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Resources for upper secondary pupils, examining composition techniques by American Minimalist composers Steve Reich and John Adams.


Shaker Loops – John Adams

(The SCO has not recorded this piece, but here is a recording featuring John Adams and a specially selected ensemble. Many other recordings are available online.)


Minimalism was a radical musical movement which originated in the USA in the 1960s. Pieces are constructed from a small number of short melodic ideas, which are repeated many times to generate music that gradually changes over a long period of time. Pioneered by Steve Reich, minimalist music was initially made from short rhythmic ‘cells’ that were repeated a lot and put through a number of processes allowing the music to very, very gradually develop and transform.

Minimalist techniques include –

Interlocking – staggering two cells so the rhythms interlock to create a more complex pattern

Gradual Transformation – after many repeats the cell changes by just one note or duration

Phasing – the same cell is played by two people. One slowly moves out of synch with the other by very slightly altering the speed or length of the cell, and each mismatch creates new rhythms and harmonies

Shifting – another form of phasing. One pattern shifts its emphasis by placing the last note at the beginning or vice versa thus creating new a pattern


  1. Find a friend
  2. Clap the following ‘football’ rhythm four times around
  3. Now add an extra whole beat on to the end of the rhythm above, and clap four times through
  4. Next, pick one rhythm each and try to clap them through at the same time. The patterns will go out of sync and it will be hard to keep going, but eventually the patterns fit together again!
  5. How does it sound? Congratulations, you have just performed a phase, one of the most important of all minimalist techniques!

'Football' Rhythm

Extended 'Football' Rhythm

Kindly supported by

The Misses Barrie Charitable Trust, The Gannochy Trust, The Plum Trust, PF Charitable Trust, The D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, Gordon Fraser Charitable Trust, The Margaret Murdoch Charitable Trust, The JTH Charitable Trust, The Educational Institute Of Scotland, The Forteviot Charitable Trust, Sir Iain Stewart Foundation, The Guildry Incorporation Of Perth and Jimmie Cairncross Charitable Trust.