guitarhero5There is certainly an amount of dare I say snobbery going on when well respected professional musicians take time out to have a go at the myriad of rhythm titles for our gaming consoles. Both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises have certainly opened up our eyes to the marvel of combining musical favourites with strumming and hitting actions on our plastic peripherals and although really not meant to be taken seriously, there are those who shine with their real instruments that despair at our antics.

Reported on the BBC News website, both Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason have expressed concerns.

It irritates me having watched my kids do it – if they spent as much time practising the guitar as learning how to press the buttons they’d be damn good by now.
Nick Mason

Well of course he has a point, but as a keyboard and guitar player I know painfully from past experience how the key to learning anything is having the enthusiasm to continue through the tough rigours of practise. I am sure there are vast amounts of people who can say they have tried to play an instrument in the past and simply gave up after a while. There are many reasons for this and these usually include; ‘I have no one else to share the experience with’, ‘I didn’t feel like I was progressing’ or ‘I just got bored!’.

It makes less and less people dedicated to really get down and learn an instrument. I think is a pity so I’m not really keen on that kind of stuff.
Bill Wyman

What these games do provide is that sense of achievement, sharing the fun with friends be it online or even better with your fellow gamers popping around for a ‘band’ like session is a superb feeling and will reveal the buzz surrounding a musical get-together. You can progressively increase the difficulty until your reactions and dexterity advance and with scoring, leader boards and competitive modes, there is a lot on offer.

rockband2The guitar peripheral will probably be the one you often find attacked by musicians in the press as it is the one that doesn’t match a real instrument in terms of technique. Yes you do strum and hit areas of the neck, however you aren’t actually selecting a guitar string or learning any chords. Even with these slightly negative considerations though, you can’t ignore either the other aspects that help your musical aspirations. Timing is one of musics most fundamental requirements and this is often a struggle for beginners. Listening to the music and identifying when you are meant to come in is absolutely vital when playing a real instrument and what better way then to have markers on screen that indicate it is your time to strum. Granted the easier modes are just barely showing you this, however certainly as you progress to the harder levels especially ‘Expert’, you will be forced to play almost everything you hear. If you miss, you will be penalised and you will often find yourself replaying that song until you hit that wonderful 100% note accuracy. Even as a keyboard player, I am finding my left hand’s fingers sharpness improved since playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

rockband2instrumentsIt is the drums and microphone devices though that will seriously test your skills. These are the most realistic portrayals of the real life counterparts and will maybe therefore even be recommended for parents who want to test their children’s interest and indeed potential. With a set of pads representing drums and even a kick drum pedal, you have the makings for a good accurate representation. Singing is also measured on how your pitch matches the original artist and on Rock Band The Beatles, this is taken a serious step further with the inclusion of harmonies. This is no mere karaoke down the pub where you are judged by the drunken applauds, these titles are carefully monitoring your voice, following your range and instructing you to raise or lower your pitch if you are not hitting the sweet spot. If you are struggling, the ratings will again entice you to press on, when compared to more traditional ways you might have given up. I am sure it would be nice to see a few people who audition on the X-Factor try this out before they make the rest of us suffer!

beatles rock bandAll in all these games are meant to be fun and not taken too seriously and that seems to be the problem when musicians are often quoted as disliking or even hating this fairly new concept. I am sure when keyboards came along offering backing arrangements and what some call ‘automatics’ were critical as well as concerned of what skills it might take away, however not everyone wants to gig around the world, take music theory exams or compare themselves to all the legends. The challenges and encouragement are there to keep young and old alike gaming for many hours and without realising it, they are actually learning. Heck they may even realise that they want to try the real thing and buy an instrument. That seems to be what I hear my friends saying more often than not, so what more could you ask for I wonder?

yamahatyros3I do understand in part where musicians are coming from, but if you are one of those who look down on this type of thing going on, please instead look at the possibilities and work with it and not against it. At the very least, it is opening the floodgates to a huge selection of individuals who maybe only considered music a type of media they listened to rather than an active pursuit that can progress into something really special indeed.

I enjoy the benefits of both these worlds and although I really enjoy Rock Band and the many other variants that are on offer, my passion is for my Yamaha keyboard.

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James Woodcock

James is a Freelance Journalist, Copywriter, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming, gadgets and technology, both retro and modern. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles, including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, whilst also interviewing well-known industry figures for popular online publications. Creator of the ScummVM Music Enhancement Project and host of the Game & Gadget Podcast. View his portfolio for more information.

James Woodcock has 1094 posts and counting. See all posts by James Woodcock

2 thoughts on “Rock Band and Guitar Hero – Professional Musicians Criticism Analysed

  • Good piece :)

    I’ve always seen Rock Band and Guitar Hero as almost being ‘gateways’ to proper instruments too. It’s helped re-kindle my want to play proper Guitar.

    On top of that it’s good that it’s introducing kids to proper music too!

    Completely agree that the Drums and Mic are getting dangerously close to being more like playing the real thing. If only I could find a one string guitar…

    End of the day though – both series work as it’s fun to chill out with your mates and enjoy some good music in something that’s approachable. Not everyone can play Guitar to the level where it’s fun to listen to it, just like not everyone who plays a racing game is Lewis Hamilton. You don’t hear him moaning that Mario Karts ‘Not like really racing’ do you :P


  • How good a musician you are should be referenced by your imagination, feeling, timing, and all that stuff, not how much your finger bleeds.

    Times are a-changing, maybe we’ll see rock concerts in 20 years with guys & gals pushing coloured buttons… ;)


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