The Knowledge: Musical Devices

The devolved nations of the UK each have their own music curricula, which have to be interpreted and taught by non-specialists at primary level. In this blog series, we aim to support teachers’ knowledge of the key musical terminology which appears in these curricula. In this edition of The Knowledge, we look at terminology associated with musical devices.


A short phrase that is repeated continuously throughout a piece or section of music. Sometimes it might be a melodic ostinato (a tune) and sometimes a rhythmic ostinato (a rhythm pattern played on an untuned instrument).


A continuous musical note, usually at a low pitch, which underpins the music.


A short melodic phrase which is used repeatedly in a piece of music in various forms. A motif may be played backwards, transposed into a different key, repeated in different parts and/or by different instruments, slowed down, sped up, or any other alteration you can think of to make the music more interesting!

Call and Response

Where one voice or instrument plays something, and then another repeats it back either exactly, or with slight variation.


When the music changes key. Modulation can be used to change the mood of the music.