Rollplay: The Musical Dice Game

Mark Sabbatini By

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Marcus Wolfe
Rollplay: The Musical Dice Game
Treble Clef Edition
Roll Play Dice
ISBN: 1-929612-78-8

Practicing scales is dull. This "game" won't change that.

Rollplay is promoted by creator Marcus Wolfe as a musical dice game that helps teach beginning to advanced scales. In reality it's a basic summary of scales and exercises where the "game" is basically rolling three dice to determine what key, scale and type of drill will be practiced.

The twelve-sided die might dictate a scale of F, for example, while the eight-sided die might indicate a melodic minor scale and the six-sided die results in playing this progression in thirds. As entertainment, it's safe to say this isn't anything close to matching the need to play proper notes on drums, guitars and other virtual instruments in order to guide characters through video games such as Nintendo's Donkey Conga.

Strictly as a learning tool it also comes up short. With only eight scale options there's glaring omissions in what's supposed to be an advanced learning tool, such as no blues or fourth scales. A person can't expect everything to be covered in 32 pages of text, but there are plenty of books of similar size and price ($20; replacement dice are $10) surpassing this one for usefulness. There's no mention of the character of scales or inversions, for example, things that seem to appear near the beginning of many texts. The book does list the notes for some scales in all keys, and offers a couple of basic articulation and rhythm drills, but hardly feels like a comprehensive learning tool for many of the areas it touches upon.

Wolfe, in an e-mail, says his book isn't intended to be an "end-all-be-all" resource: "The shortcoming of these books is that a student is so overwhelmed by all the information that they never do anything with it. What they need is a way to work through the ESSENTIAL material that will provide them with a technical proficiency in musical language." As for the omission of certain scale types, he says "99 percent of all the chords that we run across in jazz music even in tunes by advanced composers like Wayne Shorter get their chords from modes of the major, harmonic minor, and jazz melodic minor scales."

"It is not a source of entertainment that would be a good substitute for a video game," he adds. "However, if you are a serious student of music at a college level or advanced high school, this is a game and a system of organization that can help you work through the requisite material."

Maybe, but the fact remains this is promoted to consumers as a game, which is bound to disappoint any number of kids who get it as a present from a well-meaning purchaser. In a brief listing of "other ideas" at the end it notes Mozart "composed six segments of a minuet and player would roll a six-sided die to see what the order would be." Even a minimal amount of additional creative thinking along those lines for this book might have produced something approaching fun.

Visit RollPlay on the web.


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