There is a quote doing the digital rounds, where to learn a new skill requires 400 repetitions but if you learn through play, it only takes 10-20. I can’t find the official scientific research to back that one up but every teacher I have spoken to this year says it is true. And now I have my own anecdotal evidence to throw in: After 30-years of trying, I finally understand the basics of Music Theory.
And it’s all thanks to the highly competitive and equally enjoyable tabletop game, Oom-Pah!
What is Oom-Pah!?
The GeekMom Editor is going to twitch seeing that subheading, with a ? after the ! but the truth is, that’s the name of the game: Oom-Pah! It stands for “Oodles of Offbeat Music Play & Awesome Hints!”. And it deserves the extra ! at the end of the name! It’s not just the exclamation you make at the end of each round. It is the cry of success you make when Music Theory Makes Sense. It’s like a burst of song coming forth with enthusiasm and verve!
Oom-Pah! is a tabletop game I found at PAX Australia 2019 and is currently live on Kickstarter here. It is a card-based game that plays similar to the traditional card-games Solitaire and Speed, using music theory concepts to group the cards. The game can be played solitary or with others, adding a competitive edge and speed to the pacing. There are also multiple levels of difficulty within the game, depending on your level of understanding.
This is not a game designed solely for music nerds. Personally, I have no music theory knowledge beyond Maria and her Sound of Music. My very musical parents were highly disappointed in me, and my very musical spawnlings are equally embarrassed.
The creators of Oom-Pah! are Stace and Liv, from The Joy Dispensary. Liv is a music academic, currently completing a Masters Degree in Music Performance and Education at the University of Queensland. Stace is a percussionist who recently took up the Ukelele to expand the repertoire. While Stace struggled with the music theory behind chords and fifths and what-not on the ukelele, Liv realised there was an easier way to learn music theory and needed Stace’s touch to bring the game to life.
Components: What’s in the Box?
- 1 x Oom-Pah! Key Learning Table (KLT) with hints on the back
- 10 x Oom-Pah! Game Stencils
- 4 x Playing Decks (Piano Accordion, Bass Drum, Tuba, and Double Bass)
- 17 x Oom-Pah! Note Cards
- 95 x Game Cards
- 2 x Keyboards (for visual reference)
The game is designed for 1 to 4 players, with an average playing time of 5-10minutes per round.
How to Play Oom-Pah!
There are multiple levels of difficulty available with this game. Let’s start with the basics in a multiplayer game and then look at moving up from there.
- Choose your Player deck (I have a soft spot for the piano accordion) and remove all of the sharps and flats.
- Place 4 cards face up in a row in front of you. These are your Arrange Columns–like storage columns for your cards to play.
- From the same deck, make a stack of 8 face-up cards to the right of your Arrange Columns. This is your Score Stack. Only the top card should be visible.
- The remaining cards in your Player Deck now become your Impro Deck.
- Each of these stacks is yours and yours alone. There is no card-stealing or swapping when playing with others.
- Make a space in front of your arrange columns for the Compose Stacks. This is the one place cards are ‘shared’ or combined from all players.
- To the side of the Compose Stack area, place the White Notes (Alphabet) card (from the Game Cards) and the ‘A’ Note Card from the Oom-Pah! cards. These are your guide for the round–they tell you what ‘scales’ you are creating in the Compose Stacks and which note to start with. In this example, you are composing a simple scale, with no flats or sharps from A up: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
- To begin, deal the top three cards of your Impro Deck but with only the top card visible. Play is simultaneous across all players.
- To compose the scale, cards can be moved from either the top of your Score Stack, exposed cards in your Arrange Columns, or the top card of your Impro Stack. Compose Stacks always go in ascending alphabetical order. It doesn’t matter who added the last card so long as it maintains the sequence set by the Game Card.
- When a compose stack is completed, it is ‘closed’ and turned over. You can have multiple stacks running simultaneously.
- The Arrange Columns are like storage: they are overlapped in a downward direction in descending alphabetical order. These cards earn no points but allow you to rearrange and access cards to build on the Compose Stacks when the right card appears.
- The goal is to deplete your Score Stack completely and then yell “OOM-PAH!” The first person to do so wins 10-points for the round. Everyone else loses a point for each card remaining in their Score Stack. You also gain 1-point for each card you have in a Compose Stack. The ultimate winner is the first person to reach 88-points (same number of keys on a piano).
The other thing to note is there are no ‘turns’; all players are playing simultaneously. This is both hilarious and nerve-wracking because speed is not my friend. While I may be able to sort a ‘Major Scale starting with A’ fairly quickly, I have the coordination of a rhinoceros playing the piccolo on a tight-rope. My dexterity falls flat.
How Does Oom-Pah! Teach Music Theory?
Once you have mastered the Basic Level, it is time to move up and stretch that musical brain of yours. Start by returning all of the sharps and flats to your Playing Deck. Now you’re working with a 12-note chromatic scale. If part of you has internally screamed, “What?!?” then don’t stress. The game developers have created these amazing tools to help you.
The Descending Chromatic Keyboard
This baby is a great visual cue to remind you how to overlap/stack your Arrange Columns. It is color-matched to your Player Deck cards and a fantastic reference tool.
Key Learning Table (KLT)
The KLT a fold-out table of all the notes in your Playing Deck, color-matched as well. Another great visual reference cue, this slides in with the stencils to give you quick guidance of which Note Cards to play for specific Game Cards.
The Stencils fit over the KLT, highlighting the exact cards you will need to build your Compose Stacks. Simply line up the KLT with the stencil, showing your starting note in the window of the stencil matching your Game Card and you instantly learn how to build your Compose Stacks.
Now, I strongly recommend you build your way up slowly with this. Keep with the Major Scales and gradually add more Game Cards as you become more confident with terminology. It won’t take long. I’ve been playing this solo for 2-weeks while recovering from illness, and I just learned all about Imperfect Harmonic Minors!!
Why You Should Buy Oom-Pah!
I’ll be honest: The idea of playing any game based on music theory terrified me. Music Theory seemed to come so naturally to my parents and I understood naught of it. Initially, I expected a complex game in order to contain all the details I had missed at school.
Instead, I found a game that makes sense! Oom-Pah! is magical. It made something so foreign to me now seem tangible. The stack building explains the natural patterns of music; the simultaneous play of ascending and descending orders pushes me to remember both directions. I take the speed and competitive elements with a light-hearted touch, knowing that it is a fun game to push me to remember more. Best of all, I love the additional tools provided. They provide visual learning support in a subject that usually seems so abstract to me.
The game is equally admired by my musician friends. I have shared the game with a few music teachers I know, and so far the response has been filled with praise. EG Sinister recently achieved a High Distinction in his Music Theory Exam (with the Australian Music Examinations Board). His tutor loves Oom-Pah! so much, she is planning to use the game as part of his lessons–a quick game at the end of each lesson, to test his knowledge and confidence.
Kickstarter: Closes Tuesday, December 10, 2019
This project is live on Kickstarter and you can find the Kickstarter page here. At the time of writing this, you can still pick up the Early Bird package for approximately AUD$65 / US$45 / GBP£35. Delivery is estimated for April 2020 and there are still some amazing stretch goals to unlock.
Head over to the Kickstarter page for videos showing how to play the game across multiple levels of difficulty. It really is as easy and entertaining as they make it look!
Evil Genius Mum received a copy of Oom-Pah! for review purposes. All opinions expressed here are her own.