There's a Piano piece by Steve Reich called piano phase, in which the same notes are played on 2 pianos (usually by different people), but over time, they shift out of phase with each other.

Here's a video of it being done by one guy on youtube:

I imagine it's extremely difficult, but how would you go about learning to play out of phase in such a way?

  • I know virtuoso pianists who will back you up on your estimation of the difficulty -- a lot of so-called minimalist music is extraordinarily difficult to play.
    – kiprainey
    Feb 13, 2014 at 14:38
  • Jon Hiseman (drums,percussion) does a similar thing, starting with a drum roll on snare, with a slow bass drum pulse. As the roll slows down, so the bass drums (double) speed up, so that in the middle of the number, the snare is slow single beating, whilst the bass drums are rolling. Then it all slowly swaps over to the original.Impressive over 4/5 mins.
    – Tim
    Feb 13, 2014 at 15:32
  • 5
    That is an INCREDIBLE video!!!
    – NReilingh
    Feb 13, 2014 at 18:15
  • 1
    My suggestion would be to record one hand, then practice listening to it while playing the other hand. Then you can begin to hear what it should sound like. I know this suggestion has nothing to do with hand independency, but it's where I would start if I were to attempt anything even remotely like this. Feb 13, 2014 at 18:29
  • There is another cool piece by Reich call "Clapping Music", and it has this neat video that goes along with it, to kind of demonstrate a "simpler" version of this phasing thing. Thanks to my brother (Stephen) for pointing this video out to me. Feb 13, 2014 at 22:40

1 Answer 1


What make's Reich's piece difficult, is how he specifies the phasing. For example, there are portions of the score where you need to be exactly 1/16th note out of phase with yourself.

Self-phasing is something I have practiced for quite some time, and indeed, it does take a while to learn. However, such practice / skill allows you great freedom through improvisation as well as some very interesting syncopation.

If you're starting from the absolute beginning, then I would suggest becoming very smooth at transitioning between rhythmic durations. For example, put on a metronome at 44bpm or something equivalently slow. Next, begin with a whole note (four beats) and repeat a few times, then move to half-notes, triplet quarters, quarter-notes, eighth, triplet-eighth, sixteenth, quintuplets, etc etc. Practice moving between them staying exactly with the beat.

Once you have mastered that, apply the same technique while keeping one hand constant with the metronome while you accelerate with your other hand exactly with the beat. Next alternate hands.

Really, the trick is being able to multitask.

Quite simply, when you have mastered speeding up and slowing down with the beat, do it over or independently of the beat. If there were measures, you could think of it as being "over the barline." Obviously, alternate hands.

Once you have mastered this task, take it a step further by only tapping on beats 1, 3 or 2, 4 (I'm a fan of 2, 4 personally for jazz reasons.) Once you can arhythmically swing on 2, 4, then you know you can have some fun.

If you want to slow down / speed up at a specific rate, then that will need to be practiced specially - the difficulty really lies in how well you understand conceptually what needs to occur kinesthetically in order for your hands to create the desired phasing effect.

  • A lot of people are misunderstanding the nature of the piece. The Reich piece never asked you to play out of phase with yourself, the actual piece calls for 2 pianists. This performer is attempting to do it all by himself. You're right that sometimes 1 part is ahead by a 16th; it's systematic, next it's an 8th ahead, then a dotted-8th, etc. And that's hard enough, but all it requires is practice of all the different line ups. It's the in-between part, where you transition from 1 lineup to the next, that's so difficult--especially by yourself. Feb 14, 2014 at 16:50
  • @jjMusicNotes Another fantastic answer as always jj! Feb 14, 2014 at 17:16
  • @PatMuchmore - you are correct that Reich never actually asks perfomers to phase in and out with them selves, and I apologize if my answer's wording appear to imply that the piece was originally written for one person. Though the phasing is metrically systematic, a phasing effect is after all what the composer is going for. Feb 15, 2014 at 0:38

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