Steve Reich – Clapping Music
I’ve used Clapping Music as an example here as it is a simple implementation of an idea that usually appears on a much grander scale in Reich’s work, and so is easier to grasp.
The score is only one page!
Now what’s happening here is that you have one rhythmic pattern being performed by two people clapping.
To begin with they both clap the rhythm at the same time – but starting from the second bar, the second performer begins the pattern one note early.
This sets the two performers out of sync – even though they are both repeating the same pattern.
After twelve repetitions the second performer again shifts the pattern forward by one note – and keeps doing this until the two rhythms line up again.
The genius of Clapping Music is that the whole piece is made up of the single short rhythmic pattern – and the music itself is created by the process of contrasting it against itself, in a logical process.
The different combinations create different textures and the music is surprising enjoyable.
The other thing I love about this is that Reich created a simple, elegant piece of music that requires virtually nothing to perform – living up to his advice to young musicians not to give the excuse that you “don’t have the gear you need”
Here’s a very nice animation that visualises how the patterns move in the music.
So…the big question is how can we use this in our music?
Well it is easy enough with midi to set up patterns to run against each other like this.
For a quick challenge, come up with single loop of a drum beat. Do that now – it doesn’t have to be something incredible….
Then create a copy of the drum track complete with the midi part – and add a note on to one of the loops.
And let the loops run.
Ok – I’ve done a super quick example of this:
Here we have a simple 16 note loop:
It sounds like this:
So now we copy the same drum instrument to a new track, and copy the loop too – but make it one note longer.
So now the loop are different lengths. If we play the loops out, they’ll go out of sync like this:
There are no rules to this so you can keep the same sounds or change them – or do whatever you like!
It’s also worth noting that in other Reich pieces, he’ll often have more than one of these processes going on at one time. Or many different processes happening at once.
It takes some practice to get used to working with processes like this, but they are nothing to be scared of and they can be a great way to add texture and a sense of controlled flow to a track.
I find they can be great in percussion parts – like hi hats…you can have this going on in the background and it keeps the beat from being identical with each repetition.
Let me know if you liked this tutorial!
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