The impact that Guitar Hero and Rock Band has had on our current musical state is undeniable. When I first started teaching guitar, I was saddened by the songs that most students wanted to learn. Most of it was whatever bland, pop artist was currently on the radio or rap. There's just not much that a guitar teacher can do within those genres. Enter Guitar Hero. All of a sudden my students want to learn AC/DC, Ozzy,  and Boston. Excellent! Now I've got something to work with. Guitar Hero and Rock Band have introduced the current generation to a lot of artists that they would probably have never heard, but will it make you a great guitarist or drummer?

First, lets separate the two and talk about guitar. Sadly, even if you can rock it out on expert on the latest guitar hero, it probably won't help you out very much in the real guitar world. Pushing buttons just isn't the same as having to learn to press down strings. But there are some benefits. It will help you with dual hand coordination. Translation: It may be easier for you to fret a note with your left hand and pick a note with your right hand if you've had some Guitar Hero experience. Depending on the song and your right hand technique (all downstrokes or moving the controller down and up) it may even help with developing more solid rhythm or alternate/sweep picking. So, if I had to rate Guitar Hero's ability to prepare you for the world of actual guitar I would give it about a 3/10, only slightly higher than air guitar.

Now we come to drums. Caveat: I must first admit that I have only had limited experience playing with the drums on Rock Band and haven't had the opportunity to try it on Guitar Hero. That being said, I think that drums on Guitar Hero/Rock band are an adequate preparatory tool for learning drum set. You get the feel of holding sticks and playing with multiple limbs (both hands and your right foot) and it definitely helps with developing a solid rhythmic foundation. While playing drums on Rock Band I had to stop midway through the song and refocus because I caught myself jamming along to the song and playing parts that may not have necessarily been flashing on the screen. The Rock Band drum parts are a very decent replication of what it would feel like to actually play drums. It also gives a feel for staying in a consistent tempo (speed) instead of randomly beating drums in whatever tempo the aspiring drummer may choose. Now for the negative. Although Guitar Hero/Rock Band is a great way to get a feel for drums, it is almost inevitable that bad technique will form that will later have to be broken. Live drums feel and sound different then rubber pads (and are positioned differently), so this will take some adjustment. There is also no Guitar Hero/Rockband provision for your hihat (left foot) technique. But more important is stick grip and hand technique. The "caveman approach" to drumming (manhandling the stick like a club) that Guitar Hero/Rock Band often causes is quite different from the grips and finesse used in modern drumming. To be fair, most students begin drums with this caveman grip whether they have played Guitar Hero/Rock Band or not. Guitar Hero/Rock Band only strengthens a bad technique through repeated exposure. So, if I had to rate Guitar Hero's ability to prepare you for the world of actual drumming I would give it about a 7/10, a noticeable improvement from banging on mom's pots and pans in the kitchen.

It is almost funny to me how many beginner students I have that brag about the level that they can play on Guitar Hero/Rock Band and assume that they will immediately be able to transfer that over to the actual instrument. I think that speaks to our instant gratification culture, but I'll save that for a later blog. 

In closing, here are two guys jamming out to arguably the most difficult song on Guitar Hero. Could these guys play this on real instruments? Not sure, but i'm impressed at their video game virtuosity:
10/8/2010 11:36:24 pm

I was the guy that listened to rap and hiphop about 5 years ago and Guitar Hero totally changed my interests. I mean I'm completely on the other side of the spectrum now. I'm into metal and even as deep as black metal.

Rock Band drums helped me out on the real drums too. I was an Expert difficulty drummer when you gave me lessons, and I used that to my advantage, catching onto certain beats quickly.

You are right about guitar though. While I've won two Guitar Hero tournaments and netted some cool prizes, I still can't play the real guitar worth anything lol. About the only help it did me was finger dexterity...

10/8/2010 11:37:01 pm

Oh by the way, to answer your question regarding the YouTube video at the end "Could these guys play on real instruments?", the answer is yes. The guitar player in there, Danny Johnson, picks up things very quickly. He played keyboard before picking up Guitar Hero and setting world records, and then, after getting tired of YouTube haters telling him to "Play a real guitar," he finally picked one up.

Him and his family have a lot of full band covers with him on guitar (highly impressive for under a year, too, he's playing One, Enter Sandman, and Stairway to Heaven almost perfectly), his brother on drums, and his dad as vocals.

My only gripe with him is that he doesn't seem to know how to palm mute, lol. The One part, where the song speeds up in the bursts wasn't palm muted like it should've been, and it just sounded really weird. He also uses the dreadful sounding BC Rich guitars, because they're sponsored by them...

But seriously, there is no doubting the impact the music games have had on people. Without Rock Band/Guitar Hero, I'd probably still be listening to Lil Wayne or something.

I'm planning to get the new Rock Band 3, which WILL actually help you with the real guitar, since it uses a six-string as one of the peripherals. You play the real notes of the song on that guitar, too. You're essentially actually playing the real guitar... and when you're finished with playing on Xbox, you can take that guitar and plug it into an amp and rock out there too. For once, the notes will directly translate to actually playing now, since you'll be practically doing it on the game anyways. Hopefully it'll help me suck less at it lol.

Same goes for the drums, too. They've added a hi-hat pedal and a few cymbals to get things feeling more realistic. Until they get actual drum heads and stuff involved, it'll never feel the same though. Guitar has a lot more going for it than the drums do... but the drums will translate directly to actual drums, so maybe I can practice up on different beats, and then go perfect them on a real set.

10/9/2010 12:24:32 am

I was already impressed with the drums and the new changes sound like a needed improvement. However, I am BLOWN AWAY by the changes to guitar. The new guitar is a real Fender Squier Stratocaster with technology built into the neck to pick up the strings being played. The video game interface reads much more like actual guitar tab (including fret numbers and chord names) than the previous red button, blue button screen.

P.S. I added a new video of the guitar for Rock Band 3 to the above blog. Amazing.
There are also lessons and tutorials for how to play chords and scales as well as lessons for each song. I wonder if I'll have any students after this comes out?

Josh P
10/9/2010 08:23:28 am

Very cool. I would love to hear your follow-up on more Rock Band / students experiences. Didn't know about the 6 string. And that was prob one of the best video game playing things I've ever seen... tho the 8yr old playing Psycho Freakout backwards may be a close 2nd.

10/12/2010 06:00:39 am

That 8 year old is a legend among the Guitar Hero community. Before "Guitar Hero Phenom", he was one of the top players at his young age, and while he took a lot of crap for being a "nerd", the guy stuck with it. He's got some other videos out of him playing real drums to some Blink182 songs, and other punk-ish bands like that.

I'm really loving what the music games have done with the youth. Never in my life did I picture myself listening to the kind of music I do now 5 years ago, and now, I consider this music one of the best things to happen to me.

Instead of listening to the beat of a rap song, I'm picking out the guitar riffs and drum beats and marvelling at how difficult some of it is.

Bleed, by Meshuggah, is one of those songs. It's characterized by quick gallops on the guitar at seemingly random points, and at the same time the guitarist does a gallop, the drummer hits the bass pedal three quick times. I still can't find a pattern in the gallops and am amazed at how the drummer and the guitar/bassists stay in sync throughout the song. Now, if Lil Wayne could do that, I may have more respect for the man...

Anyways, I'm really excited for the Rock Band 3 game. It's really looking impressive, and maybe it'll help me get things down pat on my own guitar. Like Shane pointed out though, hopefully this doesn't get people started out on the wrong technique, like holding a pick incorrectly...


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