Physics of the Theremin Musical Instrument

  • Length: 781 words (2.2 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
Open Document

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Preview

More ↓

Continue reading...

Open Document

The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played using electrical fields. When it was first introduced, people were shocked to see this instrument that could be played without even touching it. The theremin unsually is tuned so that it has a range of three and a half octaves. The theremin's operation is based on the theory of beat frequencies. Two antennas stick out on each side. Usually a vertical antenna is located on the right which controls the pitch. The closer the players hand is, the higher the pitch. A horizontal loop antenna is located on the left and controls the volume. The closer the hand is, the louder the volume.

Patented in 1928 by Leon Theremin, the theremin has not escaped its original status as a novelty instrument. Most people have heard the theremin, even though they may not recognize it. The theremin is a staple of sci-fi films, particularly classic ones. It is not as prominent today but it has featured in recent movies such as Mars Attacks and Ed Wood.

The theremin was invented in 1921 by Leon Theremin (nee Lev Termen). It is one of the most important musical instruments of the twentieth century because it is the first electronic intsrument. Leon Theremin first came up with the idea for the theremin when in high school. He noticed depending on how close a person stands to a Tesla coil, the coil hums in different pitches. After its inveiling in 1921, Theremin toured his instrument around Russia, sparking the curiosity of almost everybody who saw it.

The theremin made its way to America in 1928, where it gained more popularity. In 1929, RCA bought the rights to manufacture the instrument. Leon Theremin stayed in America, where he met Clara Rockmore, the theremin's first virtuoso. Theremin worked on many variations of his original instrument including the Terpsitone (controlled by the entire body), an electric cello, and a theremin controlled only by the eyes.

In 1954 Robert Moog (famous for his synthesizers of the same name) started production of the theremin. His company, Big Briar Inc., still produces them today. It also produces kits for those who wish to build their own theremin. The popularity of the theremin started to rise again and it was included in several movies (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Spellbound, and Lost Weekend). The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin both used it in their hit songs "Good Vibrations" and "Whole Lotta Love," respectively.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Physics of the Theremin Musical Instrument." 21 Jun 2018
Title Length Color Rating  
Musical Instruments Essay - Musical Instruments A fairly old instrument that is still in use today is the theremin. It has a particular design that is different from any other instrument around and is played much more differently then other instruments in circulation today. The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played using electrical fields. When it was first introduced, society was shocked to see this instrument that could be played without even touching it. The theremin is tuned so that it has a range of three and a half octaves....   [tags: Music] 1577 words
(4.5 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay on Physics of musical instruments - Physics is all around us, and yet we always overlook it. We see, hear or feel something happen but never stop to question why. Physics will tell us why. Music plays a part in everyone's lives. So much so that it is often overlooked and the technicalities of it are unappreciated. Sure there are times when we listen carefully to the music behind the songs we hear, we may focus on the rhythm or the harmonies, but we never think of what it took to make the sounds that we are hearing. In this paper, I will explain the physics musical instruments....   [tags: Music, Physics]
:: 5 Works Cited
2002 words
(5.7 pages)
Term Papers [preview]
Physics of the Violin Essay - "String instruments have been played for more than a thousand years. Performance on string instruments has reached a level today that cannot be improved upon, and the quality of instruments built nearly three centuries ago is maintained in the best instrument made today" (Allen, 1). "The violin is a wooden resonance box that amplifies the soundwaves from the vibrations of the strings stretched across it" (Mandy). The most material for the construct the violin is wood; maple used for the back, ribs, and neck) and spruce for the top....   [tags: physics music musical instrument violin]
:: 1 Works Cited
526 words
(1.5 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on TheTabla Indian Musical Instrument - Every year, one of India's most important holidays occurs around October and November. The purpose of the holiday is to celebrate the mark of the end of the harvest year before. winter. Nowadays, it is celebrated by family gatherings, festive lights, and worship Lakshmi. Despite religious affiliation, most Indians are able to celebrate Diwali as it has become a national festival over time. The story of Diwali is interpreted differently by Hindus depending on the location they live in. The Cultural Association of India of Wichita (CAI) annually organizes an event at a venue in Wichita to celebrate Diwali....   [tags: famous percussion instruments] 816 words
(2.3 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
Planning for a Musical Instrument Maintence Service Essay - Concept Statement For musicians, taking care of their equipment is much like being a mechanic performing regular maintenance on vehicles. Guitars, amplifiers, and other live sound equipment have maintenance requirements that need to be performed on a regular basis. To keep musical equipment in top working order takes time and energy that a musician might not be able to afford due to scheduled performances or the fact that life is sometimes busy. A service that provides repairs, maintenance and other modification for musical equipment in a timely manner for professionals and home hobbyists is much needed in the local area....   [tags: customers, concept, monitoring] 595 words
(1.7 pages)
Good Essays [preview]
The Physics of the Alto Saxophone Essay - The Alto Saxophone is a single-reed musical instrument that was invented in 1846 by Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax. Adolphe Sax was born on November 6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium. During his childhood, he studied the clarinet and flute at Brussel’s Conservatory. His father was a renowned maker of musical instruments during that time. Since Adolphe grew up with his father making instruments and studying the clarinet and the flute, it was obvious that he would end up following in his father’s footsteps....   [tags: wind musical instruments]
:: 7 Works Cited
1214 words
(3.5 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Léon Theremin's Contributions to Music and Society Essay - To start, Léon Theremin, originally known as, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a very influential Russian inventor throughout human history. He is most popular for his invention of the Theremin, one of the very first electronic musical instruments ever made. In addition, Léon Theremin is the inventor of a plethora of other inventions, some including the burglar alarm, the Great Seal bug, and the Terpsitone. There are innumerable interesting things that can be said about this innovative person. Without him, society wouldn’t experience, or enjoy the things we have, the same....   [tags: Biography ]
:: 4 Works Cited
1570 words
(4.5 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Training on a Musical Instrument Promotes Cognitive Development Essay - ... It is implied that actively engaging ones’ self in music can assist in connecting with the music’s mood. This does not mean that you should sit idly and blast music through your speakers, but rather that you should play music and actively try to feel happier. In a study conducted by Ferguson and Sheldon, random participants were exposed to twelve minutes of upbeat music and were encouraged to attempt to lift their mood (Ferguson and Sheldon). It was crucial that participants actively attempted to feel happier while listening to each musical selection....   [tags: music, health, intelligence]
:: 11 Works Cited
1446 words
(4.1 pages)
Term Papers [preview]
Essay about Physics of Guitars - Almost everybody can appreciate guitars. Guitars are at the forefront of music as the centerpiece of most bands. Guitars are a highly versatile instrument capable of playing full 6 note chords, unlike most instruments. As much as music depends on guitars, guitars also depend on physics. Without understanding the properties sound, guitars wouldn’t be possible. Guitars use the principles of acoustics to produce the sound you hear. Acoustic guitars and electric guitars produce sound in two different ways....   [tags: physics guitar]
:: 1 Works Cited
2349 words
(6.7 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Physics of Music Essay example - "He who understands nothing but chemistry does not truly understand chemistry either" Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) Music is not purely a form of art. There is a great deal of science that goes behind the production of beautiful musical sounds. In order to understand how music is possible, one must have an understanding of physics. Physics allows us to create musical instruments with different tone qualities and the ability to be played in a certain way to produce a specific pitch or note....   [tags: physics music sound] 866 words
(2.5 pages)
Better Essays [preview]

Related Searches

Leon Theremin died in 1993, but his interesting instrument still has a cult following today. His original theremin's tubes have been replaced by transistors and soon infra-red controllers. Although it may not be the most popular instrument today, it certainly is one of the most interesting.

How the Theremin Works
(aka time for physics)

The theremin contains two radio-frequency oscillators (or resonant circuits). This is called a "beat frequency oscillator" by physicists and "ring modulation" by some guitarists. One oscillator operates at a fixed frequency, usually about 285 kHz and the other varies between 282 and 285 kHz. When these oscillators are combined, they produce two signals, one at 567-570 kHz and one at 0-3kHz. A diode detector removes the higher frequency so the lower one is left.

The variable oscillator consists of a circuit of capacitors and inductors in which the vertical pitch antenna and the player's hand serve as the a capacitor. The closer the hand is, the greater the capacitance is as capacitance is determined by the distance between the two plates of the capacitor. This is demonstrated by the equation: C=eA/d ,where C is capacitance, e is the permittivity constant, A is the area of the capacitor's plates, and d is the distance between the plates. Moving the hand towards the pitch antenna increases the capacitance of the oscillator's circuit, thereby reducing its frequency, causing a greater difference between it and the fixed oscillatior, creating a higher pitch. The higher pitch is because higher pitches have higher frequencies. When the player's hand is drawn far enough away, the difference between the oscillators is essentially zero, therby causing sound to stop.

The volume is controlled by the fixed oscillator. This oscillator creats a current that causes a high frequency voltage to be carried across its circuit's inductors. These voltages are higher when the oscillator's frquencies are the same (when the hand is away) and become lower when the player's hand introduces more capacitance. This voltage is changed into a DC voltage by a detector. This DC voltage controls a voltage-controlled amplifier. The audio signal from the pitch oscillator is amplified here. Its volume is determined by how much voltage is carried through the volume oscillator's circuit.

Return to