Drumming (Reich)
Drumming is a piece by minimalist
Minimalist music
Minimal music is a style of music associated with the work of American composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. It originated in the New York Downtown scene of the 1960s and was initially viewed as a form of experimental music called the New York Hypnotic School....

 composer Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...

, dating from 1970-1971. Reich began composition of the work after a short visit to Africa and observing music and musical ensembles there, especially under the Anlo Ewe
Anlo Ewe
The Ewe people are an African ethnic group of about 6 million people, inhabiting the southeastern part of Ghana from the Eastern shore of the Volta River to the border of Ghana and Togo known as the Volta Region; meanwhile, a majority of Ewe are also located in the entire southern half of Togo. ...

 master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie in Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

. His visit was cut short after contracting malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...



The piece employs Reich's trademark technique of phasing
In the compositional technique phasing, the same part is played on two musical instruments, in steady but not identical tempo...

. Phasing is achieved when two players, or one player and a recording, are playing a single repeated pattern in unison, usually on the same kind of instrument. One player changes tempo slightly, while the other remains constant, and eventually the two players are one or several beats out of sync with each other. They may either stay there, or phase further, depending on the piece.

Drumming was the last composition where Reich used this technique.

Other techniques

K. Robert Schwarz has characterised Drumming as a "transitional" piece between Reich's early, more austere compositions and his later works that use less strict forms and structure. Schwarz has also noted that Reich made use of three new techniques, for him, in this work:

(1) "the process of gradually substituting beats for rests (or rests for beats) within a constantly repeating rhythmic cycle", or "rhythmic construction" and "rhythmic reduction"

(2) combination of instruments of different timbres at the same time

(3) incorporation of human voices in imitation of the sounds of the percussion instruments in the ensemble, including whistling effects


The instrumentation is as follows:
  • 8 small tuned bongo drums
  • 3 marimbas
  • 3 glockenspiels
  • 2 or 3 female voices
  • 1 whistler, doubling piccolo

In total, the work requires 9 percussionists. With the additional players, the piece can be performed by 12 or 13 players.


The work falls into four parts, with the following instrumentation used in each:
  • Part One: 4 pairs of tuned bongo drums, played with double-ended wooden sticks
  • Part Two: 3 marimbas, 2 or 3 female voices
  • Part Three: 3 glockenspiels, whistler, and piccolo
  • Part Four: complete ensemble

The length of the piece can vary widely, as the number of repeats taken on any given measure is up to the performers. Recordings of the piece span between 55 and 84 minutes.

The entire piece is structured around a single repeated rhythm, one measure of 12/8 long. This rhythm is built up note by note, in the "substitution of beats for rests" technique found in other of Reich's works such as Music for Pieces of Wood, Octet
Octet (Reich)
Octet is a work by American minimalist composer Steve Reich. It was originally scored for string quartet, two pianos, and two clarinets doubling both bass clarinet and flute as well as piccolo. It was completed in April 1979, and was premiered on June 21, 1979, by members of the Netherlands Wind...

, Music for 18 Musicians
Music for 18 Musicians
Music for 18 Musicians is a work of musical minimalism composed by Steve Reich during 1974-1976. Its world premiere was on April 24, 1976 at Town Hall, New York. Following this, a recording of the piece was released by ECM New Series...

, and others. After the rhythm is completely built up, two of the players phase to where they are playing the same pattern one quarter-note apart from each other, and the other bongo players play resulting patterns that can be heard as a result of the combination of the phased patterns.

The rest of the piece continues to use the techniques of beat/rest substitution, phasing, and resultant patterns through its four movements. The transitions consist as follows:
  • Movement 2 begins by three marimba players playing exactly the same repeated pattern as the bongo players, fading in while the bongo players fade out.

  • Movement 3 begins similarly; three glockenspiel players begin doubling the marimbas (which by now are playing in their upper ranges), fading in while the marimbas fade out.

  • Movement 4 begins after movement 3 reduces its texture to one glockenspiel player, playing a single repeated note from the original pattern. Marimba and bongo players join, and build the pattern up again, note by note, until all nine percussionists are playing. The piece ends abruptly, on cue.


Choreographers such as Laura Dean, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Anne Teresa, Baroness De Keersmaeker is one of the most prominent choreographers in contemporary dance...

, and Ginette Laurin have collaborated on dance performances with Reich on Drumming.


  • 1971 - Gary Burke, Steve Chambers, Ben Harms, Russ Hartenberger, Frank Maefsky, Art Murphy, James Ogden, James Preiss (percussion); Jon Gibson (percussion, piccolo); Steve Reich (percussion, voice, whistling); Jay Clayton, Joan LaBarbara, Judy Sherman (voice) (John Gibson + Multiples 72-750125; a limited edition of 500 signed and numbered copies, released in 1972). Recorded live at The Town Hall, New York.
  • 1974 - Bob Becker, Cornelius Cardew
    Cornelius Cardew
    Cornelius Cardew was an English experimental music composer, and founder of the Scratch Orchestra, an experimental performing ensemble. He later rejected the avant-garde in favour of a politically motivated "people's liberation music".-Biography:Cardew was born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire...

    , Steve Chambers, Tim Ferchen, Ben Harms, Russ Hartenberger, James Preiss, Glen Velez (percussion); Steve Reich (percussion, whistling); Leslie Scott (piccolo); Jay Clayton, Joan LaBarbara (voice) (Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics 474 323; reissued as part of the 20/21 Echo Series in 2003). Duration 1:24:29.
  • 1987 - Steve Reich and Musicians (Nonesuch/Elektra 79170; also included on Steve Reich: Works 1965-1995
    Steve Reich: Works 1965-1995
    Steve Reich: Works 1965-1995 is a 1997 10-CD box set of compositions by composer Steve Reich released by Nonesuch Records as part of Reich's 60th birthday celebration. Described as, "monumental... essential.....

    ). Duration 56:42.
  • 2002 - Ictus Ensemble
    Ictus Ensemble
    Ictus Ensemble is a Belgian orchestra, founded by Jean-Luc Plouvierin 1994, specialising in Contemporary classical music...

     (Cypres CYP5608). Duration 54:49.
  • 2005 - So Percussion
    So Percussion
    So Percussion is an American percussion quartet based in New York City.Composed of Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Beach, the group is well known for recording and touring internationally and for its work with composers such as Steve Reich, David Lang, Paul Lansky, Martin...

    ; Eric Lesser (piccolo); Rebecca Armstrong, Jay Clayton (voice) (Cantaloupe Music CA21026). Duration 1:14:02.

External links

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