Steve Reich’s best works for percussion

A guide to the American composer's percussion music

Percussionist Colin Currie
Published: August 5, 2021 at 3:14 pm


In the 1960s Steve Reich developed ‘phasing’, a system of gradually moving two identical lines of music out of sync with one another. He initially used tape loops in film soundtracks, then later applied this technique in a live setting where he used percussion to explore the concept further.


Drumming was composed in 1971 on Reich’s return to New York from Ghana, where he was inspired by the country’s music ensembles. With no changes in melody or rhythm, it’s the slight shifts in timing and pitch that create momentum.

Clapping Music

Testing the limits of minimalism, Reich then created a piece that uses nothing but the human body as an instrument. Clapping Music features two performers, one of whom maintains a 12-quaver-long clapping phrase, while the other shifts by one quaver every 12th bar. They move out of sync before returning to unison 144 bars later.

Nagoya Marimbas

Nagoya Marimbas, composed in 1994 for a brace of marimbas, signalled a change in Reich’s compositional style, with motifs undergoing more melodic development, while still maintaining the technique of phasing.


Reich’s most recent percussion work, Quartet, was dedicated to Currie, and features two pianos and vibraphones. With constant changes of key, melodies are continually introduced and abandoned alongside a strong pulse.


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