Untouched by performers’ hands: the theremin




The theremin, named for its inventor Louis Théremin, is the only instrument that is played without the performer touching any part of it. It uses two ultrasonic oscillators, one of fixed pitch and the other variable. The variable frequency oscillator is attached to an antenna. Audible pitch results from the heterodyne interaction of the two oscillators. That is, what we hear are the beats between two ultrasonic pitches, the difference tones. The frequency of the pitch results from how close or how far away the performers right hand is to the antenna. The performer’s left hand similarly controls the volume … Continue reading

The Ophecleide




The serpent eventually morphed into the ophecleide, a metal instrument built more or less in the form of a bassoon. This shape made it possible for the tone holes to be correctly placed and the right size. Unlike the serpent, then, its intonation was dependable. It made a logical bass to the keyed bugle, which was invented at about the same time and for a while became a popular solo instrument. The ophecleide, too, in the hands of skilled players, made an excellent effect both in bands and orchestras and as a solo instrument. But notice that I must use … Continue reading

The Serpent (and I thought the trombone gets no respect)




The serpent was the bass of the old wooden cornett. As such, it predates the invention of keys and mechanics that make them work. It got its name from its  curvy shape. No one would have been able to hold it or finger it if it were straight. As it is, the tone holes are placed according to where the player’s fingers can reach them and the right size for the player’s fingers to cover them. They are neither large enough nor properly placed for either optimum tone or intonation according to the laws of acoustics. As the quotations below … Continue reading