Once someone across the room swore he saw a string attached to the volume antenna! I doubt they noticed and pitch searching during my performance. 

You will do fine with practice.  Don't get intimidated by the professionals.  Even Clara Rockmore wasn't perfect. Good performers learn how to make it look easy through lots of hard work and experience but in the end they are all human like you and me and there is no magic or shortcuts.  I know this is a less technical take compared to the other answers and comments but I hope it helps all the same ;^)

Posted: 1/5/2023 4:08:10 PM

From: Morrisville, PA

Joined: 10/19/2005

Hi, Again:

You're receiving very good tips.

While considered "cheating" by some, bisem is right – even Clara Rockmore can be heard to pitch fish; rare, but she does. However, I regard pitch fishing is an extremely valuable tool to be used is various situations. It is, as has been mentioned, advantageous to locate your amp/speaker behind you, at head level if possible. This makes it easier to hear what you're doing. You can learn to pitch fish incredibly subtly, very easily. Go to YouTube and type in:

Kip Rosser Lesson 36

As regards the pitch preview. I have a theremin outfitted with an optional preview but I rarely, if ever, use it. The primary reason for this is that I find it very distracting. I've tried to get used to it, and it's a very good tool, no question. What I dislike is that the tone is continuous and without any dynamic. Regardless of what you're doing with your volume hand, the tone from a pitch preview overrides volume; nor does your articulation register in any way. This means that when you're playing, you're hearing there theremin sliding from pitch to pitch (and only you can hear it) while you are simultaneously trying to listen to yourself play through the external amp/speaker.

Speaking for myself, I found it easier to acquire the ability to locate pitches without a pitch preview and almost entirely without pitch fishing (even though I do pitch fish when necessary). I can tell you from experience that since you have good relative pitch that it is entirely possible to develop the ability to intuit where pitches are without pitch fishing. On YouTube, type in:

Kip Rosser Lesson 15
Kip Rosser Lesson 16

Kip Rosser Lesson 44
Kip Rosser Lesson 45
Kip Rosser Lesson 46
Kip Rosser Lesson 47
Kip Rosser Lesson 48

I know it's a lot, but play with these tutorials for a few days and you'll see measurable progress. Over time, your ear, mind and body will translate these exercises into an ability that becomes second nature. You'll be able to do it without conscious effort.

Posted: 1/5/2023 6:36:38 PM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

This Pitch Tuner is free and had no latency on slow PC’s 20 years ago. Use MS magnifier to make it huge and readable across the room. Feed your pitch preview output into PC mic input. Make use of the theremin stare!

Experiment: On some theremins without a PP output, just place a small “analog” AM Radio near the pitch oscillators to pick up and feed the continuous audio tone/signal into your PC using a TRS cable. TRS or stereo cable is needed for the PC input.

Posted: 1/6/2023 12:42:56 AM

Joined: 11/18/2022

Hey just want to thank everyone for all the amazing tips and information!!! 

Posted: 1/12/2023 2:22:48 PM

Joined: 8/11/2021

I agree (from my very limited technique) that the only way is practice, practice, practice.
With practice (did I already say "practice"?) you will become much quicker at finding your pitch almost instantly, making the initial glissando almost unnoticeable. But also, you will acquire muscle and visual memory so that once your theremin is properly warmed up and tuned, you will "know" where the initial note is. Not so precisely that you're able to blast it at full volume with perfect intonation, but precise enough that you will require only a small and quick low-volume glissando to reach the correct pitch.

For example, I "know" that when I visually align in a certain way one of my right-hand knuckles with the screw of the pitch antenna, I will be very close to middle C.

Talking of pitch preview, how does it work in the above example of Peter Pringle? I play an Etherwave Plus that, as mentioned, has a pitch preview function that's essentially unusable, because it will sound the pitch at full volume all the time in my headphones, making it impossible to hear properly the main output and do any kind of expressive articulation. Are there other possible ways to use it more usefully?

Posted: 1/12/2023 7:37:44 PM

From: Portland, Oregon

Joined: 2/22/2018

Talking of pitch preview, how does it work in the above example of Peter Pringle? I play an Etherwave Plus that, as mentioned, has a pitch preview function that's essentially unusable, because it will sound the pitch at full volume all the time in my headphones, making it impossible to hear properly the main output and do any kind of expressive articulation. Are there other possible ways to use it more usefully?

I think the standard advice would be to turn down the headphone volume until it is just barely perceivable, and this combined with the fact that it’s only in one ear will allow you to still play expressively at low volume. YMMV of course.

My Hobbs Theremin has an option to make the pitch preview volume drop off as main volume engages, which helps somewhat; I’m not aware of any way to get such a preview for Etherwave. Another option is to attach the headphone output to a visual tuner - this won’t allow you to find the center of the note as well as audio but it can get you close.

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