New Music Game, Tonic, Designed To Help Musicians Improve Their Improvisation & Composition Skills

tonic-music-gameDeveloper Scott Hughes let us know about a new card and dice music game, Tonic, that’s designed to help musicians learn to improvise and compose in a new way.

It’s available as two ways:

  • You can purchase a physical version of Tonic, with printed cards and custom dice; or
  • You can download the game as a printable PDF.

{I believe so strongly in Tonic that I’ve made the cards available completely for free,” notes Hughes. “You can download them as a PDF and print them out yourself. These are identical to the printed cards that come with the full version, so feel free to try before you buy!”


Tonic is based around cards and dice. The cards give you guidelines and challenges, while the dice let you select pitch starting points at random.

Some cards tell you what pitches to use. Others have time constraints. Some are for specific instruments. A few are visual. Some tell you to use your computer or phone. Some are meditative, and some are chaotic. Some are straightforward, and some are…a little odd.

Tonic comes with a set of three 12-sided dice. Each side featuring one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. Hughes notes that the dice can, in addition to their game use, can be used to pick keys for drills, or to come up with unexpected harmonies and melodic lines.

See the Tonic game site for details.

17 thoughts on “New Music Game, Tonic, Designed To Help Musicians Improve Their Improvisation & Composition Skills

    1. It’s just the opposite – not forcing yourself to do something different, like practicing in a new key or try a new chord progression – is the enemy of creativity.

      This game – like Eno’s Oblique Strategies – challenges you to step up to the plate and actually try something new.

    2. john cage used dice too. 😉

      and music tradition is deeply rooted in games. call and response.

      i mean i think the value in this is if gets you started to come up with your own methods and it’s free so, right on.

      looking at the picture of stuff on the cards this is pretty normal imo stuff. making soundtracks. i like using the actual words of music reviews of stuff you haven’t heard to inspire because the written description basically never matches what they write, it’s almost always way more crazy and fantastic in your head, you go and listen and it’s like ehh it’s just normal music. 🙂 restricting pitches again is something a lot of people have made use of in compostions.

      personally i’m a big believer in most of the time practicing to improve your skills when you don’t have ideas for a song.

      the dice actively train you to stop worrying about picking ‘the best’ which if you read any forum or comment thread folks obviously get super hung up on and don’t even start. just starting and putting in the work, that isn’t really something most people can read and integrate they have to do and experience it working. but it’s not instant, so make it fun so you stick with it until it does.

      i think your comment references d n d? dunno make some music to go along with campaigns, right? oh yeah, fictional character or real person theme music is another fun one.

  1. I looked at the cards and think this is a fantastic idea. I especially like that it is geared toward a pretty flexible interpretation.

    Many musicians (and especially non-musicians) are uncomfortable with improvisation. As a teacher, I’ve often looked for ways to make improvisation “approachable”. Because it CAN be really fun.

    The 12-sided dice was a pretty simple approach and keeps it interesting. I could imagine a more elaborate system with more types of dice, and maybe different kinds of scales & chords. But then it suddenly gets much less user-friendly. This set seems to strike a pretty nice balance.

    I already have a couple students in mind for this as a gift.

  2. Was it Brian Eno , who began this idea? I remember reading about a similar idea/principle used by Eno when he needed inspiration in the studio.

    1. Yea, Eno came out with “Oblique Strategies” which are very clever and nicely written little phrases on cards. They apply to most disciplines, and are not instructions per se, they are a mixture of zen koan, fortune cookie, magic-8-ball, and Monopoly cards.

      This borrows the card idea, but is perhaps a bit less poetic and vague. I think both are available to compare. There are several versions of Oblique Strategies floating around out there.

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