Posts Tagged ‘GuitarHero’

The OTHER other side of Guitar Hero

When measuring success, if you haven’t yet inspired a YouTube parody, you’re probably an also-ran. When you’re REALLY successful, you become a template for parodying other things. That would make Guitar Hero pretty successful.

The earliest Guitar Hero parody I know of was forwarded to me by the internetally omniscient non-aardvark Curtis Chen (who runs the very worth your time  The gag is even funnier if you’re familiar with the More Cowbell skit on SNL.

While not exactly a YouTube parody, the Onion had it’s own take on the Guitar Hero phenomenon with their report of lackluster sales for Sousaphone Hero. I love the idea of 135 virtual sousaphone players competing in Marching Band mode, and any brass player will sympathize with the need to keep the controller’s spit valve drained.

And most recently, we have the world cup edition: Vuvuzela Hero. Well played, sir, well played.


Jul 2010

The other side of Guitar Hero

I wrote last week lamenting how Guitar Hero provides a quick fix that discourages people from actually learning how to play an instrument (although as several friends have pointed out, the new Rock Band 3 that is scheduled to ship this winter includes a real Fender guitar and pro mode that matches ALL the real notes!)

On the other hand, it certainly exposes a generation to music that they may never have paid attention to otherwise, and in such an interactive and engaging way that it actually becomes their music. I’m thrilled that my younger cousins have been exposed to the staples of my college experience Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails, as well as the staples of my high school experience The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones.

But that’s only part of my youth.  What about the rest of my high school experience, The Stravinsky, The Bartok, and The Schoenberg?

While I don’t expect to see a Guitar Hero version of Bartok’s String Quartets or Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex any time soon, why not a Guitar Hero version of Reich’s Electric Counterpoint?

It turns out that the new music supergroup Bang On A Can felt similarly.  As covered on Amanda Ameer’s blog Life’s A Pitch, there are now three Rock Band tracks available so you can play along with the polyrhythmic minimalist supergroup and become a Modern Music Hero.

Yo Shakespere – Michael Gordon

Shadowbang – Evan Ziporyn

Pretty catch stuff,. If only it was notated so you could keep track of the downbeat it would be a lot easier to play. This scrolling note thing is just a pain in the butt.

The mechanism of Rock Band seems to lend itself well to minimalism. Serial work may not be quite as effective. You can only generate so much material out of five-tone rows…


Jul 2010

Is Guitar Hero good for music?

I really dig Guitar Hero. From the first time I picked up a four buttoned plastic guitar and jammed out to We Got The Beat at the 2007 SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference I was hooked. Having a reasonable amount of musical aptitude, I took to it pretty quickly.  I can usually sight read songs at the hard level without failing (on guitar at least, drums are a bit harder for me). I’m pretty sure I’d be able to get through expert, if only there was a display mode that showed real rhythmic notation (e.g. eighth notes and quarter notes) instead of the scrolling piano roll that makes it hard to keep track of the beat.

But is Guitar Hero good for music?

Growing up I was magnetically attracted to music. My dad was an athletic director for a high school and every autumn weekend I would go with him to the football games.  I never paid attention to the games, I just wanted to hear the marching band play. There’s a picture of me at the age of 3 sitting inside a sousaphone, trying to blow into a mouthpiece about half the size of my face.

As soon as I was old enough, I started learning how to actually participate in music.  First violin, then trumpet, and then (much later) piano.  I would spend countless hours practicing so I could play some role however small, in creating the ensemble sounds that I found so enrapturing. Sitting in a band or orchestra, playing the right notes at the right time, contributing my voice to something greater than the sum of it’s parts remains a deeply enriching experience.

But the funny thing is, these days, when I play Guitar Hero, I feel that same musical itch scratched to a surprising extent. It really FEELS like I’m playing that music, like I’m a great guitar player. I find myself wondering, if I could have had this semi-instant gratification, the illusion that I’m creating music when I was 10 or 11, would I have bothered spending those countless hours learning how to be at best a middling trumpet player? Or would I have spent those hours learning how to press the right buttons on the Guitar Hero controller at the right time, rewarded by the perfect strains of The Who or Led Zeppelin from my speakers.  To be sure Guitar Hero does require a real level of expertise, but with the possible exception of the coordination needed for the drum part, that skill doesn’t translate into anything involving the actual creation of music.

Perhaps Guitar Hero will end up being a kind of gateway, encouraging kids to eventually graduate from the plastic toggle switch to a real guitar. I’m not so sure. A friend of mine who is a pretty accomplished guitarist often says that the only way to become a great guitarist is to truly enjoy being a crappy guitarist for a long time. I wonder if folks will bother suffering through the crappy guitarist portion of their lives when the illusion of rock legend status is just a power button away.


Jul 2010