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Jazz Up Your TableTop: “Oom-Pah!”

Today is a very busy day.

30 April is both International Jazz Day. Unfortunately, right now we are a little limited in our ability to celebrate, party, and all that jazz. In fact, right now we are spending a lot more time inside and playing tabletop games. So I thought it was appropriate to revisit one of my favourites (and aptly themed).


Some of you may recognise this game from my Kickstarter review on GeekMom last year. The good news is the game was full-funded and continues to sell all around the world.


It is a card-based game that plays similar to the traditional card-games Solitaire and Speed, using music theory concepts to group the cards. The game can be played solitary or with others, adding a competitive edge and speed to the pacing. There are also multiple levels of difficulty within the game, depending on your level of understanding. 

It stands for “Oodles of Offbeat Music Play & Awesome Hints!” It deserves the extra ! at the end of the name! It’s not just the exclamation you make at the end of each round. It is the cry of success you make when Music Theory Makes Sense. It’s like a burst of song coming forth with enthusiasm and verve! 

This is not a game designed solely for music nerds. Personally, I have no music theory knowledge beyond Maria and her Sound of Music. My very musical parents were highly disappointed in me, and my very musical spawnlings are equally embarrassed. 

This game levels the band marching field, so to speak. Starting with a basic scale, I can easily play ascending and descending cards. For me, it was all about the patterns and the order of cards. According to my 13yo son, that’s pretty much the basics of music too. So I must be learning something. 

The creators of Oom-Pah! are Stace and Liv, from The Joy Dispensary. Liv is a music academic, currently completing a Masters Degree in Music Performance and Education at the University of Queensland. Stace is a percussionist who recently took up the Ukulele to expand the repertoire. While Stace struggled with the music theory behind chords and fifths and what-not on the ukelele, Liv realised there was an easier way to learn music theory. And thus Oom-Pah! was born!


Components: What’s in the Box?

  • 1 x Oom-Pah! Key Learning Table (KLT) with hints on the back
  • 10 x Oom-Pah! Game Stencils
  • 4 x Playing Decks (Piano Accordian, Bass Drum, Tuba, and Double Bass)
  • 17 x Oom-Pah! Note Cards
  • 95 x Game Cards


The game is designed for 1 to 4 players, with an average playing time of 5-10 minutes per round. Whoever reaches 88-points is the ultimate winner (30mins to an hour). 


How to Play Oom-Pah!

There are multiple levels of difficulty available with this game. Let’s start with the basics in a solo game and then look at moving up from there. 

  1. Choose your Player deck (I have a soft spot for the piano accordion) and remove all of the sharps and flats.
  2. Place 4 cards face up in a row in front of you. These are your Arrange Columns–like storage columns for your cards to play.
  3. From the same deck, make a stack of 8 face-up cards to the right of your Arrange Columns. This is your Score Stack. Only the top card should be visible.  
  4. The remaining cards in your Player Deck now become your Impro Deck.
  5. Each of these stacks is yours and yours alone. There is no card-stealing or swapping when playing with others. 
  6. Make a space in front of your arrange columns for the Compose Stacks
  7. To the side of the Compose Stack area, place the White Notes (Alphabet) card (from the Scales cards) and the A card from the Oom-Pah! cards. These are your guidance for the round–they tell you what ‘scales’ you are creating in the Compose Stacks and what note each stack starts with. In this example, you are composing a simple scale, with no flats or sharps from A up: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. 
  8. To begin, deal up the top three cards of your Impro Deck but with only the top card visible. 
  9. To compose the scale, cards can be moved from either the top of your Score Stack, exposed cards in your Arrange Columns, or the top card of your Impro Stack. Compose Stacks always go in ascending alphabetical order. 
  10. When a compose stack is completed, it is ‘closed’ and turned over. You can have multiple stacks running simultaneously.
  11. The Arrange Columns are like storage points: they are overlapped in a downward direction in descending alphabetical order. These cards earn no points but allow you to rearrange and access cards to build on the Compose Stacks when the right card appears. 
  12. The goal is to deplete your Score Stack completely and then yell “OOM-PAH!” 


You have just played Oom-Pah! in solo mode! To share the fun with others, you can have up to 4-players in total. Your goal is to be the first person to deplete the Score Stack entirely and win 10-points for the round. If someone beats you, you lose a point for each card in the Score Stack. However, you also gain points for any cards in the shared Compose Stacks (you keep track with your chosen Player Deck). 

The other thing to note is there are no ‘turns’; all players are playing simultaneously. This is both hilarious and nerve-wracking because speed is not my friend. While I may be able to sort a ‘Major Scale starting with A’ fairly quickly, I have the coordination of a rhinoceros playing the piccolo on a tight-rope. My dexterity falls flat. 


How Does This Teach Music Theory?

Once you have mastered the Basic Level, it is time to move up and stretch that musical brain of yours. Start by returning all of the sharps and flats to your Playing Deck. Now you’re working with a 12-note chromatic scale. If part of you has internally screamed, “What?!?” don’t stress. The game developers have created these amazing tools to help you. 

  • The Descending Chromatic Keyboard

This baby is a great visual cue to remind you how to overlap/stack your Arrange Columns. It is color-matched to your Player Deck cards and a fantastic reference tool. 

  • Key Learning Table (KLT)

The KLT a fold-out table of all the notes in your Playing Deck, color-matched as well. Another great visual reference cue, this slides in with the stencils to give you quick guidance of which Note Cards to play for specific Game Cards. 

  • Game Stencils

The Stencils fit over the KLT, highlighting the exact cards you will need to build your Compose Stacks. Simply line up the KLT with the stencil, showing your starting note in the window of the stencil matching your Game Card and you instantly learn how to build your Compose Stacks. 


I strongly recommend you build your way up slowly with this. Keep with the Major Scales and gradually add more Game Cards as you become more confident with terminology. It won’t take long. Initially, I was playing this solo for 2-weeks while recovering from illness, and I was able to learn all about Imperfect Harmonic Minors!! 

Why You Should Buy Oom-Pah!

I’ll be honest: The idea of playing any game based on music theory terrified me. Music Theory is something seemed to come so natural to my parents and I understood naught of it. Initially, I expected a complex game to be able to contain all the details I had missed at school. 

Instead, I found a game that makes sense! This game is magical. It has made something so foreign now seem tangible. The stack building explains the natural patterns of music; the simultaneous play of ascending and descending orders pushes me to remember both directions. I take the speed and competitive elements with a light-hearted touch, knowing that it is a fun game to push me to remember more. Best of all, I love the additional tools provided. They provide a visual learning support in a subject that usually seems so abstract to me. 

The game is equally admired by my musician friends. I have shared the game with a few music teachers I know, and so far the response has been filled with praise. Our eldest achieved a High Distinction last year in his Music Theory Exam (with the Australian Music Examinations Board). His tutor loves Oom-Pah! so much, she is using the game as part of his lessons–a quick game at the end of each lesson, to test his knowledge and confidence. 


I received a review copy of Oom-Pah! last year (all views here are my own). Right now, we are still in COVID-19 Lockdown and yes–the tabletop collection has been revisited multiple times. In all honesty, Oom-Pah! is a game I have played quite a few times on my own. Sure, it is loads of fun playing with some competition but I have really enjoyed some ‘solitary’ moments too. For someone with NO MUSIC BRAIN, I am pleased to admit I can now hold my own against the spawnling’s Grade 2 Theory Exams. And I am having fun with it too. Bonus points.

If you want to know more about the game and the team, check out The Joy Dispensary website here. 


Categories: Curriculum of Evil

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Evil Genius Mum

Evil Genius Mum
- Taking over the world, one blog post at a time

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