Many songs will start with only a few number of instruments, and after a specified amount of time has passed a new instrument is added, and this is repeated until all instruments for the song are playing its rhythms. Sometimes this is also done when finishing the song, but in reverse order.

Does this style of opening a piece has a name?

  • 1
    I do not have an answer, but if you get the chance to hear Gavin Bryars piece en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus'_Blood_Never_Failed_Me_Yet go for it, it is a beautiful example of gradually adding instruments to accompany a simple looped sung phrase. So moving.
    – dumbledad
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 14:52
  • I've seen the phrase "terraced entrances" used to describe this, but cannot find any formal definition of the phrase I'm afraid. Hard to believe there's not a formal term for this. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 14:12
  • Fine example. Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 13:51

9 Answers 9


Technically, this is less about form and more about orchestration. People can use instruments to denote a shift or division or a new section in the piece, though they don't have to.

Orchestration is the art of timbre.

When instruments enter one at a time, their entrances are described as "staggered". The fact that the instruments enter halfway through the piece is an orchestrational one. Canons and Rounds do not apply in this context if the staggered voices do not also enter through imitation as well.


Development, or buildup? Crescendo is when the music gets louder. Development is nearer to what you ask.


Though this technique does occur in "composed" music - Ravel's "Bolero" and (in reverse) Haydn's "Farewell" symphony - it's more typical of music "constructed" in a sequencer. Because a sequencer makes it easy to work in this way - set up a drum loop, add a bass, add a guitar - you're right, we hear this done far too often! I don't think there's an accepted term for it. "Layering" perhaps.

  • The Beatles frequently used staggered arrangements (instruments entering on the second verse, etc), so it's not only due to sequencers. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 11:33

I think you can call this a "Mannheim Crescendo". I also have a teacher who use a french expression to name it, a "crescendo d'orchestre", but I don't find sources for this denomination.

  • Unfortunately the link seems to be broken.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 10:18

The closest term I found for this was a canon. Not exactly the same, but pretty close. A canon pretty much when one voice has the melody and some duration later another voice comes in playing the same melody and then the pattern continues for more voices. A round is also a type of canon that may be slightly closer to what you are thinking of.


I don't think you'll find an exact term for this, but what you are referring to is "texture." In the type of piece you describe, the texture starts "thin" and then layers or builds to a "dense" texture. For the reverse(at the end of the piece) you could describe the texture as "thinning out" or "layering out." If there is one instrument, the texture is monophonic, two is biphonic, and 3 or more polyphonic.

More info:texture on Wikipedia.


I believe 'staggered entry' is the most useful term. It explains in two words exactly what is happening. The term is used extensively in Music education in Australia at least. The use of the term 'terraced' is associated more with dynamics, as in 'Baroque composers favoured terraced dynamics'.


According to my brother (country/rock band for 20 years), this sounds like a variation of what is called a breakdown.



Steve Winwood has one in the open to "I'm a Man". When Chicago covered the song, they also covered the breakdown.


I think the term you are looking for, and which everyone else has failed to give, is "ostinato."


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