Is it possible to learn guitar by playing a videogame?
With technological advancement in full flight, there has actually never been a better time to start playing the guitar.
Following the remarkable success of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Ubisoft took up the opportunity to make something that would take guitar playing and video games to the next level.
If consumers went nuts for playing rock songs on plastic guitars, wouldn’t they just love a game that actually had consequences in the real world? The idea of gamifying learning a musical instrument is not something new, however, few companies have done it right. In 2011, Rocksmith would allow gamers to score points on a real guitar!
Ubisoft has marketed it as “the fastest way to discover guitar”, but are its claims all they say to be?
Let’s first explain the details of Rocksmith—how it works and why it’s fun. But I will also share what I find to be the advantages and disadvantages as it comes to actually learning to play the guitar.
Rocksmith is a fascinating attempt to make discovering guitar more enjoyable and interactive by turning it into a game.
I was a huge fan of Guitar Hero even when I knew how to play guitar, and I always thought something like this would be the perfect marriage of the two mediums.
I had only just recently tried this game and was pleasantly surprised with how much I resonated with it.
The game works by plugging your guitar or bass into your PS4 via the USB port. You can use the normal console controller to navigate through the menus.
As a difference to competitors like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Rocksmith must fit a lot more information.
Because of the use of a real guitar, not just 5 buttons, the game needs to show you the string or the fret to play.
The playing screen got a lot of its design cues from the original Guitar Hero, which makes sense since most people are familiar with this screen layout.
However, different from Guitar Hero, Rocksmith’s display floats up and down so that it can show you all the notes it needs to since it actually has to span the neck of a real guitar.
Fortunately, they’ve developed a method for pretty good playability, although it takes some practice.
For instance, if you are playing on the first couple of frets they will keep the screen there, and then the camera will shift up, say, up to the 10th fret for the notes in that area.
Like I said, it takes some practice and memorization to get used to this. The colors that the game uses (the strings are different colors) make it easier to process the information but overall it still gets visually complicated, very quickly. This is a learning curve, but it is not too bad for the average gamer.
When you begin the game, you can create a profile based on your skill level so that it shows you songs that will fit within your capabilities. But it also adjusts as you make progress so regardless it will help you tackle songs that are in your skill level.
Simply put, Rocksmith can be a fantastic tool that can get you up and running with your guitar playing, and you can even use it to learn many things, but you shouldn’t use it to replace traditional approaches like finding a guitar teacher or learning by ear.
Rocksmith’s teaching method becomes instantly clear when you pick the Learn a Tune mode.
This allows the user to play through any one of the rock songs included in the video game. For example, if you want to learn The Ramones’ song, “Blitzkrieg Bop”, Rocksmith would show you how to play the chords and test your ability to play them in order (without music).
Then the music cues up and you have to play them along to the song, watching the screen for visual cue information.
To be honest, learning to play a song in Rocksmith is really impressive. I could have learned the chords by looking them up on the internet but I might have got distracted and would not have the visual, dopamine feedback that a videogame has.
The lesson’s feature has a set of tutorials that teach players basic techniques such as how to slide, hammer-on notes, bend notes, etc. So in this sense, it has great tools for beginners who are just learning how to play guitar.
Rocksmith’s biggest strength as a teaching tool is that it offers you the ability to learn at your own rate without worry of judgment.
One of the coolest modes is session mode. Which is when you can take a break from structured lessons or just play free form.
The game even supplies you with a backup band. You can choose which instruments the game will play and the band will follow your lead (on drums, bass, piano, etc.) as you play.
So if you want to invest in Rocksmith, I would say go for it. For me, it is a really fun and interactive way to learn the guitar, especially for beginners.
I would say though that although you can learn a lot, it should also be viewed as entertainment and if you really want to make progress I would invest my money in some weekly lessons.
However, my hats off to the Ubisoft team, as they have made a fine product and a great game that actually does have practical value and can allow players to learn a new skill.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
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