NU Declassified: Built This – Overture Games aims to turn practice into play

Seeger Gray, Senior Staffer



Overture Games is a student-run startup at The Garage that aims to make video games you can play with a musical instrument. The Garage, a startup incubator on campus, houses many NU-based startups. The Daily met with its founders to learn more about their game, called Intervallic.

[piano music]

SEEGER GRAY: Bienen senior Aspen Buckingham plays an electronic keyboard in a corner of The Garage. But the screen in front of him isn’t displaying sheet music. Instead, a stylized cat dodges obstacles and collects record samples.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: Because learning music should be fun, right?

[fast music]

SEEGER GRAY: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Seeger Gray. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive at Northwestern. Welcome to another episode of Built This, a series focused on student startups.

SEEGER GRAY: Buckingham is a co-founder and the CEO of Overture Games, a startup at The Garage.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: We make games for musicians that they can play with their instrument.

SEEGER GRAY: Overture Games wants to help middle and high school students learn music by making practicing more fun and engaging. That goal comes from personal experience for both Buckingham and one of the other co-founders, Weinberg junior Steven Jiang, who also serves as the Chief Strategy Officer.

STEVEN JIANG: I grew up playing the clarinet. I never really enjoyed practicing as much, even though I know it’s necessary for musicians to progress. So I always think there could be an easier way to make progress in music without having to really struggle and burn out as much.

SEEGER GRAY: Jiang came to The Garage with a plan to make an app that would help students practice music.

STEVEN JIANG: Aspen overheard my conversation and then thought it was interesting, so we had a talk after, and then decided to build this idea and solve the problem together with a video game solution.

SEEGER GRAY: Over the past summer, Overture Games started working on a game called Intervallic.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: Your main character is Starburst, and she discovers this fantastic planet where everything is based on sound. The gist of it is she is learning to communicate through music. As a player, you are communicating with that cat to help the cat navigate through the planet.

SEEGER GRAY: Dual degree M.B.A. and M.S. Design Innovation student Scott Tsangeos tested out Intervallic’s tutorials using an electronic keyboard.

SCOTT TSANGEOS: Oh, play E4 to jump two lanes.



SEEGER GRAY: It was Tsangeos’ first time playing Intervallic – and a piano.

SCOTT TSANGEOS: Oh, that’s the C. Yeah, I see.


SEEGER GRAY: Intervallic is available as a free demo online. It can be played with a computer keyboard or with an electronic instrument plugged in. Buckingham says Overture Games is working on embedding pitch detection, which would recognize notes through the device’s microphone.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: We know we can do it, we have a lot of great skill on our team. It’s just the next big step.

[flute music]

SEEGER GRAY: Bienen and Medill sophomore Maya Ravi, a former Daily staffer, has played the flute since sixth grade. Ravi tried out the startup’s current pitch detection feature, which is a work in progress. She beat the first level after a few minutes.

[flute music]


MAYA RAVI: Oh my god.

SEEGER GRAY: Ravi says the game could be useful for beginners, especially because –

MAYA RAVI: It’s hard to learn the fundamentals of the instrument and then also learn how to read music at the same time.

SEEGER GRAY: But she says she would practice with Intervallic today as an experienced musician, if it had the songs she needed.

SEEGER GRAY: The game currently includes tutorials and two levels of original music. Buckingham says Overture Games hopes to include a large library of free and licensed songs.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: We’d love to have everything from Macklemore to Lizzo to Bach and Chopin and just every type of music that you might want to play.

SEEGER GRAY: The team is also working on a way to generate levels automatically from downloaded music.


SEEGER GRAY: Overture Games’ next steps include more than technical improvements for Intervallic. Jiang says they’ve reached out to music teachers at schools across the country.

STEVEN JIANG: The next step is to let them try our product, see if there’s any potential partnership opportunities.

SEEGER GRAY: Over the summer of 2022, Buckingham visited Evanston Township High School to have students test out Intervallic and give feedback.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: They have a keyboard class where students are able to play on their own electronic keyboards, which is the coolest thing ever.

SEEGER GRAY: Eventually, Buckingham hopes the game will become a tool for music teachers to use in class and encourage students to practice.

ASPEN BUCKINGHAM: We’re gonna do whatever it takes to help make practicing more fun and learning music more fun.


SEEGER GRAY: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Seeger Gray. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by me. The music is from Intervallic by Overture Games. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Mika Ellison, the digital managing editors are Ava Mandoli and Erica Schmitt, and the editor-in-chief is Alex Perry. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @seegergray

NU Declassified: Built This – New Leadership at a Student-led Startup
NU Declassified: Sitting down with Helicon for National Poetry Month
NU Declassified: Beyond the rainbow dildo — a look inside SHAPE