In today’s post, technology and performance combine in a lesson plan based on one of the most simple (yet effective) pieces: Steve Reich’s Clapping Music.
In 1972, composer Steve Reich (born 1936) decided to compose a piece that – in his words – “needs no instruments beyond the human body”. The result was Clapping Music – a piece that requires only the hands.
The musical premise for the piece is simple. There are two performers and only one rhythm. Both players start by clapping the rhythm, then player 1 continues on while the second player varies the main rhythm by shifting it a beat every few repetitions. Player 2’s rhythm moves through 12 cycles until it ends up in unison once more with Player 1.
Here’s a performance of the piece featuring Steve Reich himself (on the right of the screen – Player 1 part) and David Crossin (Player 2 part).
Clapping Music: The App
In the lesson plan below, you can use technology – in the form of a free iPad app – to help you teach the piece to your students. You don’t NEED technology to do this piece with your students, but it makes it definitely adds something and makes it lots of fun!
In the Clapping Music app, you perform the Player 2 part and the Player 1 part is performed by the app itself. Your rhythms appear on the screen in a graphic notation form. The main rhythm – pattern 1 – looks like this:
You play the rhythm by tapping your finger on the screen (not by clapping into the iPad microphone which is what I thought you supposed to do at first!). When you start, your part will be in unison with Player 1, but then your Player 2 part will shift as the patterns change.
Note that there are two ways to use the app:
- Performance mode – Easy, Medium and Hard levels (each level is at a set tempo with Hard being the fastest of the three)
- Practice mode – this mode allows you to control the tempo (i.e. you can set it quite slow!) and you can choose which of the patterns you would like to practice. You can select a single pattern or a combination of a few of the 12 patterns.
The problem with Practice mode: it’s good but….
When I started playing with the app, I really wanted to see each pattern on its own (still, not moving up the screen!) so I could decipher it in my own time, practice it VERY slowly and then increase my speed a little away from the app itself.
Once I felt comfortable with the pattern I could return to the app version and play in Practice mode to reinforce what I had learnt and have my accuracy assessed.
The way the app is set up does not really make this possible so I looked for the music online and found that Steve Reich himself had tweeted a link to the score:
Downloadable graphic score version
I ended up creating a slide-show version – with each pattern on a separate slide – so that you can display them on a data projector for students and teach each one slowly. My 8-year old son often plays the part of my test “case study” and he could sight-read the patterns from this version, so I figure it works pretty well!
Would you like a copy? You can download the presentation/slide-show version (as pictured above) AND the full lesson plan by clicking on the download link below. The lesson plan will be sent straight to your email inbox.
The Lesson Plan
This lesson can be used in a very basic way with young students, or in a challenging way with older students. It’s highly adaptable!
Students will develop the ability to read rhythms accurately and play in time.
Music Education Standards
- 2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
- 9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture
- 6.2 Develop technical and expressive skills in singing and playing instruments with understanding of rhythm, pitch and form in a range of pieces, including in music from the community
- 6.3 Rehearse and perform music, including music they have composed, by improvising, sourcing and arranging ideas and making decisions to engage an audience
- 8.5 Perform and present a range of music, using techniques and expression appropriate to style
- 8.6 Analyse composers’ use of the elements of music and stylistic features when listening to and interpreting music
- Single or multiple iPads
- Metronome or metronome app
- Data projector & speakers
- Clapping Music app by Touchpress (free)
- PDF copy of the 12 clapping patterns (download below)
One lesson (could be extended to a 2-3 lesson unit)
Clapping rhythms in time to a steady beat.
- Learn the basic rhythm (pattern 1). Show the students the Pattern 1 slide. Teach them the rhythm and clap it as a group, very slowly at first, increasing the speed gradually. It’s a good idea to use a metronome (or for you to keep a steady beat on a drum) while the students clap.
- Learn pattern 2. Show the students the Pattern 2 slide. Teach them the rhythm and clap it as a group, very slowly at first, increasing the speed gradually.
- Open the Clapping Music app (display it on your data projector), tap on Tap To Play and tap Practice Mode. Tap Settings (the cog at the top right of the screen), scroll down and slide the Tempo slider all the way to the left). Under Transitions, select the number of times you would like each rhythm to repeat before it switches to a different pattern (I would suggest starting with a number between 5-10). Tap the arrow at the top right to return to the list of Practice Mode Patterns and select Pattern 01 and Pattern 02 (leave the others unchecked). If you remember, it’s a good idea to set up these parameters ahead of class time so you don’t need to do it while the students are waiting
- Get the students ready to play! Tap Play at the bottom of the Practice Mode screen. The app will perform Pattern 1 once as an introduction and then the students can clap the rhythm that is displayed on the screen. After 5 repetitions (or more if you chose a higher number), the pattern will change[note: you don’t “need” to have anyone tapping on the iPad screen when you’re in Practice Mode – you can just leave the app to do its own thing while the students watch it on the data projector]
- When the students are comfortable playing pattern 1 and 2, divide them into two groups and have the first group clap pattern 1 while the second group start performing pattern 1, switches to pattern 2 and then back again to pattern 1. Then swap the groups over.
- You can continue to learn each pattern in the same way – there are 12 patterns in total – using the slide image to learn the pattern and then using the app to perform it. In Practice Mode, try different combinations of patterns (you can have as few or as many patterns as you like). When the students can play the patterns accurately, challenge them by increasing the tempo.
- If you have enough iPads for the students to use, let them have a go at Easy, Medium or Hard “performance” mode. These are much more difficult and involve all 12 patterns. Note that if you use shared iPads, you can set up more than one user in the Clapping Music app which will allow students to keep track of their own personal progress. You could even run a little “Clapping Music Competition” 🙂
- Individual game play: if students have access to iPads (one each or one per 2-3 students) they can play the “proper” game in Easy mode. They can then move on to Medium and Hard modes when ready
- Have students compose their own clapping piece
Students can play the Clapping Music rhythms accurately in time to the app or a metronome (if using the app, Practice mode will assess accuracy for you) and/or they can perform contrasting patterns simultaneously.
Here are a few more videos that involve clapping and other body percussion that you might like to show your students:
We No Speak Americano ft. Cleary & Harding
I’ll Think Of You (clapping as an accompaniment)
Hand clap skit (warning: the applause at the end is very loud!)
Download this lesson plan
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