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Lesson 128: Ostinato

What Is an Ostinato?

An ostinato is a motif or phrase that repeats in the same musical voice. Ostinati are often used in modal jazz, latin jazz, traditional African music and film/ TV music.

Some Examples of Ostinatos

Listen to the following tunes:

  • All Blues by Miles Davis
  • Boléro by Maurice Ravel
  • Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock
  • Chameleon by Herbie Hancock
  • The Chicken by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis
  • Footprints by Wayne Shorter
  • Ice Pick Mike by Lalo Schifrin
  • A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
  • Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock
  • Mannen som slutade röka by Gunnar Svensson
  • Manteca by Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, and Gil Fuller
  • Mission Impossible by Lalo Schifrin
  • Money by Pink Floyd
  • A Night in Tunisia by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli
  • The Peter Gunn Theme by Henry Mancini
  • Shifting Gears by Lalo Schifrin
  • So What by Miles Davis
  • Take Five by Paul Desmond
  • Vertigo Theme by Bernard Herrmann

Example: Elevator Tune #2 by me

I came up with this nice bass ostinato:

I then made a tune out of it. It became rather repetitive, so I called it Elevator Tune #2. Writing and producing elevator music might well become a hobby of mine. I have always wondered who makes the "music" we hear in elevators, hotel lobbies, public toilets, cafés, restaurants, supermarkets, waiting rooms etc. or while waiting to get through with a phone call - and if I did it myself then I would know! :-P Anyway, you can listen to the tune here.

Writing a Tune Starting with a Bass Ostinato

It can be very easy to write a tune starting with an ostinato and building from there.

First, you have to come up with a good bass ostinato:

Then you can add chords:

And finally you have to find a good melody or a melodic riff to go with it:

If we add one more note we get a very interesting saxophone line/ riff in thirds and fourths:

You can listen to the tune here.

© 2014 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.