New Improvisation Card Game: Tonic

Pianist Scott Hughes recently crowd funded (Kickstarter) a project to build a card game to help musicians practice improvisation. It’s called Tonic, and you can download it for free. Scott says:

I believe improvisation is the #1 greatest thing a musician can do to improve him or herself as a player and as a person. The tragedy is that it’s not taught in standard music programs, and as a result most musicians are afraid of it. I studied music at UArts and Temple and saw a lot of the usual problems, so I want to provide an alternative.



Improv Game of the Day: In the Zone

Major and minor triads on white piano keys

(Photo credit: Cuito Cuanavale)

1-4 players. Players pick a major key, preferably a less familiar key. Each player decides on a “zone”, i.e. a range of five adjacent tones. Example in the key of C: Player 1: C D E F G. Player 2: E F G A B. Player 3: A B C D E. Player 4: D E F G A. Choose a comfortable register. Players must stay within this range and share the same beat or pulse; they are encouraged to experiment with the various parameters of music: note value, articulation, register, dynamics, note length, meter. Players should steal much of their material from the other players (rhythm, melodic shape, dynamics, etc.)

Variation 1: Players must only use their “zone” notes, but they may use them in any register.

Variation 2: Try different size zones, e.g. seconds, thirds, fourths, sixths.

Variation 3: Have each player pick a different size zone.


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Improv Game of the Day: Clusters

My keyboard

1-2 players, at the piano. Player One picks any three adjacent white keys on the piano in the middle register and plays a steady rhythm; straight quarter notes work well. Player Two, alternating left and right hand, plays a solo that uses a minimum of two adjacent white key notes at a time, i.e. anywhere from two to as many as a fist, hand, or forearm can reach. Leave some spaces. Be dramatic in dynamic differences. Find a way to unify your solo (e.g. repeating gestures or rhythms).

Idea: Give the piece a name before you start.

Tip: Alternate left and right hands for more fluency in playing the clusters.

Variation 1: Have one player play only white keys, the other only black keys. You may switch colors whenever any player calls “Switch!”

Variation 2: Play the cluster (i.e. adjacent note group) notes sequentially sometimes.

Variation 3: Choose white and black key groups that overlap (e.g. F G A with F# G# A#).

Variation 4: Choose key groups that are as far from each other as is physically possible. Player’s arms will probably (and should) cross, sort of like the party game “Twister” for piano four hands.

Variation 5: Add one more player who plays exclusively inside the piano.