the Horn Farm Paste Mob

Rock Band 3 experiment journal, part 1

I got one of the 102-button (6 strings x 17 frets) guitar controllers for Rock Band 3 and am trying to learn to play it. Which is the sort of thing I’m tempted to post about in painful detail, except–

See, I was going to say “everybody who’s playing Rock Band 3 must be doing that”, but that’s not many people. The scoreboard for “The Hardest Button To Button”, which the game tries very very hard to coax you into playing (possibly it’s the easier guitar song) has about 800 people on it. So, MAYBE a thousand people are playing Rock Band 3′s Pro Guitar Mode on XBox.

That’s not a large number.

That’s the question here, right? If Harmonix succeeded in making this game a way to learn actual guitar skills, then they perforce made a game which is really, really hard and requires a lot of repetitive drilling to get better at. Is that appealing to most people?

It is to me. Apparently. For the moment.

For one thing, it’s fun. But I’m also driven by curiosity… can you actually learn guitar this way? So I’ve been tempted to borrow my housemate’s guitar and try transferring skills immediately, I’m resisting in the name of science. I want to get to the point on plastic guitar where, if the skills were 100% compatible, I could pick up a real guitar and play a song. That, obviously, won’t happen. I’m pretty certain, though, that at that point I will also be a lot closer to playing a song on real guitar than to playing a song on real saxophone. We’ll see.

== November 14 ==

I played the first few lessons before even trying a song– if you start the game with a MIDI guitar plugged in, it says “Hey, the trainer will help you play with that. Want to be taken straight there?”

After a few lessons I tried “The Hardest Button To Button” on Easy. “Easy” indeed– one note every few measures, always on the downbeat, the kind of thing which isn’t a challenge even if you can’t do it. If you see what I mean. Okay, I thought, maybe I was too cautious. Let’s try Medium… WHOA HEY WHAT ARE CHORDS

So I went back to the lessons. Whenever I could memorize something, so that I could play it while looking down at my hands, that made things a million times easier. Even so, I hit a difficulty wall as soon as the lessons introduced real three-note chords. (Power chords were fine, at least in the basic form presented.) It took two solid sessions for me to play G-C-D-C consistently enough that the game would let me move on.

Not that a few hours is that long, but the trainer doesn’t make it easy to alternate between two lessons in order to stave off despair/boredom.

== November 16 ==


I’m used to ignoring the bass option when playing GRYBO, but Easy Pro Bass is fun. So is Medium. I still miss so many notes that going up to Hard sounds like a bad idea pedagogically, even though more complex rhythms would be nice.

(“Pro Bass” is another big step away from verisimilitude, since it is in fact just playing the guitar controller and ignoring two of the strings. But anyway, bass parts mean more hopping around the fretboard and fewer chords.)

On guitar, I’m alternating between the trainer (still deeply stuck on three-finger chords) and playing actual songs on Medium, where it turns out almost the only chords, on easier songs, are power chords and… barre chords? Chords where you stop all the strings at the same fret, most of which seem to secretly be power chords anyway, just with the fifth played lower than the… root? Tonic?

Someone taught me most of these words a long time ago.

Also, there’s no good name for this object yet. Branding different kinds of guitar controller with the names of real guitar models (this is the “Mustang”) is an elegant solution to the problem of needing names for them. It’s just also inane. Calling it a “pro guitar” is also fatuous; nobody has yet offered me money to play Rock Band 3 for them. Maybe “MIDI guitar”, even if technically that’s also irrelevant to using it as a game controller.

== November 17 ==

My fingers seem much more willing to do G-C-D-C, with a little warmup. Power chords are suddenly an issue, though. My ring finger is no longer ever in the right place if I try to switch position quickly.

The charts for Easy and Medium might be at the right spot on the difficulty curve, pedagogically speaking, but it’s much easier to learn when there’s a close fit between what you do and the sounds you hear (or don’t hear). On Easy, you pluck one string and hear five or six notes, or a chord. In songs with the guitar mixed low or heavily processed, it’s hard to even tell which sound is ‘you’.

Proposal for RB4: a switch for “play my notes louder” (or maybe two switches, so you can decide whether, on lower difficulties, the game should also amplify notes from your instrument that don’t correspond to your actions).

Might get into trouble in setups with a lot of lag, though.

== November 18 ==

The new drums showed up today. I spent longer putting them together than playing them (45 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively) and am not sure what I think yet.

It hadn’t occurred to me that most songs just don’t use the toms much except during fills. I wasn’t planning to pay the $10 to import all of Rock Band 2′s songs, but right now I’d really enjoy playing “Go Your Own Way”.

Subjectively, the speed at which the notes move seems wrong. At first I found myself speeding up or slowing down to adjust, but that just got me out of sync– the problem’s in my head. It’s as if I can still sight-read the charts at high speed, but there’s a tiny bit of extra thinking I have to do *after* I read it.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on.

I’m sort of glad this isn’t much of an additional challenge; I only have so much time, and have already been learning two new skills concurrently, with the MIDI guitar and keyboard.

Not to mention occasionally playing music with people for real.


2 Responses to “Rock Band 3 experiment journal, part 1”

  1. laurenhat, on November 20th, 2010 at 9:22 pm, said:

    I like the “play notes louder” idea.

    What’s the difference between the new drum set and the old? I didn’t even know there were new ones for RB3.

  2. sidney, on November 22nd, 2010 at 7:41 pm, said:

    The salient thing for me is that you can get the drums with three cymbals, for playing Pro mode. I know there were cymbals you could attach to RB2 drums (though the game didn’t care about the difference); I’m not sure if you can plug the new cymbal sets into the old drums.

    As compared to the RB1 drums I had, they’re also much quieter and for the most part more responsive. (I’ve had some trouble with the green tom not registering.) And some of the buttons in the center panel need to be held for a second to trigger, so that the drummer doesn’t accidentally pause the game by whacking them.

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