by Corey Fayman

Corey Fayman has been a professional musician and sound designer and is now a graduate student in Educational Technology.

Instructional Objective
Learners will be able to identify and create major and minor triads in the root inversion, first inversion and second inversion.

The learners are intermediate music students, high school age and up, just beginning instruction in basic music theory. These learners already possess note reading skills and are now learning to relate these skills to chord theory and construction.

Music theory can be a very dry subject and the use of a game to aid instruction in this domain can animate students and add a sense of fun to the learning environment. Furthermore, games make practice and remediation of skills (in this case, note reading skills) more enjoyable for students, as well as increasing student confidence and satisfaction (Klein & Freitag, 1991). On a deeper level, however, ChordConstructor requires students to actively process new knowledge by building chord triads from individual notes. Students can construct their own strategies for relating conceptual information (chord structure) to graphic representations (musical notation).

ChordConstructor is a rummy-style game that can be played by 2 - 6 people. The object of the game is to collect as many major and minor triads as possible.


  1. Dealer shuffles deck and deals six cards to each player. She then places the deck face down and turns the top card over, beginning a discard pile.
  2. The player to the dealer's left picks a card from either the discard pile or deck. He then discards face up onto the discard pile. Play continues in a clockwise direction.
  3. As soon as a player makes a chord triad, she must place the cards face-up on the table so that each card is visible. She then announces the name of the chord.
  4. If she names the chord correctly, she takes the top 3 cards from the deck and play passes on to the next player.
  5. If she names the chord incorrectly, she must return the cards to her hand and play passes on to the next player.
  6. The game ends when cards are no longer available from the deck and no player has a triad they can play.
  7. Each player counts the number of chords they have created. The player with the most chords wins.
  8. In case of a tie, play continues as each player attempts to add his cards, one per turn, to all the chords on the table. Cards must be added in sequence (e.g. if a C maj chord, root position, is on the table, the C an octave above that C can be played; the G a fourth below could also be played). The player who gets rid of his cards first, wins.

More complex games can be created by changing the complexity of the chords players try to create. For example, try dealing out seven cards, instead of six, and then add seventh chords (4-note chords) to the list of chords players can collect.

Card Design
Each card represents one note within a 4 octave range falling evenly on either side of middle C. The name of each note is written in text form in the middle of each card. Each of the seventeen possible note names is written in a different color (all C's are blue, all G's are green, etc.). These color choices were arbitrary and color was used purely for aesthetic reasons, although linking color to note names might prove useful in as yet unexplored uses of the deck. The upper left corner of each card contains the musical notation for the specific note, as written in the key of C, including the relevant treble or bass clef sign.

C major chord, root inversion

Deck Design
The deck consists of 68 cards. 28 cards represent the notes of the C major scale. There are 20 cards representing flats and 20 cards representing sharps. Although these 40 cards represent the same 20 notes, it was important to include them on separate cards in order to remind students that a note's musical symbol is dependent on the context in which it is used. The notation for A# cannot be used in a Bb chord, even though an A# and Bb are tonally the same note.

Design Process

The original design included a small text representation (A, B, C etc.) of each note in the upper left corner of the card, with the musical notation for each note in the middle of the card. After creating a prototype deck and holding the cards in my hand fan-style, it became apparent that this design did little to encourage the learner to use the musical notation as the source of information about each card.

A second set of cards used small musical notations in the upper left corners, text representation in the right corner and a larger musical notation in the middle of the card. Both sets of cards indicated sharps and flats as one note with two names (e.g. D#/Eb) and two types of notation. After playing several variations of rummy with the deck, I felt the best combination of challenge and simplicity consisted of players holding six cards, and attempting to collect chord triads, major or minor, in the root, first and second inversions. This method resulted in games of moderate duration and strategical variation (a person holding a C and E card could use an A card to make an Am chord or a G card go make a Cmaj chord). Players had some difficulty reading these cards, however, and felt the design was visually confusing.

This design was then presented to Rusty Meike, a high-school music teacher. Mr. Meike provided several suggestions that have been incorporated into the the latest version of the design:

Mr. Meike was enthusiastic about ChordConstructor as a teaching tool and offered to test further versions in his classroom.

James D. Klein and Eric Freitag, Effects of Using an Instructional Game on Motivation and Performance,Journal of Educational Research, May/June 1991 [Vol. 84(No.5)].
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Last updated by Corey Fayman, September 28, 1995

Educational Technology 670, Fall 1995.