Local Musician Invents Game to Teach Music Improv Skills


tonic music improv game

Local musician Scott Hughes created Tonic to help musicians of all genres with a very important yet often times difficult part of their craft: improvisation.

Hughes, a Pittsburgh native, moved to Philly nine years ago to study jazz music at the University of the Arts. Although he ended up transferring to Temple University to pursue a degree in physics, Hughes remains passionate about jazz music, continuing to take lessons and stay practiced.

“I’ve been a musician for as long as I could touch the keys on the piano,” says Hughes, who first fell in love with jazz band in high school. He decided to launch Tonic out of his own frustration with improvisation skills while studying music at UArts.

“A lot of musicians play music that’s written on the page, but when it comes down to creating music of their own, a lot of musicians find it very overwhelming,” Hughes says. “You try to make music by yourself, and you start to wonder if it’s good enough. It can get very difficult.”

Hughes wants to help other musicians overcome this hurdle by breaking it down and making it easier for them to create music. Complete with musical dye, cards and instructions with definitions of musical terms, the game has short prompts written on cards that ask players to make music on the spot.

“It really challenges its players to express themselves in a unique way,” Hughes says.

The game can be played alone or with a group, and using any type of instrument. By having cards with different prompts on them, Hughes hopes to get players to use their instrument of choice to experiment with improvisation.

“There are many different cards in the game,” Hughes says. “Some are very abstract, like a doodle or a graph, and some represent something visually. The point isn’t to sound good, the point is to be creative even if it sounds like crap.”

After coming up with the idea for the game about six months ago, Hughes decided to launch a KickStarter page to raise funds and get general feedback. Hughes’s campaign goal for Tonic is $3,500 but at press time he’s already surpassed it with $8,739 worth of donations. If you pledge $25, you get a copy of the first edition of Tonic, and if you pledge a higher amount, you can choose to get extra sets.

Because of the success of his campaign so far, Hughes has already expanded the game and added a Visual Edition, a Music Theory Edition and a Themes & Variations Edition. If the response continues to be positive, Hughes plans to eventually target schools and have Tonic be used as an education tool in music classes.

For more information on Tonic or to donate to the KickStarter, visit the page here.