Corey Fayman has been a professional musician and sound designer and
is now a graduate student in Educational Technology.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If she names the chord correctly, she takes the top 3 cards
from the deck and play passes on to the next player.
- If she names the chord incorrectly, she must return the cards
to her hand and play passes on to the next player.
- The game ends when cards are no longer available from the deck
and no player has a triad they can play.
- Each player counts the number of chords they have created. The
player with the most chords wins.
- 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.
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
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.
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
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:
- musical notation in the middle of the card was deleted
- Text representation of notes was moved to the middle of the
- Musical notation in the upper left corner of the cards was
increased in size
- Sharps and flats were separated into individual cards
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)].
Return to Cardgames
Last updated by Corey Fayman, September 28, 1995
Educational Technology 670, Fall 1995.