The Rocksmith Diaries – Entry One

For as long as I can remember, I have loved music. From playing a singing role in The Wizard of Oz in elementary school (The Tin Man), to playing saxophone in junior high band, music has always been a big part of my life. There’s music that will be forever associated with memories and time periods in my life.

At age 15, after having quit band in junior high, I got an electric guitar for Christmas. Amp, cords, guitar bag, the whole bit. I was dead set on learning how to rock as hard as my favorite bands. That lasted all of a month, after which the guitar sat on a stand or in the bag for the better part of the next 10 years. Fast-forward to now, and I have ANOTHER guitar that is sitting around collecting dust. I’ve tried personal lessons, online lessons, learning from books and videos, but nothing has ever stuck.

About two weeks ago, I got Rocksmith, and everything changed.

This is the game serious guitar enthusiasts wanted Guitar Hero to be.

Rocksmith is the game that Guitar Hero should have been. In Rocksmith, you play through songs on a real guitar, with a cord carrying your “chords” from the guitar to your system of choice (mine is PS3). The interface is set up in a similar fashion to other popular rhythm games, where notes are descending from the top to the bottom of the screen, only in Rocksmith, it mirrors the frets and strings of your guitar. As you play, the game is continually adapting the difficulty. As you hit more notes, more and more notes are fed your way, and missing notes simplifies the song to make it easier. If you’re really having trouble sticking a particular solo, there are rehearsal modes that allow you to play a particular section of a song at reduced speed so that you can perfect your timing. As you play through, no matter what mode, everything is tracked. You know how many notes you hit, what your streak was, and how close you were to nailing everything. There’s even an instant replay of your run after you finish, so you can watch for areas that caused you problems

Aside from playing through songs, there are arcade games played using the guitar, as well as challenges on guitar techniques. These are both good places to start, because they teach you the basics without attaching the pressure of a full song. Once you perfect the techniques and arcade games, it’s much easier to jump into songs and play them with ease.

This feels much better than a plastic guitar.

Honestly, this has been the most effective guitar learning tool that I have ever used. Sure, it’s not necessarily teaching me all of the proper habits I should have while playing, but it’s keeping me playing. That’s what’s most important. When you’re having difficulty with learning guitar on your own, there’s never any feedback except the sound. When playing Rocksmith, there’s not only the sound, but also the score and the on-screen indicators. It’s constantly telling you how to improve, whether it’s moving your finger up a string, over a fret, or just playing faster. Eventually, you’re playing using intuition and your ear for the music. You’ll see a note coming down, and since it is on the same string as what you are currently playing, you can tell which way your fingers need to move. You’ll quickly find yourself pulling of maneuvers you’d never have thought possible before you turned on the game that day, and by the time you turn it off, you’ll feel like you rocked the house.

There’s still crap you have to deal with. Loading times suck. As in, you load a song and play through it, and when you’re done, you have another long load to get to a menu. You then pick another song, and the process starts all over again. The dynamic difficulty can really get frustrating, especially when you start to set up for a note in the distance, miss a note before it gets there, and the game takes it away. It’s also frustrating the other way, when you’re doing well and it throws a ton of notes at you that you weren’t ready for. The music choices are…well…they leave a bit to be desired, but that will vary depending on what your tastes are. I don’t really like to see repeat artists, of which there are a few. There’s a store with songs starting out at $2.99 each, but you’ll have a hard time justifying buying new songs until you play through all those included on the disc.

Rocksmith has me playing things I hadn’t thought possible before. I can play double stops. I can play barre chords. I can play just about anything that the game throws at me right now, even if they are simplified versions of the actual songs. My fingers aren’t yet callused and decrepit, but I’m sure that will come with time. I haven’t yet played through all the songs, but I’ve got a feeling that’ll be coming soon. I’ll keep you posted with how my Rocksmith experience continues to shape my guitar playing. If you’re anything like me, Rocksmith is not only a fun game, but an open window into a world that you may have thought would always stay shut.

This is the first entry in a series of articles detailing my progression as a guitarist, with Rocksmith (PS3) being my educational tool. Entries will come on the last Sunday of each month.

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