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GCSE Music Analysis of "Electric Counterpoint" by Steve Reich

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I'm currently a full-time student living and studying in London. For years I've written about the environment, science, and psychology.

Electric Counterpoint General Points

  • Composed by Steve Reich
  • Written for famous guitarist Pat Metheny
  • First performed in 1987
  • One of three movements that follow a typical fast-slow-fast pattern

Key Features of Minimalism

  • The repetition of simple ideas
  • Layered textures
  • Diatonic harmonies
  • Slow harmonic rhythms
  • Little variety in instrumentation
Steve Reich.

Steve Reich.


  • "Electric Counterpoint" is written for live guitar.
  • When performed, the live guitar is accompanied by seven guitars and two bass guitars that have been prerecorded.
  • The live guitar is amplified to blend in well with the backing tape.


The movement builds up in three layers:

  1. A syncopated quaver motif that is introduced in the live guitar and the top four guitar parts, one part at a time.
  2. A new syncopated quaver motif that is introduced in the bass guitars.
  3. A more sustained motif that is built around three chords begins in the live guitar part and is then transferred to the other parts.

After all three layers have been built up, layers two and three fade out together, leaving layer one to continue until it comes to rest on a held chord.

Melody and Texture

  • The melody is made up of a one-bar motif that is repeated continuously to form an ostinato.
  • This motif is introduced by the live guitar and the top four guitar parts at different times (the first layer in the structure above). This creates a canon.
  • In some parts, note addition is used to build up the melody; this means that notes are gradually added to a part until all the notes in the melody are heard.
  • At one point, the live guitar plays a melody that is made up from selected individual notes from the other guitar parts creating a resultant melody.
  • The piece has a contrapuntal texture.

Tonality and Harmony

  • Electric counterpoint is in binary form (AB) with four sections within the A and B sections.
  • The entire piece with a coda.
  • At the start of the piece, there is tonal ambiguity. There are hints towards it being in the key of E minor, but this does not become clear until the bass guitar is introduced.
  • The three chord progressions used in section A-3 are C Bm E5, C D Em, and C D Bm.
  • The chords above make it clearer that the piece’s tonality is modal.


Adam Swalwell on October 14, 2016:

saved my life for exam revision

dan on October 04, 2016:

This has helped so much!!!

Zane on May 26, 2016:

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This website is great

Deadpool on March 08, 2016:

Thanks for this website. My teacher thinks I'm a genius

Batman on December 31, 2015:

U mad

Isaac on December 18, 2015:

Why dont our teachers just give us this at the beginning of the year and let us learn of them? It would save so much time.

bruno on May 26, 2015:

Thank you so much you actually saved my life

james on April 28, 2015:

this is a great website but could you try to get something on rhythm and metre?

chickens on January 07, 2015:

this is the best website ever honestly couldn't have done it without this!

Ims on October 30, 2014:

I agree with Derry

Michael on March 09, 2014:

Thanks a lot for making these!

Emily (author) on January 13, 2014:

Yes, it is for the edexcel exam board! Good luck revising :)

smiling on January 13, 2014:

Do you have to know all of this for the edexcel exam board? This is awesome by the way thankyou so much:)

George on February 10, 2013:

Thanks a Bunch!!!

Emily (author) on February 09, 2013:

No worries, I'm not offended. :) It's just I did these hubs when I was taking my music GCSE and now I'm doing my A-Levels (none of which are music) and I'd kind of forgotten about them. I added a paragraph on tonality and harmony - I hope it helps. :)

- Anthropophobia.

Douglas Pavil Stephenson on February 09, 2013:

Yes, I agree. Some tonality and rhythm would really help this website become the flourishing flower it truly deserves to be.

George on February 09, 2013:

I do not wish to offend you. I think that the website is great. But you have not spoken about harmony, tonality, rhythm, dynamics or anything like that. If you added those to it this would be the most helpful website ever!

Emily (author) on January 24, 2013:

What do you mean?

George on January 23, 2013:

What about the rest??

steve on May 29, 2012:

End of year in one hour. thanks sooo much

Emily (author) on May 13, 2012:

Haha no problem. :)

Good Luck!

Laurie on May 13, 2012:

I also have the exam on monday - oh wait - tomorrow! Last minute... thanks for this :D

Shawn on May 10, 2012:

Yh, i've go the exam on monday as well :/

Cheers to whoever made this :]

Emily (author) on May 09, 2012:

I have my exam this Monday too!

I have already done one on Mozart Symphony No. 40, here is the link to it:

I'm planning on doing one on Rag Desh today, I'd been putting it off because it's too hard haha.

I'm glad I could be of help, good luck in the exam!

Tatania on May 08, 2012:

This webpage just saved my life! Thank you very, very much. Please keep making pages like this, particularly on pieces such as Rag Desh and Mozart symphony No.40 in G minor. I have my Music GCSE this monday :s

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