Tuesday, November 24, 2020


Recently, I’ve been spending my time in quarantine learning all sorts of new things; how to play the ukulele, how to draw (for realz), more close-up card magic (yes, really), and as the title suggests, how to play Dungeons and Dragons.

 Now full disclosure, I already knew how to play Dungeons and Dragons from a player perspective. However, now I was learning how to be a dungeon master.


Quick definition for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term: A dungeon master is the person who designs, writes, and leads a game of Dungeons and Dragons. You can’t play without one, and they can’t be computerized, because a computer could not possibly predict your every choice. Also, that’s called a video game.


Anyway, as I began designing my first D&D quest, my mind drifted to a cappella (of COURSE it did) and what practical applications my D&D knowledge would have for a burgeoning a cappella group, especially a burgeoning a cappella group whose members are most likely in quarantine.


In my opinion, the biggest challenge any a cappella group faces is staying on task and maintaining an active role in their group, especially when their group doesn’t meet in-person anymore or as regularly as they used to. The simplest solution, of course, would be to drop rehearsals altogether and consider this year a wash. But what if you could maintain interest across your group, AND have fun doing it, AND have it relate to Dungeons and Dragons?


Disclaimer: These rules might be a little difficult to understand if you have little-to-no experience will dungeons and dragons. If that’s the case, scroll to the bottom and read the example to better grasp the order of events.


Here’s how it works:


1) Each member of your group gets a character sheet. This sheet is where you can keep track of your character’s skills and experience points, as well as any rewards he or she earns over the course of the year. The director of your group ( or the president, or just the most responsible member) plays the role of Dungeon Master and determines who has earned experience points or rewards.


2) Every character in Dungeons and Dragons is defined by 6 attributes:

Strength- Natural athleticism, bodily power

Dexterity- Physical agility, reflexes, balance, poise

Constitution- Health, stamina, vital force

Intelligence- Mental acuity, information recall, analytical skill

Wisdom- Awareness, intuition, insight

Charisma- Confidence, eloquence, leadership


In our a cappella version of the game, these 6 attributes will represent different areas of expertise:


Strength- Ability to hold your part, how long can you stay focused in rehearsals

Dexterity- How good are you with technology, how well can you move/dance, can you create dances?

Constitution- How much time do you have to devote, are you always on time, do you attend every rehearsal?

Intelligence- sight reading ability, how fast can you learn your part?

Wisdom- how well are your skills behind the scenes (arranging, directing, editing, etc)

Charisma- how much of a team player are you, motivational skills, behavioral management


Each member of your group (character) starts out with a 10 in all 6 attributes. Then, they are given 6 extra attribute points which they can distribute how they see fit. For example, Melvin decides that his best attributes are Strength, because he knows he can hold his part, Wisdom because he’s an arranger, and Constitution because he has a lot of time to devote to the group, on account of his complete lack of friends (not because he’s named Melvin, but because he’s kind of a jerk). He distributes 3 points to strength, 2 to wisdom, and 1 to constitution. His attributes now look like this:


Strength- 13 (+3)

Dexterity- 10

Constitution- 11 (+1)

Intelligence- 10

Wisdom- 12 (+2)

Charisma- 10


Based on the numbers determined, certain bonuses apply to any rolls of the dice. In D&D, these are called modifiers.


If your attribute score is    Your modifier is

10                                      +0

11-12                                 +1

13-14                                 +2

15-16                                 +3

17-18                                 +4

19                                      +5

20 or higher                       +6                              


3) The purpose of the game is to complete skills related to your a cappella group so that you can earn experience points. Experience points can then be used to earn rewards.


To earn experience points, members complete skills as designated by the dungeon master. Accompanying each skill is a list of attributes the skill enhances. For example:


Organize online meeting (Charisma, Wisdom)

In this example, if Melvin organizes the next online meeting, he will earn experience points based on either his charisma attribute score or his wisdom attribute score (he gets to choose).


Skills can be added or subtracted from the example list below- it should be tailored for your specific group.


Create arrangement (Wisdom, Constitution)

Create learning tracks (Dexterity, Intelligence)

Set up MIDI files in notation software (Dexterity, Intelligence)

Organize online meeting (Charisma, Wisdom)

Send out group email (Charisma, Wisdom)

Update the group calendar (Dexterity)

Remain active throughout the rehearsal (Strength)

Choreograph a dance (Strength, Dexterity)

Set up equipment for recording/filming (Wisdom, Dexterity)

Design an instruction manual to help others with technology (Constitution, Charisma)

Learn and memorize your part (Strength, Intelligence)

Help someone else learn and memorize their part (Intelligence, Constitution)

Make a solo recording that stays 90% or more in tune (Strength, Wisdom)

Be on time to 5 rehearsals in a row (Constitution)

Take on an added responsibility (Constitution, Charisma)

Direct a sectional (Strength, Intelligence)

Manage the behavior of a group in rehearsal (Charisma)


Rewards are what members aim to earn, based on the number of experience points they receive. 

As usual, rewards can be added, subtracted, or adjusted from this list. It should be tailored to your specific group.


Choose 1 song for the group to sing next semester- 200 XP

Veto one song choice for the next semester- 300 XP

Miss one rehearsal without penalty- 100 XP

Get a solo- 500 XP

Choose a warm-up exercise- 50 XP

Direct the group for 10 minutes- 75 XP

Choose the location of the afterparty- 200 XP

Choose the next activity as part of your bonding time- 150 XP

Add 1 attribute point- 100 XP


4) Here’s how the game works:


First, the player/member of your group distributes their attribute points.


Next, the player/member of your group completes 1 or more skills. Every time they complete a skill, they earn the right to roll for experience points.


Besides each skill is 1 or 2 attributes that the skill best exemplifies. If there is only one attribute, then the success of the roll will depend on only that attribute’s number. If there is two attributes, then the player can choose which attribute will represent their success.


For this game to work, you will need only one die: a 20-sided die known as a d20. If you don’t have one, never fear, there are thousands of free online websites that can roll d20s for free.


When the skill is complete, the player rolls a d20 to determine how many points they earn. Whatever the number is, they add their attribute modifier and the total is how many points they earn. 


When the player reaches a specific number of experience points that is equal to or greater than a reward they want, they earn that reward.


Okay, that was A LOT of rules. Let me simplify with an example:


Melvin (remember Melvin?) has distributed his 6 attribute points like so:


Strength- 13 (+3)

Dexterity- 10

Constitution- 11 (+1)

Intelligence- 10

Wisdom- 12 (+2)

Charisma- 10


According to the modifier list, if Melvin completes a skill related to the strength attribute, he will get +2 experience points. This means whatever he rolls will add 2, and the total will be the number of experience points he earns. The constitution and wisdom attributes earn him a +1 modifier, and since the rest are 10, Melvin earns no modifiers for those attributes.


In the skills list, Melvin notices that a skill (Learn and memorize your part) has a strength attribute and an intelligence attribute attached. This means that after Melvin completes this skill by learning and memorizing his part, he will earn experience points and use one of the two attributes (strength or intelligence) to help boost that total number. Obviously, since strength is a 13 and intelligence is a 10, Melvin chooses the strength attribute, which gives him a modifier of +2. 


Melvin now rolls a d20 (20-sided die) to determine how many experience points he gets. He rolls a 12. Because he is using his strength attribute modifier, he adds 2 and gets 14. In total, Melvin has earned 14 experience points for having learned and memorized his part.


Because he completed other skills beforehand, Melvin has 200 experience points in total. He chooses to use these points to grant him a reward: “choose the location of the afterparty.” If he wants this reward again, he will have to earn 200 more experience points.


Confused? Email me: docacappella@gmail.com


Happy adventuring!

Marc Silverberg


New Links!







Thursday, November 12, 2020

COVID Killed the A cappella Star

Hello dear reader.

How are you?

It’s been a while.


14 months to be exact.


A lot has changed in that time. 


Let’s see…where should I begin? Oh right. The board game Pandemic is no longer fun to play.


Chances are, as of today, you fall into one of these categories:

1) Your a cappella group has decided to rehearse, COVID be damned. And…then someone gets COVID.

2) Your a cappella group meets online and you spend the majority of time figuring out how to film your next virtual choir video.

3) You’re trying to rehearse with your group/choir live, but everyone is so far apart that tuning is nigh impossible. And forget about matching vowels…you can’t even see what shapes each mouth is making.

4) Your group is on hiatus until further notice.


You probably think that with all that’s going on today regarding health and safety, that these are your only options. Risk singing together or turn up the stress dial to 11 trying to work through online technical difficulties.


Well, I’m here to tell you, there’s another way to get your a cappella cake and eat it too. The cake is NOT a lie.


Here are some options you may not have thought of…


Option 1- LEARN!


Look, the ICCA is virtual this year, so there’s no need to spend hours rehearsing your pinwheel choreography. You’ve got some time on your hands, so why not spend it learning more about a cappella? Trust me, when the world reboots and the ICCA is back to its regularly scheduled program, you will most likely have to focus all of your time on that pinwheel.


It just so happens (shameless plug) that a school is currently open, where you can learn so much more about a cappella than you ever thought possible. Plus, the classes are live, so you’re getting direct, immediate feedback as if this were college.


To learn more, go here: www.vocaversity.org


But wait! What if you HATE direct and immediate feedback? What if you’d rather have access to videos that you play on your own time? Well, there’s a website for that as well: www.acappellamasterclass.com


Option 2- LISTEN!


Ever see that movie Pay it Forward? Yeah, neither did I, but it did give me an idea about how we, as an a cappella community, can increase the number of people who listen to our stuff while simultaneously supporting other content creators. (I mean, I assume the movie is about selfishly helping yourself as much as you help others. Again, I did not see it)


I’m calling this the Aca-Swap (final name pending…)


Here’s how it works:

-You contact a friend in another a cappella group. They agree to participate in an aca-swap.

-You watch/listen to something (ONE THING) of theirs and give feedback/opinons/compliments. 

-Then, they listen to something (ONE THING) of yours and do the same. This way, both of you have now experienced something new.


That (ONE THING) disclaimer is there to ensure that it’s fair. I mean, don’t make your friend listen to an entire album then agree to only listen to one song. That makes you a jerk. By limiting each Aca-Swap to only one thing (ONE THING), you keep the exchange short and sweet.


Try it!




So, for this one, you need the Acapella app. I’ll admit, I resisted using it for a long time, because the videos looked kinda cheesy. (Okay, full disclosure- I resisted using it because they spelled a cappella wrong and it REALLY ANNOYED ME)


Anyway, once I discovered that you can actually use it to collaborate with friends, I started using it on a daily basis.


Then, this morning (THIS. VERY. MORNING.) I thought of something (ONE THING). While we might not be able to improvise circle songs and arrangements online [shakes fist at computer latency], we CAN collaborate one part at a time. Here’s what you do:

-Start an acapella video (HATE. THAT. SPELLING.) and sing one part over and over for a minute or so.

-Send that video to a friend who has the app, and they add one part.

-They send it to a different friend, who adds another part.

And so on.

And so on.

And so on. (WAYNE’S WORLD!)


The catch is that this is supposed to be improvised, so the person receiving the video should have no idea what the song sounds like until they record for the first time.


This can be used for a number of clever improvisation games. (More on that in a future blog)




“The Singer’s Mask” is probably the most widely used right now by my choral educator friends. The only drawback is, of course, it makes you look like a duck. (Also it’s not exactly cheap). But if your group is small and everyone buys one, then you can rehearse in person safely.

You can buy it here: https://www.broadwayreliefproject.com/singersmask




Now is the BEST time to try building a new a cappella skill, like recording, arranging, improvising, making videos, etc. I myself have re-discovered my love of looping, and now I put out weekly improvised looping videos. (Bonus, I’m getting better at Final Cut Pro).


The thing is, if you are going to compete this year in ICCA, ICHSA, ACA-OPEN, etc., you’re going to have to make a video, which can be expensive.


Take it from me, unless you’re in a group that has made it to the finals any year or won, you are not going to have enough money to make a video worthy of winning the ICCA and therefore, have little-to-no chance of winning. 


That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter. On the contrary. You should ABSOLUTELY enter, but make the video yourself. Knowing that you have NO CHANCE of winning allows you the freedom to get creative, to experiment, to master a new skill.


It just so happens that a friend of mine (and by friend, I mean a group of friends who work for a registered LLC) have reasonably priced classes that will help you get started. You can see these classes here: https://www.viridianmusic.com/elevate




Look, as much as I make fun of our situation, the reality is, this is serious. People are dying and every time I see a friend of mine on Facebook say they have COVID, I genuinely get scared.


Now, I’m not trying to get political, but it seems that our fortunes might be turning in this situation, because the government is going to take COVID seriously.


Why does this affect you? Because you can use your a cappella powers to raise money for organizations who need supplies, man power, and medicine to fight this disease. You have the power to fight back, and you have the power to brighten someone’s day. Use the aca-force for good.


If you wonder why your virtual choir video isn’t going viral, it’s because everyone and their mom (even my mom) are making virtual choir videos. If you want to stand out in this unknown territory we call online learning, you need to think outside the box.


But don’t actually go outside the box. You might catch COVID.


Marc Silverberg


New Links!