Improv Game of the Day: Ostinatos Only


(Photo credit: bram_souffreau)

4+ players. Ordinarily an ostinato game would be classified as a rhythm game, but we want to use one here to wake up and warm up our sense of musical alertness, to re-calibrate our feeling for pulse and timbre, and get the rust off and dust off our rhythmic imaginations. Player One starts a simple obstinate (take a short idea and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it). Other players enter at staggered (but not necessarily regular) intervals. Players must share a pulse but not necessarily the meter (one player could be in 3/8, another in 7/8, another in 4/4, another in 3/4, etc.). It is a virtue to leave some space in each ostinato. Accents are fine. The use of different timbres is a distinct plus. Players should give special attention to placing their notes exactly in the pulse. When all have entered, let it go on for a while. Then players may gradually vary their ostinatos. Ending: make eye contact; Player One gives a nod and all stop at the same moment.

The following variations are possible; during the performance of the piece, a leader may say aloud the following modifications, which may be cumlative/simultaneous:

•Subtract one note from the ostinato

•Subtract two notes

•Add one note

•Add two notes

•Be silent for one cycle of the ostinato

•Play a long tone for one cycle of the ostinato

•Play one repeated eighth note for one cycle

•Play one of the notes in a different timbre

•Sharply accent one of the notes

•Change to an all-new ostinato [change back to the original ostinato]

•Transpose a cycle or two of the ostinato to a higher or lower register

•Play body percussion for one cycle

•Play/rest 50% each (over time; in the short term, you may do more of one or the other)

•Play the ostinato twice as slow

•Play the ostinato twice as fast

Usually these extra instructions apply to the whole group, but the leader may decide to give different instructions to different instrumental groups.

One more idea: use any version of the group ostinato and use it as a background for solos (take turns).