If you’re new to the idea of ‘Gameschooling’, you should first read my Evil Genius Introduction here. Gameschooling is the use of any games for educational development. It can be math, literacy, learning a foreign language, history, geography–pretty much anything. Most recently, I have received a lot of questions regarding gameschooling for Music. And considering today is World Music Day (21 June), I think it is quite the timely topic.
Gameschooling and Music
Many musicians (including my own parents) will tell you the best play you can do with music is to PLAY MUSIC. If you are so inclined, go for it. EG Sinister had his trumpet lesson today and loved belting out a couple of songs. EG Nefarious chose to experiment with his ocarina. EG Zaltu is still in the early days yet; she has shown an interest in the cello but since we don’t have one for her to practice with, Zaltu is learning some basic music skills on the electronic keyboard.
However, the idea of gameschooling is to work with a particular educational element and expand the concept through tabletop and video games. With music, this can be really tricky because you run the risk of limiting yourself to pure theory or pure history. There are other options if you are willing to use a little lateral thinking about how you use the games. Rhythm is a huge feature as well as exposure to world music. Here are my top five gameschooling ideas for music students, and I would love to read more suggestions in the comments.
- Turtoa: Global Rhythm (iOS/Android)
I’m not supposed to have favourites but the truth is, this is my favourite. Turtoa: Global Rhythm is primarily a mobile game available on iOS and Android (it’s available on Steam as well but it works best on mobile). It is essentially a rhythm game featuring beautiful coloured graphics in time with vibrant world music, filled with beats you can instantly follow. Turtoa is set in a magical wonderland filled with marine wildlife and fantastic aquatic dragons encouraging you to feel the rhythm in the music through your fingers. Usually, I am miserable at rhythm games. Turtoa builds you up to succeed!
Recently, I have encouraged Nefarious to play for a few minutes each week, to help him learn how to feel the rhythm in music. Despite what you may think, this is not a natural skill in musicians. Finding the right timing for new music can be a frustrating process, especially in young music students who are still learning how to play. I found this game to have natural progress with guiding you through the varying levels. Of course, it helps that the music is so invigorating and enjoyable! The variety of music opens up the learning experience, giving students multiple settings to test their rhythm and music appreciation. Turtoa is available for free in Google Play and the Apple App store, with ads and in-app purchases. Alternatively, you can purchase it with all levels unlocked for about AUD$8.99. The improvement in rhythm alone is totally worth it.
- Oom-Pah! (Tabletop)
If you are looking for some general theory skills, Oom-Pah! is the game for you. Oom-Pah! was fully funded through Kickstarter back in 2019 and you can read my full review here. It is a card-based game similar to Solitaire and Speed. The difference being it uses music theory for the set-up; primarily your scales.
The only thing worse than my musical rhythm is my musical theory. My very musical parents are still ashamed of me, despite my attempts to keep up with my very musical children (EG Dad is as bad as me. Clearly, it skips a generation). The great news is this game helped me to learn. You can start off at the EG Mum level, C Major scale. No sharps or flats. No variations. Piece of cake. Then you progress further, at your own pace. You can play this game solo or competitively with others. Soon enough, you’re sitting your Music Theory exams and acing them!
Oom-Pah! is available directly from The Joy Dispensary website here. The creators, Stace and Liv, are also available through their Facebook page for chats about all things music. Liv is a music academic, who was recently working on a Masters Degree in Music Performance and Education at the University of Queensland. Stace is a percussionist and music performer. Both are absolutely delightful to talk with and really know how to make music theory fun.
- Genesis Neon (Steam / Xbox One / Windows 10 / Switch / Epic / GOG / Humble)
One of the hardest music concepts I have encountered is Jazz. It is both structured and unstructured at the same time. My father is jazz fusion musician and even when he is trying to explain it to me, there is a lot of “this this this but not this because now it is that”. I love listening to jazz but it really does my head in.
Then I played Genesis Neon and things started to make sense. It completely blew my mind as a game but it also made sense in that very jazzy way. You play as No Man, a watch peddler finding his way through the jazz scene. Blindly, you are caught in a love triangle with two other cosmic beings: Miss Mass and Golden Boy. Passions run hot and a bitter confrontation results in a gunshot–The Big Bang. As the Universe continues to expand, you need to find a way to either prevent or destroy creation, and hopefully save your love.
Genesis Neon is more of a concept gameschooling experience and definitely one more suitable for older students. EG Sinister is almost 15 with eight-years music experience. He really liked the jazz concepts included within the play and helped him understand the more experimental side of jazz music. Genesis Neon is a point-and-click narrative game with puzzles featuring musical elements. Very little is explained, allowing the player to explore within the realm of jazz music. There are certain puzzles, like learning improv with the Double Bass player, which feel like they are pulled directly from jazz theory exercises (I later had a jazz musician friend confirm this). It will add a whole new edge to your jazz.
- Lord of the Chords (Tabletop)
Possibly the geekiest music-themed game you will ever play–and worth it just for the puns alone! This is the game to test your music theory and music history, all while keeping your sense of humour. Lord of the Chords is a classical music-themed card drafting game for 2-4 players. Players begin by choosing one of 13 musical instruments. To win, you need to draft the right Note cards according to the active Key Signature tile. Notes are then played on the table and combine to form Chords. When a Chord matches the current Key Signature, that player can claim the Key Signature Tile. Three tiles and you win the game. Naturally, there are additional cards to keep you sharp during gameplay–Major 7th Steal is one of my faves, allowing you to steal another player’s Tile. There is plenty of room for music theory, memory, and pattern prediction; all important skills for every music student. Most importantly, the player who most recently practised music goes first (great encouragement)!
Lord of the Chords was released in 2019 after a very successful Kickstarter campaign. They are currently restocking on their website for 2021 so head here to pre-order.
- Rayman Legends (Windows / PS / XBox / Nintendo)
My last choice may seem a little strange but it had a huge influence on the younger two with their music appreciation and rhythm. I am a big fan of exposing kids to the widest selection of music possible to encourage appreciation, pattern recognition, and their own sense of musical identity. Rayman Legends is a popular game in its own right but the music levels are simply amazing.
The Rayman series of games are all very similar in both play and story. There are at least five main games I know of, with a number of spin-offs and variations for different media (eg. iOS). The majority of games are platformers or side-scrollers featuring Rayman as the main protagonist. Rayman is a magical being with courage and determination, on a mission to save his friends from various villains. There are six musical levels, each featuring rhythmic play with the soundtrack to complete the level. My fave is “Mariachi Madness” with Eye of the Tiger (the song is a classic). The game is a bit ruthless; your timing has to be spot-on. However, I have noticed a marked improvement when Nefarious plays Rayman Legends and then follows up with music practice.
Have I mentioned how important rhythm is to music education? Seriously, rhythm and music exposure are the key elements to music education. Everything else stems from there. Yes, even the theory.
“Rhythm is the most important thing in music. Consider this: If you miss a note, you will sound bad for a moment, but if you miss a rhythm, you will be in the wrong place and are now missing every note. Establishing a solid sense of rhythm for our students is one of the most important jobs we have as music teachers.” – Smartmusic.com
As parents, we are always looking for ways to help our kids learn; gameschooling is definitely the most enjoyable and far more effective way to do this! Why not try one of these games with your music student and help them find their natural beat? Happy World Music Day!
Evil Genius Mum
Evil Genius Mum
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