An ostinato is a musical figure that keeps on repeating, but in a way that builds excitement instead of boredom.
Listen to a playlist featuring the ostinato examples from the October Techniques article.
Click here to download these examples for playback on the Notion app.
And watch these videos of pieces mentioned in the article. First is Maurice Ravel’s famous series of continuous ostinatos, Boléro, performed here by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted with almost alarming intensity by Valery Gergiev, using what appears to be a toothpick rather than a baton.
Next, Count Basie and his Kansas City Seven with “Lester Leaps In,” featuring occasional ostinatos in both the rhythm section and horn parts.
Bass, piano, and horns provide the ostinatos once again in Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” played here by Arturo Sandoval with the U.S. Air Force Band.
In this 1974 live version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the ostinato Wonder plays on an electric keyboard called the clavinet is doubled by a guitar, then joined by a second ostinato played in unison by the bass and another guitar.
Finally, Donna Summer shows off her incredible vocal range (and some nifty robot dance moves) on “I Feel Love,” a song powered by—you guessed it—an ostinato, this time played on a synthesizer.