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Quick Tip: How to Sound Like Minimalist Composer Steve Reich

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Read Time: 2 mins

This quick tip describes the common composing techniques, provides links to examples and gives suggestions on how you can do it yourself.

1. Phasing

Phasing can be described as two instruments/sounds performing the same pattern; one playing to the pulse whist the other plays slightly faster resulting in them gradually becoming further apart. Reich claims he discovered the phasing process by accident.

Have a listen to ‘It’s Gonna Rain’, Reich’s first important composition to use minimalist techniques.

For the do it yourself example, I composed a short piano ostinato and then bounced down two versions. The only difference between the two versions was the speed I bounced them at - one at 225bpm, the other 226bpm. I then placed these on their individual tracks, and then proceeded to bounce this version down. (The example is an extract. The ostinatos would eventually be playing in unison again.)

2. Process Music

Process Music can be explained as one performer remaining fixed, whilst the second performer moves on ahead, after a certain number of repeats. If phasing can be described as a gradual change, Process Music would be a sudden change.

Listen to ‘Clapping Music’ below. This piece marked the end of Reich’s experimentation with gradually phase shifting.

For my process composition, I wrote a one bar rhythm in 3/4 which was duplicated, making it unison for the first four bars. After this, Player 2 moves ahead a 1/16 (semiquaver) of the beat. The process is repeated every four bars, until eventually, she is back in time with Player 1.

3. Augmentation (Lengthening)

Different to the other techniques in the sense that it doesn’t resolve itself. It normally begins with a chord. Individual notes within the chord are lengthened, usually one at a time. Could be described as a progression that begins vertically and ends horizontally.

Listen to ‘Four Organs’, which is an attempt to create slow motion music without altering the pitch. (A concept that was impossible at the time).

For my example, I used a C7 Chord (C E G Bb) played twice per bar. I repeated each cycle three times, before choosing to lengthen one note within a chord by a semiquaver. At a time, I would extend the note backwards, others, forwards suggesting an upbeat. (Again, the example is an extract. The composition would eventually end with the chord constantly ringing.)


The intention of this quick tip was not only to give you a basic insight into the minimalist techniques pioneered by Steve Reich, but also to inspire you to incorporate them into your own music.

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