An ostinato refers to a pattern or motif that keeps repeating throughout a music passage. It is not solely associated to rhythm executed on percussive instruments but also to rhythm associated to melodic and harmonic instruments. An ostinato can be used to establish a groove or a rhythmic feel and then to make the listener shift attention to something else in the musical arrangement. This happens because after our mind assimilates the pattern it naturally changes the focus away from this musical phrase. Generally, ostinato patterns are a combination of more than one of the mentioned below. Eventually, depending on the type of ostinato, it can be used in a similar way as a pedal point:
An ostinato pattern that uses a distinctive harmonic progression that is repeated throughout a good part of the music. The chord progressions may be longer or shorter, like Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” or Chopin’s “Berceuse”, respectively. In this sense, a harmonic ostinato can be more or less open in the sense that the harmonic outline of the ostinato may be more ambiguous and thus “open”. On the other hand, a “closed” ostinato has a strong harmonic reference, making more difficult for the composer to introduce harmonic variety.
It is considered like so when a pattern is repeated and uses the same rhythm. However, rhythmic ostinatos are not exclusive of percussive instruments since melodic and/or harmonic instruments may be using the same rhythmic pattern but using different notes from the original pattern.
A melodic ostinato is a pattern of notes, rhythms or movements that persistently repeat in a piece of music. In other words, you may be using the same note pattern but its original rhythm may change.
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