Pentatonic: Ostinatos and Improvisation

Pentatonic: Ostinatos & Improvisation

Nicole O’Toole
[email protected]
Bedford High School, Bedford MA

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments
Notation Software


High School


Music Technology


Finale, MIDI keyboards


70 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

They have used some basic tools in Finale: Simple Entry, Lyrics Tool, Chord Tool, Text Tool. However, this lesson could be done first as an introduction to Finale.

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 3: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.
MENC 4: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.
MENC 6: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.


None beyond computers and Finale

A Finale Template is available here as a zip archive.


Using the attached template the students will compose a 24 measure pentatonic composition in the ABA form with Finale. For their A section they must create two simultaneous ostinatos with an improvised melody. They must do the same for the B section but it must sound audibly different. Students will present their compositions to the class and get feedback from their peers. Students must listen for the use of the ostinato and for the clear ABA form.


Spend a few moments defining pentatonic to the class and playing some examples for the students (Amazing Grace; Korean Folk Song–yes, like in the band arrangement; etc.). Define and describe ostinato as well.
Open the Finale Template and do an example of the project for the class. Show them what to do with the quantization settings (eighth note usually works well here), Click and Count Off, and how to use Scroll View.
Using Hyperscribe play in a half-note ostinato into the Bass Marimba line. If the results are satisfactory use Mass Edit to paste 7 times to the right. Play in a quarter-note ostinato into the Vibraphone line. Copy 7 times to the right. Improvise an 8-measure melody that changes into the Xylophone. This is the A Section. Play it for the class.
Quickly do a short B Section. Emphasize the requirement that the B Section sound audibly different. Play the A into the B sections so they can hear the difference.
In the Playback Options de-select the “Play Recorded . . .” options so that Finale plays what is seen on the screen–the human element is removed.
Apply dynamics to get a good balance. Between melody and accompaniment.
Describe how the A Section will be copied and pasted to after the B Section using the Mass Edit Tool.
Many students may need to add an additional measure and a final note to have a satisfactory conclusion.


Have students play their compositions for the class. Did they use two ostinatos and improvise a melody that changes? Did they have a very clear change between A and B Sections? Did they get the form correct? Did they achieve a good balance between melody and accompaniment?

Follow Up:

We recorded our compositions into Audacity and then imported the wave files into Cakewalk Homestudio (aka Sonar). We removed any “dead time” before the song starts and matched our Cakewalk tempo to our Finale tempo. We applied percussion in three different ways: session drummer, midi input, and groove clips. The groove clips gave by far the most satisfactory results.

Items to Purchase:

Nothing beyond computers, keyboards, and Finale

When budget should be submitted:


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