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Riff, ostinato and loop

These three words mean the same thing. 'Ostinato' is more often used when describing classical music. 'Riff' is more often used when describing pop music and 'loop' is used in contemporary dance music.

A riff, ostinato or loop is a repeated pattern of notes.

Here is an example of an ostinato from Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana'. The ostinato is played on the bass instruments.

Here is an example of a riff from a 1970s disco track. You can hear the riff played on the guitar.

Finally, here is a loop from a techno track. Looping is where a short sample is repeated over and over again. Here, you can hear loops on the drums and the synthesised xylophone sound.

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