Today, I’d like to share with you a game that has over the past two years become a favorite during my monthly group classes for my piano students (which we fondly call “Piano Parties”). The game is called “Tonic.”
This game is an effective way to encourage students to explore and be playful with sound. It opens doors of possibility for future improvisation and composition activities of a more structured nature. And it’s fascinating and just plain fun to hear what students come up with during the game.
On your turn, you choose a card from the deck and then improvise on your instrument music that is based on the prompt. There are many different kinds of prompts in the deck, as you can see pictured below.
My favorite cards are the “play this” cards that ask you to interpret the graphic shown on the card.
Other cards ask students to create using just one to three tones (rolling the music dice to determine which ones). Some of the cards ask students to choose a partner or two to aid them with their improvisation.
Although I believe the cards were created with advanced players in mind, I have found the game works quite well for young musicians with a few simple modifications. For example, I allow students to choose a different card if they seem stumped or overly challenged by a prompt they’ve randomly drawn. And I ask students to keep their improvisation short and sweet (30 to 60 seconds) instead of the 3 or 4 minutes some of the cards encourage.
I find that some students are naturally comfortable with improvising. Others are more hesitant. I’ve learned those students find it helpful if you begin the game by taking the first turn, providing a model.
I have a video to share of two of my students, improvising in response to the following card:
In this improvisation, I can hear both students drawing upon pieces they have learned in the past. (There’s even some “Heart and Soul” mixed in there…did you catch it??) It’s wonderful to hear students create something new using “ingredients” they’ve learned from other examples of music.
Here is the video:
Interesting in buying the game? Order it HERE. On his website, you’ll find that the game author, Scott Hughes, offers a free PDF version of Tonic that you can print out yourself. After testing out the game, be sure to purchase the real thing as shown in my pictures above. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny!
Thanks for reading my unsolicited review.
GIVEAWAY: Scott has generously offered to give away a bundle consisting of the Tonic game PLUS his more advanced Tonic Theory game! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post before Sunday, March 25, 2018 at midnight EST, sharing either (1) your favorite improv activity for students, or (2) what you like most about the Tonic game. The winner will be randomly selected the following day. Good luck!