Rhythm Pick n Mix Composing at Home (Young Instrumentalists) >

Compose short melodies from given rhythms and order them into a longer piece inspired by In C by Terry Riley. 

Illustration by Lauren Tucker

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Rhythm Pick n Mix

In C by American composer Terry Riley is a piece of music for an indefinite number of performers. This means the piece can be played by any number of musicians but the composer suggests 'a group of about 35 is desired if possible!'.  In C is made up of 53 short musical phrases. Here is the score:

In c

Watch this exciting performance of In C by Africa Express and Tate Modern:

The musicians can choose which phrases they play, when they should begin and how many times they should play a phrase before moving on to the next. They can also decide on the dynamics and how to articulate the phrases. This means that each performance of the music sounds different and unique.

In Workers Union by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, all the musicians have the same single line of music which shows the rhythms and whether the music is going up or down in pitch - the pitch contour. The musicians are free to choose what notes they play but must go up or down as the music indicates. Here is the American group Bang on a Can performing it:

Please send any music you create to learning@bcmg.org.uk

For a PRINTABLE version of this resource CLICK HERE

Your Turn!

In this activity you will add pitches to given rhythms to create your own short musical phrases. Then you will use your musical phrases to create your own piece of music. We have created a sheet of rhythms for Beginner, Novice, Intermediate and Advanced musicians. Like Riley, we have created a number of different phrases for you to choose from - 10 in total. The only difference is that we have only given rhythms!

In C Novice Rhythm NEW

In the guidance notes for In C, Terry Riley suggests that every musician should play through each musical phrase separately before playing the piece through. Before you start adding pitches to your rhythms, practise clapping each rhythm slowly. Use a metronome to help you keep time. CLICK HERE to use this online metronome. Try setting the tempo at 60 bpm (beats per minute) to start with. Clap your rhythm a few times at this speed before trying it at a faster tempo

Once you feel confident about reading and clapping the rhythms, try playing them on your instrument using one note. Now add pitches/notes to your rhythms and write them out on the sheets provided HERE or HERE. See below:

Pick n Mix example

For each level we have provided note/pitch suggestions for different instruments to use. CLICK HERE for this. However, if you would like to explore using any of the twelve tones/pitches of the chromatic scale then please do! You can use the notes/pitches in any octave/register.

Now practise your 10 musical phrases with notes/pitches. When you feel confident playing them, it’s time to start creating your piece! As the composer, you can choose:

  • Which of the phrases to use in your piece
  • What order to play the phrases in
  • How many times to play the phrases if you choose to repeat them
  • The tempo (speed) at which you play your phrases
  • The dynamics of each phrase
  • The articulation that should be used
  • The character of your piece (is it angry, excited, frightened, calm etc)

If you would like to, try notating your finished composition. There is manuscript/music paper HERE (big) or HERE (medium). You could use computer software. Musescore is free notation-writing software.  Download by CLICKING HERE. Or you could cut up your examples and put them in an order indicating how many times a phrase should be played. You could make multiple copies to allow you to return to an idea. A route map instead of a notated score.