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It is named after the westernized name of its Russian inventor, Leon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The theremin was originally the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. During the 1930s Lucie Bigelow Rosen was also taken with the theremin and together with her husband Walter Bigelow Rosen provided both financial and artistic support to the development and popularisation of the instrument. In 1938, Theremin left the United States, though the circumstances related to his departure are in dispute.
After a flurry of interest in America following the end of the Second World War, the theremin soon fell into disuse with serious musicians, mainly because newer electronic instruments were introduced that were easier to play.
Since the release of the film Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey in 1994, the instrument has enjoyed a resurgence in interest and has become more widely used by contemporary musicians.
The theremin is unique among musical instruments in that it is played without physical contact. To control volume, the performer’s other hand acts as the grounded plate of another variable capacitor. Modern circuit designs often simplify this circuit and avoid the complexity of two heterodyne oscillators by having a single pitch oscillator, akin to the original theremin’s volume circuit. The Russian Dmitri Shostakovich was one of the first composers to include parts for the theremin in orchestral pieces, including a use in his score for the 1931 film Odna. The British television series Midsomer Murders uses a theremin in its popular theme tune as well as frequently in underscore.
In October 2008, comedian, musician and theremin enthusiast Bill Bailey played a theremin during his performance of Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, which has subsequently been televised.
Composer Garry Schyman used a Theremin for the musical score of the 2005 videogame Destroy All Humans!


The controlling section usually consists of two metalantennas which sense the position of the player’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other, so it can be played without being touched. The instrument was invented by a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeevich Termen (known in the West as Leon Theremin) in October 1920 after the outbreak of the Russian civil war. Many accounts claim he was taken from his New York City apartment by KGB agents, taken back to the Soviet Union and made to work in a sharashka laboratory prison camp at Magadan, Siberia.
However, a niche interest in the theremin persisted, mostly among electronics enthusiasts and kit-building hobbyists.
Even though many theremin sounds can be approximated on many modern synthesizers, some musicians continue to appreciate the expressiveness, novelty and uniqueness of using an actual theremin. The musician stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas.
In this case, the capacitor detunes another oscillator; that detuning is processed to change the attenuationin the amplifier circuit. This approach is usually less stable and cannot generate the low frequencies that a heterodyne oscillator can. He has previously also written an article, presented a radio show and incorporated the theremin in some of his televised comedy tours. Theremins are also used in concert music (especially avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music) and in popular music genres such as rock. Psychedelic rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the theremin in their work. After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin found his way to the United States, where he patented his invention in 1928 (US1661058). One of these electronics enthusiasts, Robert Moog, began building theremins in the 1950s, while he was a high-school student. On the other end of the scale, many low-end Theremins, some of which have only pitch control, are offered online and offline, sometimes advertised as toys.


The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). The theremin is played and identified as such in use in the Jerry Lewis movie The Delicate Delinquent.
Moog subsequently published a number of articles about building theremins, and sold theremin kits which were intended to be assembled by the customer.
Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement.
The frequency of the other oscillator is controlled by the performer’s distance from the pitch control antenna.
Moog credited what he learned from the experience as leading directly to his groundbreaking synthesizer, the Moog. Some low-cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna. While commonly called antennas, they are not used for receiving or broadcasting radio frequency, but act as plates in a capacitor.
Robby Virus, the founder and theremin player of the band Project:Pimento, was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Hellboy (2004).



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