Friday, August 14, 2015

While My Guitar Not-So-Gently Weeps: Rocksmith 2014

I recently turned the corner on a half-century of years, and, under the urging of my younger brother, awarded myself an inexpensive aid through the inescapable mid-life crisis -- my very first electric guitar, and amp.

Commence humming "Also Sprach Zarathustra"!

I've been a campfire strummer and classical finger-picker of modest ability throughout my adult life. I took piano lessons for five or six years as a child, so I can read music. I've hopefully got another decade of reasonable finger dexterity ahead of me. How difficult could it be to expand my skills as a guitarist?

Well, it's not without its challenges. But in this era of digital innovation there are ingenious ways and means of breaking through them. I was particularly curious about a program called Rocksmith 2014, which bills itself as "The Fastest Way To Learn Guitar."

Not me -- in case you're wondering.

Some years earlier I'd played a bit of Guitar Hero with my godson (who absolutely demolished me), and wondered, "Why couldn't this be done with a real guitar?" Ubisoft obviously had the same thought, and programmed their game to play to spec.

It's an interesting experience. My first reaction was, until they come up with a Devin Townsend or Steven Wilson song package, the default song selection mostly rates a "meh." I am grateful for the inclusion of "The Spirit of Radio," of course, but whether the player does or doesn't like the songs hardly matters. None of them get played in a recognizable manner anyway, at least not until the player advances to that level -- which, in my case with "The Spirit of Radio," won't be for a very, very long time.

Wait, correction: my actual first reaction was, "Where's the literature?!" Rocksmith does not have a user's manual, which originally threw me into a panic. It's an inspired move, however -- kids want to get going right away, of course, and Ubisoft has designed their program with that in mind. And I have to say, the game navigation is impressively intuitive. You queue up the game, plug in your guitar -- and you're off to the races.

My third thought was, "This is the fastest way to learn guitar -- maybe." There are caveats. Rocksmith encourages players to register for their 60 Day Challenge, the basic idea being you commit to playing this game for an hour a day in an uninterrupted 60 day stretch. Of course, sixty hours devoted to guitar practice of any stripe should get you pretty nimble, no matter what the program.

The other caveat is the player will learn to read tabulature, not standard notation. Is that a big deal? Mm, probably not, but piano players will find the less elastic muscles in their brains getting an unexpected workout.

What impressed me most at first blush is Rocksmith's immediate insistence on playing past the fifth fret. For a campfire strummer, that's the equivalent of pulling off the water-wings and getting thrown into the deep end of the pool. And, as with the metaphor, the experience is both bracing and exhilarating. You've got to get comfortable with the entire length of the guitar neck -- no point in delaying that, so just do it. It is, or should be, easy-peasy technique, but the business of jumping from seventh to twelfth to fourteenth, then back down to seventh again is something that requires practice. And Rocksmith noobs will get plenty and plenty of practice (60 hours in two months, if they follow through).

But the final caveat is pretty much what I expected -- there are elements of play and learning that an actual flesh-and-blood teacher can address and impart with greater speed and efficiency. So, to that end, I have the number of a recommended instructor. I'll give him a call, and hopefully come September school will once again begin for yours truly.


DarkoV said...

Wow! All the way to an electric GEEEtar, Not even a pause at an ukulele. Quite impressed, Sir. Hand and finger massages are in order!

Darrell Reimer said...

To be fair, the ukulele was more expensive. And it didn't work with Rocksmith.