According to the Grove Dictionary, “ostinato” means “a persistent musical phrase or rhythm.”
Fun fact: The word “ostinato” is linguistically related to the word “obstinate.”
GarageBand – and a lot of popular music, for that matter – has another name for these “persistent phrases” – it calls them “loops.” And these loops are the building blocks used by GarageBand – and popular music—to build everything from hip hop tracks to alternative music.
Here are some great examples of fun songs that use prominent ostinatos:
- Somebody That I Used To Know (Walk of the Earth cover): http://youtu.be/p4hIzgqA9io
- Pachelbel Canon (Pachelbel Rant Video: http://youtu.be/JdxkVQy7QLM)
- Very Happy (Kate Nash): http://youtu.be/7Zdi2IF5ezw
- Different Trains (Steve Reich): http://youtu.be/wYnAQ-lK74A
- Bolero (Ravel): http://youtu.be/mrEk06XXaAw
- Chameleon (Herbie Hancock): http://youtu.be/7pjBwG6BS-c
- Superstition (Stevie wonder): http://youtu.be/_ul7X5js1vE
- Call Your Girlfriend (Erato: cup rhythm is an ostinato): http://youtu.be/fQoCEvVL57E
Animated gif files are great visual representations of ostinatos, since they repeat the same motion over and over. Here are some fun gifs (click them to view the animation):
You can use GarageBand to create and manipulate and emphasize the concept of ostinatos in many ways:
- Get to know the loops provided by GarageBand. Drag the loops into a playing track, use the looping tool (upper right hand corner of the loop–your mouse will change into a circular arrow) to drag the end of the loop to the right to create the loop/ostinato effect. Students can then perform songs they already know or improvise over these ostinatos. (Hint: start with percussion loops if you want students to perform other songs over your ostinato.)
- Create an ostinato out of existing music (that is not an ostinato). Select an audio file (preferably mp3) that contains a portion you want to make into an ostinato. Drag the file into a playing track. Split the portion of the file you want to “ostinato-ize” apart from the rest of the track by highlighting the track, placing the cursor where you want to split, and pressing command-T. Then delete the extra portion of the track. You can fine tune the length of your segment by dragging the right and left sides. (Hint: “zoom in” on your track by using the “view slider”). Then, loop your segment the same way you’d loop a GB loop to create your ostinato.
- Record your own non-musical ostinato. Record some sound effect or spoken word using Garageband recording tools. Then loop that sound to create an ostinato. (Hint: play with the exact length of the piece you are looping by dragging the right and left sides)
- Record a musical ostinato. Create a short rhythm, melody, or phrase. Record it using Garageband Recording tools, and loop it.
- Save your ostinato as a GarageBand loop. Click on your new loop to highlight it. Then select “Add to Loop Library” from the Edit menu so your loop can be used over and over again.
- Layer Ostinatos. Use the multi-track feature to experiment with multiple ostinatos at once. Some will work well together, and others will fight. (Ex: Bb experiment page: http://www.inbflat.net/)
- Ostinatos Live. Create an ostinato you can perform live. These could be rhythm, instrumental, vocal, etc. Try setting parameters on the ostinatos (ex: all have to be in 4/4 rhythm or in the key of C) so that they can be layered together.
Created with: GarageBand ’09, Version 5.1Amanda Louise Miller is currently pursuing a Master’s in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and extensive experience working in online teaching and faculty development.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.