"What's a Theramin?" Page innacurate.

Posted: 9/24/2008 3:59:13 AM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

Gordon - yep, my mixup. It was the wee hours.

Thierry - no, I didn't mean you. I just meant Levnet is where people get into fights about what strangers write about Theremins and Thereminists, here I always got the impression we just garbled and posted pictures of each other in tuxedos.
Posted: 9/24/2008 6:43:58 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Alexander wrote:

This forum is quite nice.....The people who harp on from dawn to dusk about perfect pitch and cry at out-of-tune Theremins are elsewhere.


That's not entirely true, Alex.

P.P. of the P.P. (Pitch Police)
Posted: 9/24/2008 6:50:41 AM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

Posted: 10/6/2008 10:51:45 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

You have no idea how hard some of this content is to edit.
We'll be revamping it all in a new version eventually.
Posted: 10/6/2008 12:35:29 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

Gorden said:

“A blindfolded pianist would have to find the first note by trial and error, even if the piano was perfectly tuned.”

I not being a musician what so ever, limits my ability to engage in musical conversations. Gorden your statement makes since, if I interpret you correctly. All music starts from a predefined “reference point”, this is what the blind pianist must search for. I have looked at musical scales as A3 being 440 Hz and this must be relative to someone designating it as such. Couldn’t a solo Thereminist slide the entire music scale down 30 hz and still play perfect pitch as long as all the notes are adjusted down mathematically to be relevant to one another? Does perfect pitch recognize 440 Hz as A3 or does it recognize the relationship of all the notes from a predetermined “reference point”?

Would the solo Thereminist playing a mathematically perfect scale be off key if he originates the reference point?

The musical scale as I hear it is a fascinating phenomenon!

So much to learn, I am trying to avoid working on theremin stuff, ‘-)

Posted: 10/6/2008 1:20:46 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

You are quite correct. There are no special properties associated with 440 Hz - it is simply the currently agreed standard in Western music to enable instruments to play in tune with each other. It has changed several times over the years, and other cultures have different standards.

(Devising musical scales [i]is[/i] a mathematically interesting challenge which, judging by the hundreds of different scales available, has provided an excellent pastime for many people throughout the ages. The western scale ("12TET") is by no means "perfect" but does provide a clever and - for most people - acceptable compromise between conflicting musical requirements.)

A thereminist playing a cappella could start on any frequency and remain in tune with himself (*) but as soon as another instrument with predetermined pitches joined in the problem would assert itself.

(*) Apart from the problem of "dead reckoning" - the human ear cannot distinguish frequencies that are very close to one another - if the thereminist consistently plays intervals that overshoot the mark by a single cent each time then each individual interval would sound just fine, but by the time he had played a hundred notes he would be out of tune by a semitone. This is why it is recommended to play to an accompaniment.

Posted: 10/6/2008 3:48:44 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

A Zen Buddhist Moment ;-)

So is it safe for me to say developing a good ear for music is a language in itself that is more easily developed as a child? The creativity of music allows a child to reach for a higher level of consciousness and bring back something to be shared. This is a place beyond mathematics and the understanding of perfect pitch, a place where all learning begins and we realize more about the human experience.

I am still avoiding working on theremin stuff. . .

Posted: 10/6/2008 8:10:07 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

With an instrument like the Theremin, sliding to find the starting note is unavoidable, regardless of how 'perfect' or otherwise the player is.. Even determining the pitch at a single point is not enough to determine the distance to the next interval, or what the law for distance -> interval will be for subsequent steps..

One MINOR change in humidity, or a slight repositioning of the Theremin with respect to any conductive object, or a slight twiddle with one of the knobs, and EVERYTHING related to what pitch will occur at any distance will change.

I am not saying that I agree or disagree with any conclusions regarding what measure of 'pitchedness' a good Theremin player needs.. But I will say that the amount of initial 'pitch finding' required by the player has no bearing on, and provides no evidence either way in the 'argument'.. Have a keyboard with no markings, (just, say, 48 flat white keys per octave) and detune this keyboard randomly, then ask a player with "perfect pitch" to hit the key closest to A 440.. The perfect pitch player has as much chance of hitting the 'right' key FIRST TIME as someone who is REALLY "tone deaf"... BUT, after playing a single key, a pitch perfect player would be able to find any other key far more easily.. If the note spacing on the keys was not linear, playing a few keys spaced a reasonable distance apart will give someone with a good pitch memory the ability (required data) to interpolate and get the right notes.

I think this is exactly the process involved with good Theremin playing - Better players can move over a short distance, and from the audio feedback, can deduce not only the starting note positions, but also generate a mental 'map' which gives them a close approximation to the instruments 'law' or 'function curve' .. This data is continuously updated as the instrument is played.. Some people have this process running at fantastic speed - When I watched Lydia play an impossible piece on her extremely non-linear Tvox, with incredible speed an accuracy, over the full sensing distance (i.e. - not just in some linear region, but over a wide exponential region covering, I guess, 5 octaves) I understood that I never understood anything about playing the Theremin!

[i]"here I always got the impression we just garbled and posted pictures of each other in tuxedos."[/i][b] LOL![/b] So much the better way to be!!!

[i]"if the Thereminist consistently plays intervals that overshoot the mark by a single cent each time then each individual interval would sound just fine, but by the time he had played a hundred notes he would be out of tune by a semitone."[/i] 100 semitones is > 8 octaves.. and a 1 cent error in the starting tone is unlikely to be carried consistently over 8 octaves (it is, I think, unlikely that a player will consistently add a 1 cent, or any other error), even if the Theremin could cover that range.. More likely is a distributed error, which would not result in anything like a semitone difference at extremes, but may easily be +/- 10 cents or so anywhere in the scale. I think the [i] "but as soon as another instrument with predetermined pitches joined in the problem would assert itself " [/i] is correct, and the only real problem comes when playing a solo part, starting at a reference defined by the tuning of the other instruments, and then losing this reference and going out of tune.. when the other instruments come back - that is when the error will be most painfully heard!
- but this problem is true for the violin or any instrument where it is possible to unintentionally deviate from the reference pitch / scale.. (in my case, I can manage this sort of deviation even when playing a keyboard! :) And I do not think players of these other instruments bother themselves with technical discussions about perfect pitch etc.. (I may be wrong about this ;) .. they just practice and learn to get it right - and those who cant, get kicked out of the orc
Posted: 10/6/2008 9:02:46 PM

From: Toledo, Ohio United States of America

Joined: 2/22/2006

RStheremin, A4 is 440 HZ.
Also, I think that at this particular time in my Theremin playing life, that I do not care about 'pitch' as a force unto itself.
A musician's 'pitch' will ever be attached to the music that is being created. Some musicians prefer the Western Classical interpretation of 'pitch'; however,some prefer the Eastern scaled tradition. And, some prefer Just Intonation, yada, yada yada,...etc.
Sound was the first music. The 'music' that followed was the noise our forbears learned to control and technologically grasp and shape.
There is no noise or sound that does not create music in human preception. An educated fool will sometimes never see the difference. West, or East is the same. South, and especially the cold North are too far from the trench of the trodden path. Gesticularly bad for the testicularly sad, as it were.

Good Luck!


Posted: 10/6/2008 10:14:13 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Actually, the incremental one-cent error is too modest, and harmonies will sound gruesome long before the accumulated errors arrive at 100 cents (one semitone).

Without getting far into the weeds of tuning theory, suffice to say that our tolerance for deviation is inversely proportional to the complexity of the underlying frequency relationship.

F'rinstance, for most people, an error of 10 cents would be completely unacceptable in a unison or octave, or a perfect fifth or perfect fourth (representing frequency ratios of 1/1, 2/1, 3/2, and 4/3). For these same people, an error of 10 cents would be perfectly acceptable in a major or minor third (5/4 and 6/5), and wouldn't even be noticed in a tritone (for which our ears accept equally just about anything in the band from 7/5 to 10/7... a range of about 35 cents!).

I don't have the citation at hand, but the research was published by Diana Deutsch (in the 1980s, I think).

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