Rock Band: How Playing a Video Game Will Make You a Better Musician
“Rock Band” is my new favorite video game, hands down. I have been an avid gamer since my early grade school days, and I defend playing games, in true postmodern fashion, as a use of time just as awesome as any other. I am also a musician, and a student of both jazz trumpet and record production. I’m quite sure I have spent so many hundreds of hours playing Nintendo, Xbox or Playstation that if I had applied all this time to my music, I would be “good” enough to sit in with anyone in the world. I never saw “Rock Band” coming.
First the wonderful and passionate computer programmers at Harmonix brought us Guitar Hero, and now they have truly created a masterpiece in “Rock Band.” This game is available for the Xbox 360, and both Playstation 2 and 3. If you have both Sony systems, I would highly recommend the Playstation 3 version even if you’ll have to hunt a bit harder for it.
But this is not a review of “Rock Band.” Whether you are a gamer or a musician looking for something fun to do in your downtime with friends, “Rock Band” will truly help your skills as a musician.
Each “plastic” instrument, while not a substitute for the real thing, will help you develop diverse skills applicable to becoming a better musician, and in those times when practicing seems like too much effort, give “Rock Band” a spin.
First, and foremost, the drums. “Rock Band” features a solidly-constructed USB drum kit, complete with four drum-pad style buttons you can hit with real drum sticks, which are also included with the game, and a kick pedal. Due to the fact that the drum parts are broken down into colored notes on the screen, you can not only hear but see the way they fit together.
This will give you some great new ideas to use in your drumming or beat production, if only due to the fact that having a visual representation of Jimmy Chamberlain’s drum parts is doubly as good as listening to them alone.
Even though the “Rock Band” drum kit is only a cheap approximation of what a real drum kit feels like, banging along to the rhythm will improve your sense of time and hand coordination drastically, especially if you are just starting out.
As a side note, the drum controller from “Rock Band” can be plugged into any PC for use as a MIDI controller with your favorite audio suite. Google it, it is way easier than you might think.
Onto the guitar. The “frets” on the “Rock Band” guitar are actually spaced quite like those on a standard-size electric guitar. While it might seem silly that pressing color-coded keys on a plastic guitar can help you as a guitarist, every minute you spend playing “Rock Band” can be considered a drill in hand strength and finger speed.
By the time you have excelled at “Rock Band” enough to finish “Green Grass and High Tides” at the Expert level, your hand will be flying all over those plastic frets. If you are not too exhausted, try picking up a real guitar and fingering some of those patterns you just memorized in “Rock Band” over the blues scale.
The people who work for Harmonix are musicians at heart, after all.
And finally, the vocals. Vocals in “Rock Band” are exercises in ear training and spot-on pitch if I have ever seen them. You really have to listen, and excel at singing on pitch, to be an Expert vocalist in “Rock Band.”
Plus, you’ll be having so much fun with your friends that you won’t even realize you just practiced your breathing and longevity for four hours straight. Try rehearsing with your band for four hours straight, singing with no breaks. It can become very tiresome!
While playing “Rock Band” is no substitute for the real thing, it has inspired a new generation to go out and buy their first guitars, even to start bands of their own! The game has been carefully designed to “feel” like you are rocking for real. If you are a true musician and have laughed at the idea of a video game about being in a rock band, give it a shot. You’ll probably love it as much as I do!