Learn How to Play the Theremin: A Free Short Video Course

When Leon Theremin debuted his strange elec­tron­ic device on the world stage, it seemed to many peo­ple more like a curi­ous toy than a seri­ous musi­cal instru­ment. The theremin soon became asso­ci­at­ed with B‑grade sci-fi movies and nov­el­ty sound­tracks, an asso­ci­a­tion that made Clara Rock­more furi­ous. Deter­mined to achieve respectabil­i­ty for the theremin, she cham­pi­oned it as “a legit­i­mate clas­si­cal instru­ment that deserves a place in the pit,” writes Atlas Obscu­ra, “right next to the vio­lins and piano.” Rockmore’s ambi­tions may have been out­sized, but her tal­ent was unde­ni­able. “As seri­ous as any­one has ever been about the theremin… she left behind a num­ber of valu­able lessons,” includ­ing a book, freely avail­able, in which she dis­pens­es some very prac­ti­cal advice.

But much has changed since her day, includ­ing pop­u­lar meth­ods of instruc­tion and some of the tech­ni­cal design of theremins. Now, aspir­ing play­ers will like­ly go look­ing for video lessons before con­sult­ing Rockmore’s guide, which requires that stu­dents read music in order to tran­si­tion from exer­cis­es to “easy pieces” by Camille Saint-Saëns and J.S. Bach.

One series of video lessons offered by “therem­i­nist” Thomas Gril­lo, an earnest instruc­tor in a white shirt and tie, begins with the very basics and works up to more advanced tech­niques, includ­ing pos­si­ble mods to the device (Gril­lo plays a Moog-made theremin him­self).

Gril­lo opens with a dis­claimer that his short course is “no sub­sti­tute for pro­fes­sion­al­ly done how-to videos on how to play the theremin,” there­by humbly acknowl­edg­ing the low pro­duc­tion val­ues of his series. Nonethe­less, I imag­ine his class­es are as good a place to start as any for new­com­ers to theremin-ing, not a skill one can pick up as read­i­ly online as play­ing the gui­tar or piano.  He clear­ly knows his stuff. With the look and demean­er of a high school alge­bra teacher, Gril­lo patient­ly explains and demon­strates many tech­niques and prin­ci­ples, begin­ning with les­son one above, then con­tin­u­ing in lessons twothree, four, five, six, and sev­en.

Once you’ve reached an inter­me­di­ate stage, or if you already find your­self there, you may ben­e­fit from the instruc­tion of Car­oli­na Eyck, who has car­ried on the seri­ous clas­si­cal work of Clara Rock­more. See her just above per­form a stir­ring ren­di­tion of Rach­mani­nof­f’s “Vocalise,” accom­pa­nied on piano by Christo­pher Tarnow, and check out her YouTube chan­nel for more per­for­mances and short lessons.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sovi­et Inven­tor Léon Theremin Shows Off the Theremin, the Ear­ly Elec­tron­ic Instru­ment That Could Be Played With­out Being Touched (1954)

Meet Clara Rock­more, the Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Musi­cian Who First Rocked the Theremin in the Ear­ly 1920s

Watch Jim­my Page Rock the Theremin, the Ear­ly Sovi­et Elec­tron­ic Instru­ment, in Some Hyp­not­ic Live Per­for­mances

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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