Two years ago today, I started tying to teach myself how to play the #theremin. It started off as a learning experiment. I wanted to see how far I could get in figuring out this instrument that’s often considered near impossible to play. At @mitmedialab, where we were tasked with trying to envision future technologies and then make them come to life, I focused on technologies for music learning. Ended up spending a few years of life thinking all the time about how to learn. I’m particularly curious about higher level strategies of learning that work across domains. I wanted to see to what extent the strategies I have accumulated could help me progress on the theremin.
I know that a handful of masters exist, but I made a purposeful decision not to overly emulate them. While I immensely respect the efforts behind their virtuosity, my goal was not to become a theremin virtuoso. For me, the theremin was the ideal vehicle for discovering more about the workings of the musical mind, and how minds (and bodies) might make themselves more musical. Part of the theremin’s appeal is it’s relative novelty, and the lack of an “established way.” With more established instruments like the piano, ways of doing things have already become dogma, and you miss out on the fun of figuring it out problems yourself. I wanted the joy of discovery, and it has brought me immense joy trying to work out how to play the theremin on my own.
In the past two years, I have played more gigs than I have ever done in 20+ years of piano playing, and played with a diverse array of musicians. I also collaborated on new research projects, met many interesting people, and even found love—all through the theremin.
I’ve also kept detailed journals of my learning process but had been too shy to share any of those thoughts, for fear that someone will come along and tell me I have no idea what I’m doing and I should just copy people who are actually good. But the people who are actually good all had to figure it out themselves. So why can’t I? Anyway I’m over that fear now. Here’s to more sharing.