Since composing music is a process of combining smaller elements to make larger ones, I used alchemy as a metaphor.

Since there is a loose correlation between the suits and substances, it is not necessarily the object of the game to turn abstractions (lead) into melodies (gold)--although that can be an interesting exercise.

For most of the cards, I used a Tarot metaphor, although some of the cards are more modern, sometimes using my own images and artwork. (The images in the tarot are by Hieronymus Bosch, a 15th century Dutch painter.

The twelve keys follow the twelve Keys of Basilius Valentinus, the Benedictine, which were believed to open the doors of knowledge of the Most Ancient Stone and unseal the Most Secret Fountain of Health. [Read More]

Game Rules (PDF)
Game Results (PDF)
Parallel Strategies


These are custom sets of cards that I compile to put contraints on the game results. For example in my "Jazz" set I only includes flat keys, and meter cards more appropriate to jazz characteristics. Decks are in PDF format and can be printed on letter size card stock and trimmed to 3x5.

Download Strategy Decks

Donna Smith, a music student in Hull England contacted me in June 2005 regarding possible use of the strategy cards in a music workshop she was holding. Apparently music education is being used as a strategy to address social and economic issues there. Sadly, music education is still relegated to the rote process of "reading the dots" , but fun and interesting game-based approaches to music can ultimately bring out the natural curiosities about music. She also devised some new cards and a new suit "performance", which I like. If you can add cards to a deck, then it follows that you can add suits as well, and then choose any 12. The strategy I particularly like is "Incorporate words from some literature near by."

See also Loren Wilson's Music Criticism as a Creative Tool (using computer-based content analysis of popular music reviews to guide the music-making process) He has devised custom software which statisically analyzes the content of thousands of record reviews from the Pitchfork website , and generates a set of compositional guidelines based on the musical preferences expressed by the critics. He then uses those guidelines to write and record original songs, discussing in detail the relationships between the songs and the data.





The parallel strategies idea was inspired by Michael Michalko's excellent book "Cracking Creativity", which presents the technique of using "parallel worlds" to jump-start the creative process.

Each of the strategy categories has a card which allows the player to use 2 cards from the same suit. You can then use the parallel idea as a single strategy, and use it against other strategies. You can even take it one step further and use 2 parallel concepts against one another, such as Transparent Earth/Clouds Evolve.


ABSTRACTION: Transparent Earth
MELODY: Angular Arabic
RHYTHM: Robotic Swing
TREATMENT: Telephone Voice Delays

Parallel Abstractions

Ancient Cartoons
Clouds Evolve
Transparent Earth
Space Sex
Transparent Fire
Modern Uncertainty
Japanese Girl Band Cartoons Medieval Eno
Transparent Eno

Parallel Melody

Angular Arabic
Sour Found Voices
Sour Angular
Parallel Rhythm
Robotic Swing
Dotted Robotic
Robotic African

Parallel Style

Bubblegum Tango
Experimental Soul
60s Brit Rock Tango
Crunchy Celtic
Bubblebum Goth
Parallel Treatment
Wacky Slap Echo
Wacky Clicky Bass
Spooky Telephone Voices
The sound of jazz played backwards and slowed down to half speed
Indian Drone
Telephone Voice Delays