GCSE MUSIC - Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich

GCSE MUSIC - Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich

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  • Created by: Angharad
  • Created on: 20-04-11 14:06


- A style that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction against the complexity of modern music. Some features of minimalism are:

  • Repetition of simple ideas with small changes introduced gradually
  • Melodies slowly built up through the process of note addition
  • Layered textures
  • Diatonic harmony
  • Slow harmonic rhythm
  • Little variety in instrumentation

Steve Reich is an American composer whose work shows diverse influences. Some of his pieces were greeted with controversy when they were first performed.

Other minimalist composers include Philip Glass and John Adams

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This movement of Electric Counterpoint (3rd) is for live guitar, accompanied by parts for seven guitars and two bass guitars that have been recorded. The live guitar had been amplified to blend in well with the backing tape.

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The movement builds up in three layers:

1) A syncopated quaver motif is introduced in the live guitar and top four guitar parts, one part at a time.

2) A new syncopated quaver motif is next introduced in the bass guitars

3) A more sustained motif, built around three chords, begins in the live guitar part and is then transferred to other parts

After all three parts have been built up, layers 2 and 3 fade out together, leaving layer 1 to continue until it come to rest on a held chord

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Melody and Texture

  • Melody is made up of a continuously repeated one bar motif to form an ostinato. This motif is introduced by the live guitar and top four guitar parts at different times, creating a canon. 
  • In some parts, the melody is built up through note addition.
  • This piece has a contrapuntal texture. (When all parts are independent and one part starts after another, usually with the same melody)
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Rhythm, Metre and Tempo

  • The main metre is 3/2. Each minim is split into four quavers. 12 quavers in a bar.
  • There are 192 crotchets per minute - a very fast speed
  • Little rhythmic variety. 
  • Frequent syncopation
  • Metrical displacement is used - guitars 1-4 play the same motif but start in different parts of the bar. They sound out of sync with each other.
  • Towards the end of the piece, some parts go into 12/8 while others continue in 3/2. This combination of different time signatures is an example of polymetre
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Harmony and Tonality

The music is largely in the key of G major, with some sections towards the end in Eflat major. This piece is diatonic.

Hexatonic scales are used. The first motif is hexatonic because it uses six notes of the G major scale

Cadences aren't used. The final chord is made up of two notes - B and E. Because there is no cadence and this isn't a complete chord, we can't be sure that this piece has finished in G major. 

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The overall dynamic remains constant throughout. 

Parts gradually fade in a number of places.

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Jobea Ssemeira


This was just what i needed-very helpful!



Thanks (:

Good luck with the exam!



Really helpful, thank you.

Just one thing, the piece is actually minor and so starts with slight tonal ambiguity but when the bass guitar comes in we know the piece is in E minor. When the piece starts to change key back and forth towards the end it changes to C minor and back to E minor etc, and then ends in E minor.

Thank you :D

Samuel Richardson


This is a really helpful basic overview of the main musical features of 'Electric Counterpoint' by Steve Reich. Remember these points before expanding your knowledge with some more in depth notes. 

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