Expressive Timbre and Timing in Rhythmic Performance: Analysis of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

William A. Sethares, Godfried T. Toussaint

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because of its minimalist construction, Steve Reich’s Clapping Music provides an ideal crucible for an examination of the role of expressive timing and expressive timbre in musical performance. Seven recordings of Clapping Music are studied. The analysis begins by dissecting the seven performances into hundreds of segments that contain either single handclaps or double handclaps. These are then studied in many ways: the consistency with which performers are able to maintain the timbre of their claps, the height percept of a handclap and its meaning for such a percussive sound, the accuracy in time with which performers can maintain a steady pulse. When clapping together, the timbre of the clap pair is dependent not only on the individual timbres but also on the timing of the claps. It is possible to measure the accuracy in time with which performers synchronize the double claps. The section-by-section timing deviations correlate significantly with a simple measure of complexity: the more complex the pattern, the greater the timing deviations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-24
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of New Music Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015


  • Clapping Music
  • Steve Reich
  • beat-tracking
  • cluster analysis
  • computational music
  • expressive timbre
  • expressive timing
  • normalized pairwise variability index
  • performance analysis
  • phylogenetic trees
  • spectral centroid
  • statistical features
  • tempo curves
  • timbral features
  • timbre

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Music


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