I've been listening to a lot of Steve Reich lately and I'd like to bring classical minimal music into my improvisational group. I am familiar with jazz, rock and classical improvisation techniques.

From my understanding minimal music is composed ahead of time (except for folks like Terry Riley performing solo on keyboards).

What techniques could be used to created improvised minimalist music in a group setting? I can see how the polyrhythms could be done but how to coordinate and compose in the moment miminal music techniques such as slow modulation of one or more parameters as well as phase and pattern music, including repetition?

2 Answers 2


Completely improvising a minimalist piece isn't going to really capture the idea of minimalism as one of the key features of minimalism is stretching what you have to extremes. That being said, there are things you can do in a group setting to play with minimalistic ideas. Taking from Steve Reich, there are two very simple ways you can play with these ideas:

  1. Based on Steve Reich's piano phases, you can one person at a time improvise a single melody/motif and have others play it then have some speed up and others slow down and by doing this you'll create very complex harmonies. The downside is this isn't the kind of thing that is easy to do on the fly, but after a few sessions it will become easier to do.

  1. You can apply Steve Reich's clapping music to harmony in a similar manor as the piano phases as well. You can take a melodic motif and shift it by one beat after a certain amount of measures. So one person comes up with the motif and the others start with the same pattern then shift the pattern by one note and you can even stagger it or even have people play the pattern retrograde or inverted (or retrograde inverted). This is the one I'd recommend as the harmonies you'll create will be a lot different and a little more tangible. I've created pieces based on this that I've greatly enjoyed and I'll link it below.


Spiegelian improvisation has to be mentioned. That is, using keyboards, sequencers and loopers, you can insert riffs as desired and have each member control the various ways to manipulate. You can see in this acid session where they insert their loops on the fly, tapping them in. And then they grab the knobs.

Edit: Laurie Spiegel is a composer who in the 1970s proposed leaving the tonal and rhythmic composition of the tune to computers and leaving other controls to the whim of the performer. This method of composition and performance has been heavily uptaken by techno artists who do dabble in the original form as Laurie Spiegel performed it on occasion (see: Anthony Rother, Umek.)

  • A google search doesn't tun up anything for "Spiegelian improvisation". Please elucidate.
    – empty
    Jun 27, 2017 at 15:46

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