Arduino – A Basic Theremin

Theremins are cool. Fact. You may also have heard of them as either aetherphone/ etherophone or termenvox/ thereminvox. Essentially its an electronic music instrument that plays a certain note depending on the position of your hand and its distance from an antenna.

Building a very basic one with Arduino is easy – easier than my basic Arduino drum machine. Very easy. Basically we can replicate one by building a circuit of a speaker and a distance sensor, such as my favourite the SRF05 ultrasound thingy. We calculate the distance and the nearer you get the difference in note/frequency emitted from the speaker.

You’re going to need only a few parts and not much code. You can read more about my applications of the SRF05 along with sample code here: Arduino SRF05 Projects. If you can’t be arsed with reading any of that then no worries all is revealed below…

Arduino – A Basic Theremin

Arduino Theremin Parts List

1x speaker
SRF05 Ultrasonic range finder
Arduino Deumilanove w/ ATMEGA328
Breadboard / Prototyping board
Jumper/ Connector wires

Arduino Theremin Circuit

Very simple,we have a speaker with the negative running to Arduino’s GND, and it’s positive going to digital pin 6 on the Arduino board. The code will tell the speaker to turn on and off rapidly based on the objects distance from the ultrasound sensor. This rapid turning on and off of the speaker is what will generate different sounds (like my drum machine). The only other part of the circuit is the SRF05 distance/ proximity sensor. It has a positive and negative connected to the Arduino and then 2 pins for trigger and echoing an ultrasound wave both going to digital pins 2 and 3 respectively on the Arduino board.

Theremin Arduino Sketch

To save the annoyance of those around you I’ve added in a small statement that basically says if your hand is not within 30 cm of the sensor then don’t play a sound. But otherwise basically we measure distance constantly and when an object is detected we convert the distance in to a value for which to use in the oscillation of the speaker to generate different pitchs and frequencies.

// written at:
// very easy Theremin

// setup pins and variables for SRF05 sonar device
int echoPin = 2;                                // SRF05 echo pin (digital 2)
int initPin = 3;                                // SRF05 trigger pin (digital 3)
int speakerPin = 6;                             // Speaker pin
unsigned long pulseTime = 0;                    // stores the pulse in Micro Seconds
unsigned long distance = 0;                     // variable for storing the distance (cm) we'll use distance as a switch for the speaker
unsigned long soundDelay = 0;                   // variable for storing the deay needed for the pitch

void setup() {

  pinMode(speakerPin, OUTPUT);                  // sets pin 6 as output
  pinMode(initPin, OUTPUT);                     // set init pin 3 as output
  pinMode(echoPin, INPUT);                      // set echo pin 2 as input



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