So I'm writing a composition with a ground bass, and I'm wondering whether there are any examples of classical music, where the ground bass varies in tune. I've seen several example of them that change in key with the music, but I was just wondering whether it can vary in any other way.

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    Ad initio I'd say a ground bass can by definition not vary... however I'm not sure how pedantic that should be judged. Anyway... is this for some sort of assignment or are just just actually writing music? In the latter case, as always: do what works for you, no matter if you've been told you're allowed to do it. The point of all theory is just to be deliberate about breaking rules, instead of arbitrary fooling around without direction. And if the right bass for your piece just isn't a ground bass, so what? – leftaroundabout Oct 14 '16 at 21:28

According to classical theory, Ostinato, or ground, bass, cannot produce variations within its part during the music. The part is persistent, constantly repeating, while variations on the parts of other instruments play over the ostinato bass.

This isn't to say that an ostinato bass part cannot be interesting (obviously) or that the part itself cannot change during the course of the song - a key-change may bring about a new ostinato bass part that will then persistently repeat until the next key-change (usually returning to the initial ostinato part.)

It's jazz but, please consider this piece by Jaco Pastorius:

  • You'll notice that Jaco does variate the part slightly towards the end of the tune so, as leftaroundabout said, it's about what you want, when the tune is your creation... – Modern Apostles Oct 16 '16 at 13:57

If it varies, it is by definition no longer a ground bass. Having got that over, SHOULD you allow yourself to compose a piece with a not-quite-ground bass? A slight variation to accommodate a final cadence or coda section wouldn't be a weakness in my opinion. Random variation might. What do you think?

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