In a previous article "Repetition and Musical Learning," the focus was on various ways to use meaningful repetitions to enhance musical learning. In this article we look at the history of repetition as it evolved through the centuries of music development.
Repetition of tones and patterns is an innate part of all music. Repetition encompasses a large variety of types and forms. Repetition gives structure and meaning to help us understand the music. It is a very important principle in composing or improvising music.
How does this relate to children and music? Repetition in melodic patterns is very prevalent in children's songs, i.e., "Frere Jacques" or "Are You Sleeping." Repetition may take the form of exact imitation or be a variation of a melody. The spectrum of repetition in music extends to repeating entire sections of a musical selection.
Carl Orff, renown German composer and music educator, and his collaborator, Gunild Keetman, outlined a process of introducing music to children. The process parallels the development of Western music. Using a single repeated tone (pedal), a simple accompaniment is created to add elemental harmony to a melody. Ostinatos or verbatim repeated patterns occur throughout a musical selection or a segment of the selection. The earliest examples of ostinato are found in 13th century music.
Ostinatos are used in a variety of ways and with a variety of musical media, i.e., clapping, voice, unpitched instruments, pitched instruments. Rhythm and melodic ostinatos appear as accompaniments for speech chants and melodies that are sung or played on a variety of instruments. Borduns (drones) are repeated harmonic patterns and appear in early music accompaniments. Other musical examples of repetition include canon, round, theme and variations, chaconnes, and rondo (ABACA) form. The world of repetition in music is multi-faceted and limitless whether for the composer or the listener.