Music game


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A set of rules that control players to create music.


Many traditional and parlour activities connected elements of music and games since hundreds of years ago.

A more distinct and direct source of inspiration for our topic lies in the area of experimental music and avant-garde, where there were creators who started including randomness into their music. Others experimented with how to let more people play, making parts for musicians and non-musicians together. Improvisation was also getting appreciated, or having pieces of music that are 'customisable' — with ordering of parts or repetition to the performer's liking.

This feature of new music works got to be called "openness", or "indeterminacy", or "contingency". Alas, these (and other) terms in the field are used with diverse and inconsistent detailed meanings for different contexts, as a result of separation of languages and traditions.


The specific games/pieces/compositions will be called in different ways, due to same old terminology mess. Here are a few names for "basically the same thing" — an open work at the intersection of music and games.

  • Music game — at Games for Music this term is used as we put the performer's experience into focus, and we especially look for engaging activities. This name choice may also be due to respect for games in general, which we consider to be an important part of culture. A drawback of this term is an existing usage for video games.
  • Game piece — This term originated within music, and is strongly associated with John Zorn. It's rare that pieces in this tradition would fit a game definition in full. But the inspiration exceeds mere themes and there is a high agency of performers, or other game elements ).
  • Musical improv game — this term is used in the context of improvisational theatre, yielding pieces usually with a strong accent put on lyrics, or narrative elements.
  • Ludic piece — one of the newer terms, introduced in a dissertation ). Targets autonomous works-of-art, and covers both using game elements of tabletop and electronic technologies.
  • Composition game, Improvisation game, Improvisation rite — other names showing up for "still basically the same thing" (preferred respectively by Adam Neely, Jeffrey Agrell, or Cornelius Cardew). Each stressing different aspects of the activity.
  • Text score, Event — terms which often might be used to denote a music game, but which are broader in scope and may include both non-musical performances or concepts, and as well those far from any game associations at all.

Basic features

There is a considerable diversity here, but to have a game piece you usually go away from a more restrictive musical score and write (or only: say) instructions in text. "Play a sustained sound" gives performers many freedoms, like choosing pitch/timbre etc. "Play a G major chord" gives other freedoms.

Graphic elements are often used too, but, contrary to the established tradition of graphic scores, in a music game it should be either clear from context, or specifically stated, what playful thing is to be done with a visual element. Some pieces involve expressive improvisation, even within some genres, but sometimes you may need some non-musical skill to play (or at least to play with fluency).

An important feature of game pieces is that they avoid a pre-defined order of events.


πŸ“œ Chou, Gabrielle. 2023. β€œPlay Makes Perfect: An Exploration of Game and Play Elements in Composition and Performance.” PhD diss., City University of New York.

πŸ“œ Weiss, Philipp. 2017. β€œGame Pieces and Game Elements.” Master's Thesis, Royal Conservatoire The Hague.

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