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Improving Your Rhythm? There's an App for That

Try keeping the beat to Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" composition. We dare you.

Steve Reich's Clapping Music, a new app developed by the London-based educational company Touchpress, is providing rhythmic education for its tempo-impaired participants (and, well, an addictive time-killer for experts, too).

The game is designed to replicate the performance of Steve Reich's minimalist composition, "Clapping Music" (1972), where two performers maintain the same 8-note rhythm spanning over a 12-quaver bar. After eight of these bars, one performer maintains the original rhythm while another shifts the initial rhythm over one eighth note for the next eight bars. The same partner will shift again, with this cycle usually repeating until the two are in sync once again.

With previous music-based projects such as the Beethoven's 9th Symphony app already under their belt, Touchpress relied on more "passive appreciation" this time around, akin to bringing your own score to an orchestra performance, and then combined that with in-depth background research. Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, however, is designed to be approachable by the non-musical layman.

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Photo courtesy of Touchpress.

"The main motivation behind Steve Reich’s Clapping Music was we wanted to do something more simple and also encourage more active engagement with the music," the app's producer, Alan Martyn, explains to The Creators Project. "What's good about it is it's an aspirational piece, one of those pieces of music where the more you understand it, the better you can appreciate it."

The Creators Project had one of its more rhythmically challenged members give it a go, and overall, it wasn't a slaughter. Admittedly, it was difficult to grasp the beat, but over time (and several near-phone-chucking moments later), the representative could actually maintain the rhythm, even in "Hard" mode.

Like the piece, the interface of the game itself is simple in theory: The player taps a button to the appropriate beat (with easy and medium modes dots, light up) while the computer maintains the original rhythm. Better accuracy gives more points, but tripping up too much, or bad musical accuracy, turns the screen red and the dots begin to helplessly drift away.

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Photo courtesy of Touchpress.

Hard mode, however, is the real challenge, as it is akin to the live performance (a contest is going on in collaboration right now with the London Sinfonietta for the top scorer to perform the piece in front of an audience).

"Things like that dot that shows you where you are fade away, so you can't just play it with your eyes like Guitar Hero," Martyn says. "You only hear what the other person [the computer] is playing."  

So far though, it sounds like our own breakthrough wasn't an anomaly.  

In addition to providing players masochistic entertainment with the app, Touchpress is also collaborating with Queen Mary University of London for a study to determine whether participants can actually improve their rhythmic skills by using it. Already, they've amassed over 5 GB of saved data, and the results look positive.

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Photo courtesy of Touchpress.

"We don't have the full empirical results," says Martyn. "But with our user test groups, I'm sure most of those people couldn't play the piece when they started, and some weren't even musically inclined. Most of them now can at least play to pattern 5, if not all the way through."

So with Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, you can ensure you won't look like this next time you hit the dance floor. 

Steve Reich’s Clapping Music is currently available to download for free here

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