Frequently Asked Questions
When was the theremin invented and who invented it?
The theremin was invented in 1919, by Professor Leon Theremin, also known as Lev Termen. Theremin was a talented Russian Physicist and capable cellist who noticed a strange phenomenon in an electrical circuit he was experimenting with. He noticed that he could change the capacitance of the circuit simply by moving his hand or body towards and away from it. He gradually refined this circuit, added a speaker, added a volume control that worked on the same principles, and the theremin was born.
Was the theremin the first electronic instrument invented?
The theremin was certainly the first viable wholly electronic instrument invented. There were instruments before it that used electricity to amplify music produced by mechanical means. There were also a number of prototype electronic instruments that were either impractical, unreliable, or in the case of the Teleharmonium, weighed over 200 tonnes. The real genius of the theremin is that it made electronic music viable, portable and practical, and in the right hands, allowed the performer for the first time, to create genuinely expressive music by electronic means.
How does it work?
Simply, the theremin generates an electro-magnetic field around its antenna, and anything moving in and out of this field effects the circuit and changes the pitch. Have a look at the 'How it works' page for a more detailed explanation.
Are they mass produced, and can I buy one?
Can I make my own theremin?
You can! In fact, there's a huge archive of theremin schematics right here on this site, ranging from simpler pitch only versions, and more complete versions with both pitch and volume antennae.
Wasn't the theremin used in the Beach Boys hit Good Vibrations?
The theremin was certainly the inspiration for Good Vibrations. Unfortunately, theremins were much rarer back then, and the Beach Boys found it impossible to track down a theremin to use on the recording. In the end they settled for a relation of the theremin - the confusingly named 'electro-theremin', invented by Dr. Paul Tanner, and inspired by -you guessed it- the theremin.
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