Ostinato patterns can be simple or quite complex. I try to make music composition and production accessible to people, so today I will show you a simple way to create basic ostinato patterns on strings. This is an entire tutorial for beginners, and there’s also a video tutorial showing a practical approach to ostinato on my YouTube channel.
There are also five ostinato pattern pictured below, so you start composing your own music right away :).
Watch the video for this tutorial:
What is Ostinato?
Ostinato is a repeating pattern of short notes. It can be very simple, played on a single note over and over again, or quite complex, using various notes from a scale, or even from outside the scale of your song. It can have a simple rhythm, or a very complex rhythm, even with some syncopation. Ostinato is very popular in trailer music and epic music, but most Hollywood-like soundtracks, or even classic music, use ostinato to provide a sense of movement and dynamics.
Ostinato can be played on various instruments, but string ostinato is one of the more popular ones.
How to Build Simple Ostinato Pattern
Every music composition is based on chord progression, so when we get to building an ostinato pattern, we usually have our chords already figured out.
With out chords, we can create our ostinato track in a DAW, and load a string patch, then set our articulation to either staccato, or spiccato. I like using staccatissimo articulation, which is even shorter that staccato. Use whatever short articulation your string library has. I’m using Cinematic Strings 2 here.
With the library loaded, I like to highlight my chord notes (I usually have a DRAFT track when composing, with all the chords and melodies, yet I mute this track because I don’t want to hear it when orchestrating).
With highlighted chords, I can see the notes, upon which I will build my ostinato pattern.
Can I use notes outside the notes of the chord? Yes. I can use both diatonic and non-diatonic notes in my string ostinato as long as the ostinato makes musical sense and it feels good to me. But if you’re a beginner, you can simply stick to the notes of the chord.
Now, orchestration often requires you to pay attention to root notes, thirds and fifths of the chord, because you need to double the proces notes to create well balanced chords. You can do this, but if you’re just starting out, you don’t have to worry which note is the root and which note is the fifth. You can simply repeat the pattern over and over again.
I like using simple rhythm – no syncopation, no complex variations. Of course, you can create your own rhythm. The image above shows an example of a pattern. I’ve just added some notes in an ordered fashion using only the notes of my chord (the image shows a single bar). You can create different patterns as long as they make musical sense to you.
Now, with my ostinato pattern figured out, I can just copy this pattern to other bars, and adjust the notes to the notes of my chords, just like the image below shows.
And that’s it – this is a simple way to create an ostinato:
- Use your chord progression as a starting point.
- Highlight your chords.
- Create a pattern of short notes based on the notes of a single chord.
- Copy the pattern onto other chords and adjust the notes to fit the chord.
6 String Ostinato Patterns
Here are all six patterns – five of them comes from the video for this tutorial.
Your chord progressions may vary – you may use different chords, or different harmonic rhythm (the way chords change). Use the patterns above as references and adjust them to your chords. This is quite simple – highlight your chords, take a look at my patterns, and try to copy them onto the notes of your chords.
Ensemble VS Individual Sections
While my video tutorial shows I’m using a single ensemble patch from Cinematic Strings 2 library, I suggest you transfer your patterns to various instruments of the section.
- Part of the pattern can be played by violins.
- Cellos and basses can play accented notes of the pattern.
- Violas can double the violins.
This is where your knowledge of orchestration, and your craft and art gets to work. You can play the entire pattern just on violas, or you can divide the pattern into various sections, or you can have an entire string section play the same notes.
You’ve learned how to build simple ostinato patterns.