Pulse + Rhythm + Ostinato = Simple classroom compositions!

Studio shoot for the Interactive Music Club taken on 28/06/09


Hello again.  I  wanted to share with you a simple yet effective way of composing or creating arrangements in your classroom.



  1. Take a simple chant or song the children know well.
  2. Ask half the class to tap the pulse and half to clap the rhythm of the chant or song.
  3. Make sure they are all clear on the difference between the Pulse and the Rhythm.
  4. When this is solid, create more texture by adding an OSTINATO!
  5. Create a composition by building and reducing the layers of sound. Start with the pulse, add the ostinato then the rhythm of the chant. When the rhythm of the chant has finished, let the ostinato play for 4 beats longer and end with just the pulse for 4 beats. Da-da!!

WHAT IS AN OSTINATO?  It’s a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

An ostinato creates a new layer of sound on top of the pulse and the rhythm that you are already playing. Immediately it turns simple chants and rhythm patterns into whole arrangements or compositions and it is fantastic for the children’s listening skills! For the purpose of this short article I am focusing on rhythmic ostinatos (but tuned ostinatos are just as much fun – specially when using the pentatonic scale!)

PPL PHOTO AGENCY - COPYRIGHT RESERVED *** Local Caption *** Studio shoot for the Interactive Music Club taken on 28/06/09 *** Local Caption *** Studio shoot for the Interactive Music Club taken on 28/06/09


Ostinatos provide an extra dimension of skill-level to whole class work where individual children can be given (or can compose) more complex ostinatos to play as part of the whole group piece. Immediately the sounds become more complex and clever but the concepts behind them are very very simple!

Children who find it hard to read long rhythms can usually sustain a short repeated rhythmic ostinato and those who find ostinatos hard can keep the pulse with the help of a conductor. This is a good way to differentiate in a music lesson. There is something for everyone!


You know how when singing rounds, children are encouraged to listen to the other groups and not block them out, as this encourages their ability to hold their part while still listening to all the sounds of the other singers? Well, the same skill applies when using ostinatos. It can be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy!


Brilliant ways to create totally new compositions are to ask children to compose their own rhythm pattern instead of using a chant as a starting point – maybe 4 lines of 4 beats per line.  Then ask them to compose a 4 beat ostinato to be repeated throughout the piece. Then create 3 groups.

  1. Pulse
  2. Rhythm
  3. Ostinato

From the Inter-related dimensions of music in the National Curriculum, we can cover:

Studio shoot for the Interactive Music Club taken on 28/06/09


RHYTHM (duration), TEXTURE (layers of sound) TIMBRE (different types of instrument sounds) DYNAMICS (louder of softer) and TEMPO (faster or slower) really easily!



Another great thing about ostinatos is the fun you can have using them to develop your own skills!

Try chanting a chant you know well and making up a 4-beat complex rhythm pattern to clap while you are chanting. There’s a lot of multi-tasking going on!  It gets confusing – but it’s a great skill to practice -and one you can pull out of the bag with any song or chant with your children at any time! These are all great exercises too, if you are asked to train the teachers in your school.

OSTINATOS definitely have my vote when it comes to primary music!

Want to see more?


If you’d like to watch some children creating compositions using ostinatos or indeed heaps of other musical games or activities, please visit http://www.activemusicdigital.co.uk and have a FREE TRIAL. You are welcome to download 40 lesson plans for free and have access to over 600 video tracks for 10 whole days! Enjoy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s