Enter the maze

Clapping Music

by Marcus Pearce and Samantha Duffy, Queen Mary University of London

People Clapping: copyright www.istockphoto.com 000022557242

"Get rhythm when you get the blues" - as Country legend Johnny Cash's lyrics suggest, rhythm cheers people up. We can all hear, feel and see it. We can clap, tap or beatbox. It comes naturally, but how? We don't really know. Now you can help find out by playing a game based on some music that involves nothing but clapping. If you are one of the best you could be invited to play live with a London orchestra.

We can all play a rhythm both using our bodies and instruments, though maybe for most of us with only a single cowbell, rather than a full drum kit. By performing simple rhythms with other people we can make really complex sounds, both playing music and playing traditional clapping games. Rhythm matters. It plays a part in social gatherings and performance in cultures and traditions across the world. It even defines different types of music from jazz to classical, from folk to pop and rock.

Lots of people with a great sense of rhythm, whether musicians or children playing complex clapping games in the playground, have never actually studied how to do it though. So how do we learn rhythm? We teamed up with the London Sinfonietta chamber orchestra and app developers Touch Press, to find out, using music called Clapping Music.

Clapping Music is a 4-minute piece by the minimalist composer Steve Reich. The whole thing is based on one rhythmic pattern that two people clap together. One person claps the pattern without changing it - known as the static pattern. The other changes the pattern, shifting the rhythm by one beat every twelve repetitions. The result is an ever-changing cycle of surprisingly complicated rhythms. In spite of it's apparent simplicity, it's really challenging to play and has inspired all sorts of people from rock legend David Bowie to the virtuoso, deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. Now you can learn to play Clapping Music and help us to understand how we learn rhythm at the same time.

The app is coming: June 2015

Our team have created a free game for the iPhone and iPad also called Clapping Music. You play for real against the static pattern. To get the best score you must keep tapping accurately as the pattern changes, but stay in step with the static rhythm. It's harder than it sounds!

We will analyse the anonymous gameplay data, together with basic information about the people playing like their age and musical experience. By looking at how people progress though the game we will explore how people of different ages and experience develop rhythmic skills.

It has led to some interesting computer science to design the algorithms that measure how accurate a person's tapping is. It sounds easy but actually is quite challenging. For example, we don't want to penalise someone playing the right pattern slightly delayed more than another person playing completely the wrong pattern. It has also thrown up questions about game design. How do we set and change how difficult the game is? Players, however skillful, must feel challenged to improve, but it must not be so difficult that they can't do it.

You don't need to be a musician to play, in fact we would love as many people as possible to download it and get tapping and clapping! High scorers will even be invited to take part in live performance events on stage with members of the London Sinfonietta.

Get the app, get tapping, get rhythm (and have some fun - you won't get the blues)!

Visit the Clapping Music website to find out how you can get involved and download the app.

Clapping Music was funded by NESTA.