Boosting Your Music Creativity Using Dice

If like me you have fired up your DAW with a burning desire to get the next track out. However, all you have is a blank screen. What if I told you there was a fun way to come up with musical ideas, a way to boost your creativity, a way to get that creative spark back into your music. Well, all you need is some dice.

Game of Music Chance

Over the last few years, I have come across a number of music dice games. These games fascinated me. Each one a variation on another and some that use special dice. I use the term ‘game’ loosely as it is more a tool to get that creative spark going. Much like starting a fire or pressing the ignition button on a rocket.

The first game we will look at involves 6 normal dice, the ones you get with board games will do. If you do not have 6 dice to hand there are tools on the internet that will suffice – Random Dice. However, nothing beats the feeling of rolling dice. 

How it works

First of all, we need to decide on a key to work in, let’s choose ‘A minor’. Each dice represents a note of the scale. The observant folk among you would have noticed that dice only go from 1 through to 6. You can add the seventh note once you have the idea if so desired. Let us roll the six dice……okay, I got 4, 5, 2, 5, 6, 6. The rhythm is up for grabs, 3/4, 6/8, 24/16 – it’s up to you. So the notes we have to play with are as follows: D, E, B, E, F, F. You can roll these dice as many times as you want, use only 4 dice, 10 dice – the world’s your oyster but don’t go too mad. It’s also best to use an even number of dice. Humans like hearing music in even numbers – 4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, 32 bars.

Although tempting try not to change the order of the notes provided. Also, do not sneak other notes in, for example passing notes. The aim is to try and come up with something from the limited resource provided.

A Touch of Mozart

Dice games in music are nothing new, in fact, Mozart documented a method for composing using dice. You can find the full instruction pamphlet here. Clearer step by step instructions can be found here but you will need the first link to get the musical notes. 

This particular game does not require any prior musical knowledge except being able to read music. Each dice throw provides you with a small section of music. There are over 700 trillion outcomes using this method. Chances are you will come up with something unique. 

Although mainly used to create music in 3/4 time (usually waltzes), there is nothing stopping you from playing with the rhythm. The key is to give you a starting block. 

Musical Dice

I have not tried this particular method as I have been unable to get my hands on these dice – no pun intended – in the UK. TheseDice Game Creativity look very interesting as each note is represented by a 12 sided dice and can be used as either notes or chords. Give the dice a roll and that is your chord sequence. I can see this leading the composer down uncharted paths. Hopefully leading to happy accidents.

I will be getting a set as a birthday present to myself. I will then report back here, hopefully with a track or two by way of demonstration.

Just the tonic

One final game I would like to draw your attention to is Tonic. The pack contains both dice and cards. The cards look very similar to the “Oblique Strategies” invented by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Each card provides a thought or phrase which must be interpreted by the composer. It is supposed to encourage lateral thinking and you can get a feel for this using an online version. Just refresh the page if you want a new card.

The cards in Tonic, however, interact with the provided dice and encourage you to roll the three dice. The outcome of the dice reflects the movement of the notes or chords. I can see this helping with improvisation more than writing a structured piece. 

Roll with it

Okay, the puns in these headings are starting to get out of hand so I will wrap this post up. If you are stuck in a rut or have an unfinished track that you just do not know how to get over the line or cannot get the track started, this may be a way out. The game of dice in music has been a long-standing way to jump start compositions. Just googling “music dice games” gives you a veritable list of composers who have used this method. There’s Kirnberger, Mozart, C.P.E Bach to name a few.

If you found this post helpful let me know in the comments below. I am interested in any music you may have composed using this method, jot a link in the comments and I will check it out. Keep up to speed with what’s going on and sign up for the newsletter below.

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