October 2016

Techniques: Ostinatos

Getting to know the ins and outs of ostinatos.

National Standards: 7-9, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Play It Again (and Again) (page 24 of the student edition). The article explains the technique of ostinato and provides examples of its use in a variety of genres.

Listen to a playlist of audio samples illustrating the examples from the article:

NotionappClick here to download the files for audio playback on the Notion app.
Key points in the article:

  • Ostinato is an Italian word meaning stubborn and resistant to change. This applies to the technique by the same name, which features a repeating melodic pattern.
  • Ostinatos can be heard in all genres of music, including classical, jazz, funk, and disco. Typically, the figure stays the same while the root note of the melody can shift.
  • Maurice Ravel’s Boléro features an example of ostinato in classical music, with a pattern that repeats through the entire composition. Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” features a two-bar ostinato in the bass part.
  • Popular examples of ostinato include Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”

Begin: Try some of the techniques with the class, noting the tips described in each example. Lessons might include:

  • Playing examples 1 and 2 on the piano for the class.
  • Assigning the parts from example 3 to different students and having them perform it together.
  • Having students practice reading the ostinatos in examples 4, 5, and 6.

Develop: Play the following video of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

Can students identify the ostinato in the song? Have them try to identify and sing the repeated line, then play it for them on the piano. Play part of the song again and have them sing along.

Expand: Now play the following video of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”

Have students identify the ostinato and sing it. Play it for them on the piano, then have the class perform it along with the song.