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Theremin : An Amazing Musical Instrument

Updated on September 11, 2014

An Odd Instrument

An odd instrument called a theremin
An odd instrument called a theremin | Source

Playing an Instrument without Touching It

Many people have never heard of a very interesting instrument. Called the theremin, you actually play it by holding your hands above it and moving them in certain ways to get certain sounds, without touching the unit itself.

The theremin has a very distinct sound, and it is marvelously adaptable for playing all sorts of things from classical music to rock.

A Theremin


What is a Theremin?

A theremin is an instrument that is sort of like an electronic box with antennas. It is played by the musician moving his or her hands in the air above the instrument and not touching it. It creates an unusual and distinct sound, almost an electronic whine or a singing soprano. It's also been compared to the sound from playing a hand saw as a musical instrument.

The theremin has also been known as an etherphone, thereminvox, and a thereminophone and someone who plays a theremin is known as a thereminist.

First created in the early 1900s in Russia by Leon Theremin, the theremin was part of a plan by the Soviet government who was trying to develop proximity sensors so they could know when people were coming close. Leon patented the theremin in 1928 when he came to the United States.

Leon Theremin Playing His Instrument

Get an Inexpensive Theremin

Burns Theremins Great Sounding Theremin at a Great Price
Burns Theremins Great Sounding Theremin at a Great Price
This is a cheap version of the theremin. It isn't going to sound the same as ones that cost hundreds of dollars, in fact this version is often called the toy version, but it will allow you to lean more about these fascinating instruments without breaking the bank.

How Does It Work?

Basically, a theremin is a box with a couple of antennas attached.

It works by sensing your hands near it. Each of the antennas puts out an electromagnetic field that is altered by your hand moving through it. One antenna controls the pitch, the other makes the volume go up and down. Each hand plays a different aspect depending on which antenna the hand is near.

Theremin players need to hold their hands just so and move them very precisely in order to get the right notes. It is a bit harder than people expect.


Musician at work
Musician at work | Source

Theremins in Popular Music

Theremins are great instruments and their sound works well for many different types of music, most commonly classical and rock.

Popular Music Featuring the Theremin

Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love" and "No Quarter"

The Rolling Stones - albums "Between the Buttons" and "Satanic Majesties Request"

Portishead - "Mysterons"

Hawkwind - many songs

Lothar and the Hand People - many songs

Some people also believe a theremin was used during Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, but it actually is a different type of instrument with a similar sound.

Get Some Theremin Music

If you like the sound of the theremin pick up some music. There are several different CDs out there in many different genres that feature this strange instrument. Click on the CD to the left to go explore the variety on Amazon.

Enjoying Her New Theremin

Excited to play the Theremin
Excited to play the Theremin | Source

Theremins Were a Hit in the '30s.

Not long after they were created theremins were fairly popular. Everyone was astonished at the strange electronic instrument and the weird noises it produced. There were concerts and a few dedicated musicians. It wasn't a commercial success, but it was something odd that people needed to see.

An Antique Theremin

An antique theremin
An antique theremin | Source

Homemade Theremins

Some people make their own theremins. There are many instructions on the Internet about how to do it, and it's not too complicated a process for those with electronic and wiring skills.

The instructions here seem very doable:

Homemade Theremin


Theremins in the Movies and on TV

You may have heard a theremin before now and not even realized it. Theremins have such a unique sound that they have been used for several shows.

TV Shows

Midsomer Murders (theme song)

Big Bang Theory (in episode The Bus Pants Utilization)

Futurama episode


Monster House

Ed Wood



The Red House

The Lost Weekend

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Ten Commandments

The Thing (from Another World)

The Machinist

Many people will be questioning why Star Trek is not on this list. Although most people think the theremin is played in the theme song, it actually is a soprano singer making those sounds most of the time, and the other times it's a synthesizer. It just really, really sounds like a theremin and many people use a theremin to replicate the sound.

In Concert

Playing in concert
Playing in concert | Source

Playing Over the Rainbow on the Theremin

Instrument Poll

What do you think of theremins?

See results

Playing the Theremin

Playing the Theremin
Playing the Theremin | Source

Get a Theremin

Moog Etherwave Standard Theremin
Moog Etherwave Standard Theremin
Like this instrument and think it looks like fun? Get a very nice theremin now and start playing!

© 2013 Alisha Vargas


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    • profile image

      EzLoanLookUp LM 

      7 years ago

      I played a theremin at a music store once: it's a lot harder than I thought! Like all things, it takes a lot of practice to sound good.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow, that is cool! I've never heard of an instrument like that. Thanks for the informative lens!

    • thegreenninja profile image


      8 years ago

      Love it! I just did a lens about theremin kits a week ago! This is great!

    • annieangel1 profile image


      8 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      that'a amazing! I loved the cat playing the theremin

    • AlishaV profile imageAUTHOR

      Alisha Vargas 

      8 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      @OhMe: I thought it was fun and thought others might too :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I learn the most interesting things on Squidoo. I had never heard of the Theremin and enjoyed reading about this amazing musical instrument that is played without touching it.

    • AlishaV profile imageAUTHOR

      Alisha Vargas 

      8 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      @SusannaDuffy: I'm working on figuring that out myself. The mechanics of it are a bit above my knowledge level, but don't worry, I'll figure it out and add it here. Don't forget to check back :)

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      So how does a theremin actually work?


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