The Story

Why don't classical musicians improvise? Why do jazz musicians get to have all the fun? And how can rock musicians learn to broaden their skills without relying on esoteric music theory?

Last summer I created Tonic to address these questions. After many years playing music with a wide range of performers and teachers, I felt there was something missing in the way most people approach improvisation and composition.

Rather than a structured approach that bogs the player down in unnecessary rules and stylistic elements, I wanted to make something simple and open-- something that feels less like doing calculus and more like playing in a sandbox.

I mocked up a quick-and-dirty version and put it on Reddit (r/musictheory and others) to share with other musicians.

I was overwhelmed with the response! Hundreds of comments, thousands of downloads, and oh so much sweet sweet karma :P

After this I knew I was on to something. People were practically begging me to create a more professional version on Kickstarter and sell a printed version.

Here's what people said about it:

  • Absolutely love the message of the game . . . You've turned a concept that is intimidating to so many people into something that's all about having fun and letting your mind run wild . . . I can see this game giving so many people the confidence to improvise while also making them good improvisers. Everyone wins." (1)
  • "Love it! Great to see something like this focus on 'free' improvisation. " (2)
  • "It's really hard to express to people how to improvise, even seasoned classical players, and this could be a fun game to get their feet wet." (3)
  • "Really cool idea! I can tell that you have put a lot of thought into each card. Can't wait to get to my instrument to try this out."  (4)

So after months spent designing the final version and reading up on manufacturing, printing, and logistics, I took to Kickstarter.

With the support of the communities I had engaged on Reddit, I hit my goal within the first few days. Three weeks, hundreds of backers, and $10k later, I wrapped the campaign and placed an order with the manufacturer. And just like that, a game was born.

Now it's been almost a year since I've delivered Tonic to my loyal backers. Since then I've launched Tonic: Music Theory Edition and sell Tonic in music stores all over the US.

I'm excited to keep exploring the idea of improvisation and continue finding ways to help musicians approach music the right way-- a way that spans genres and skill levels, making music with a creative mind and a playful spirit.