Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is Minimalism in Music?

Learn what this unique music genre is and its most known composers

In this video, Robert tells you what minimalism in music is, by giving you detailed and interesting insights about it.

Released on September 17, 2014

Share this page!
Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert Estrin: Hello and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a really interesting show today. Today's subject is "What is Minimalism?" I don't know if you've heard of it before, but you've heard the music before. It's in countless film scores and it really is a revolution in music you should be aware of.

All right, well you know, to give you a little bit of background of what minimalism is I'm going to first talk about the macro events in history going way back centuries. There ultimately are cycles that happen in musical composition. Over time, styles tend do get more complex over time. In fact, the very fist music was monophonic, that is Gregorian chant - just plain song, singing very simple melodies. Before you knew it, they were doing parallel fourths and things, and then embellishment started.

Finally, the Renaissance started flourishing with much more complexity, which led to the Baroque with tremendous counterpoint and flourishes of ornamentation. Until, you know, by end of Johann Sebastian Bach's lifetime, there was such tremendous complexity in music, that there was a total breakdown which ushered in the classical period where everything became much simpler.

Now this isn't the only time this has occurred in history. In fact, this is a pattern. And if you go forward to the Classical Era, the Romantic Period actually took the forms of the Classical Era and expounded upon them - instrumentation, the length of form, everything got more complex.

Harmonies became more complex with composers like Wagner and Richard Strauss. Our tone center shifted constantly, led to the eventual disintegration of tonality with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern and others where the music became extraordinarily complex with systems, that based upon twelve-tone rose instead of scales - very dense, complex music.

Yes, there was another breakdown, which occurred in the 20th century, and that breakdown is minimalism. Minimalism took this extraordinary, complex music and broke down to very simple, repeated patterns and textures that interweave in very complex ways creating a completely different sound that had never been heard before. You may have heard it in film scores and things. I'm going to play a little bit of Orphee Suite for Piano by Philip Glass so you can get a taste of what minimalism is about.

So that gives you an idea of the sound of this music, and there's much more than this possible. Many of these works are very extended works that evolved slowly with the most, minute changes. Some of the most interesting minimalist compositions have textures of overlapping lengths, so you have loops of different length. So basically the patterns change and keep evolving as different instruments or groups of instruments overlay their loops that are not the same length of other loops. It's fascinating music you should explore, and I'm interested in your comments and how you like the great minimalist music of Philip Glass, Steven Reich, John Adams, and others. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robert Estrin here at and
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Oluwaseun Collins on April 13, 2017 @4:32 am PST
The example was great, thanks.
Wiyn on April 12, 2017 @11:35 pm PST
Hi Sir,
May I know what song you played in the video? Sounds astonishing.
Robert Estrin - host, on April 13, 2017 @2:43 pm PST
I played a part of Orphee Suite for Piano by Philip Glass. Glad you enjoy it!
Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on April 12, 2017 @7:11 am PST
Thanks so much for the time-line of musical concept development and the parallels from earlier centuries. I find this is an excellent introduction as to why there are the differences in various periods of musical styling.
Robert Estrin - host, on April 12, 2017 @12:27 pm PST
Glad you enjoy - we have new topics in the works for you!
allen roberts * VSM MEMBER * on September 19, 2014 @2:24 am PST
Classical musicians tend to sweep jazz to one side as a 'wot's that'. Perhaps you could give us a video on the early concepts/history of jazz from the early 'call and response' to the 'modern' and even 'free'. Many jazz musicians were classically trained.
erica bouwknecht-drijber * VSM MEMBER * on September 19, 2014 @1:55 am PST
thank you!!!! Erica
Beth on September 18, 2014 @8:50 am PST
Thank you! Could you make another video with some examples from movie scores?
Robert - host, on September 18, 2014 @2:04 pm PST
This is a great idea for future videos!
erica bouwknecht-drijber * VSM MEMBER * on September 17, 2014 @9:47 am PST
can you play on video the music that always accompanies the t.v.series"murder she wrote! Thank you!!!
Robert - host, on September 17, 2014 @12:27 pm PST
I will see about making a video of this music!
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal