KS3: Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians (excerpt)

Steve Reich

  • Born: 1936
  • Nationality: American

Why is he a Trailblazer?

Smashing musical boundaries, trailblazer Steve Reich mixed together his classical training with his love of African drumming, jazz and pop music, and helped to invent a whole new form of music: minimalism.

His innovations have created the rich, diverse musical world we live in today.

Steve Reich
Naomi Wilkinson introduces Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, a minimalist masterpiece. We explore the short motifs and repeating patterns that make Reich’s music so exciting.

Fast Facts

  • In the 1960s Reich experimented with sampling and looping tapes, after noticing an exciting effect when two tape recordings of the same phrase ‘It’s gonna rain’ gradually ‘phased’ in and out of sync with each other. Reich then applied ‘phasing’ to musical instruments, such as two pianos, and with clapping hands.

  • Curious about many different types of music, in the 1970s Reich travelled to Seattle to study the Balinese gamelan and to Ghana, to study West African drumming – and his own piece, Drumming, was inspired by his time there.

  • Reich’s music has inspired people like Brian Eno and David Bowie and reflects the development of musical styles like hip hop and dance music. He has been called America’s greatest living composer.

Watch the performance of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (excerpt) by members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra alongside students from The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Music for 18 Musicians

Steve Reich’s music strips away long, unfolding melodies and complex harmonies and focuses instead on a very few, or minimal, parts: beats, rhythms and pulses, and slowly changing and repeating patterns.

Reich had already explored musical patterns by clapping hands, striking bits of wood and playing two pianos – but, in 1970, Music for 18 Musicians was his biggest experiment so far.

The result is a shimmering, rippling musical tapestry, with instruments, including voices, keyboards, tuned percussion instruments and maracas, creating layers of sound.

Different instruments and rhythms rise to the surface as the musical landscape gradually shifts.

Listening to Steve Reich’s work can be an intense and hypnotic experience!


KS3 Lesson plans
KS3 Powerpoint slides
Downloadable mp3
Multi-ability instrumental arrangements
Figurenotes arrangement
KS3 Bitesize Ten Pieces study guide

Where next?

Ten Pieces Uploader