Four Part Rummy



by Alan Silverstein

Current job is as a Band and Humanities teacher at Valhalla High School.

Instructional Objective The learners will be able to construct ensembles of instruments capable of performing compositions written in the SATB soprano, alto, tenor, bass style.


Learners/Context The learners are students in a elementary, or jr. high school music appreciation class.


Rationale One of the most important concepts in the understanding of how a composer arranges and organizes music is the idea of four voice writing. This style is commonly known as SATB (soprano, alto, tenor ,bass) composition. After receiving instruction on the structure of the orchestra and the ranges of the various instruments and the SATB style, students could use practice at assembling various combinations of instruments into four voice ensembles

A card game is used for the following reasons:


Process Student should first be given instruction on the various instruments and their ranges, this should include the playing of recordings of the instruments. The students will be given the card game to help them remember and reinforce the concept of four voice composition.

The next stage for more motivated or advanced students would be to identify various instruments and their range from aural examples.


Rules The game is played in the following manner:

  1. First choose a dealer. The dealer shuffles the deck of cards and then deals four cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down for drawing during play. One card is turned over to form the discard pile.
  2. This is a rummy type game. The players read their cards to find the name, range and family of the instruments. After reading the attributes on the cards, they organize their cards into four part ensembles. The player to the left of the dealer begins the play.
  3. If the first player finds he /she has a set of four cards that make a SATB ensemble they may lay them on the table and pull four cards from the deck. If the player does not have a four part set then they must draw a card from the deck or the discard pile and place a card in the discard pile. The play then moves to the next player.
  4. The piano card is a wild card. Because it is able to play in all ranges it may take the forth part in a set.
  5. When the drawing pile is depleted, the discard pile (excluding the top card which is left as the new discard pile)is shuffled and turned face down.
  6. The cards are reshuffled when one player has four ensembles down.
  7. The winner is the first player to accumulate 50 points.

Scoring The sets are scored as follows:

  1. An ensemble that contains instruments (including piano) from more than one family is worth 4 points.
  2. An ensemble that contains instruments that are all in the same family receives 6 points.

Optional UsesOther uses of an expanded deck could be used to reinforce the instrumentation of other cultures.


Card Design


Design Process The game was designed to be simple enough for elementary students. The cards would consist of three sets of sixteen cards (the four families of instruments) plus two piano cards. A more complex version of the game could include instruments found outside of the orchestra such as the guitar, bagpipes, or the saxophone family.

The needs assessment comes from my experience as a general music teacher. I observed that many students did not understand the different roles various instruments play. Since these are primarily students who have never played an instrument and can not read music, I looked for a way to teach the concept of four part composition without those skills.

Some problems I would like to correct are a way to increase the variety of cards. I believe that the game may be too easy the way it is designed.

An advanced version might be designed that could include instruments from other cultures. Players could arrange the cards into ensembles common in their native cultures.