Can Rock Band 3's new, more realistic controller make me a real-life guitar god?

The art of play.
Oct. 29 2010 12:24 PM

I Wanna Rock!

Can Rock Band 3's new, more realistic controller make me a real-life guitar god?

(Continued from Page 1)

I had the most fun going through the game's career mode, which rewards you for completing various tasks—not just mastering skills and "beating" songs, but also customizing your avatar or naming your band. (Finally, finally, I have realized my longstanding dream of fronting a band called Discipline & Punish.) The nonmusic sections actually helped me stay on track, by allowing me to let off a little steam without throwing my plastic guitar against the wall. When I wanted to give up after a frustrating hour spent with the "Blues Rundown" lesson, I just went and got my avatar a new pair of pants.

So can Rock Band 3 actually teach me how to play the guitar? Well, it is teaching me some real, applicable skills. After a few days of practice, the instrument no longer seems like an alien landscape; I'm starting to develop the coordination necessary to move my left hand vertically and horizontally across the fretboard while moving my right hand up and down the strings. Once I mastered the "easy" version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" on the Rock Band guitar, I picked up my real guitar, set the song to play again, and found that I could follow along pretty decently. (Of course, to say I was "playing 'Rehab' " is a stretch—it would be more accurate to say I was playing seven or eight notes that happen to be found in "Rehab.")

Once I got to chords, the limitations of Rock Band as a teaching tool became clearer. Pushing those sensitive little buttons feels nothing like pressing a group of strings on a real guitar, at least an acoustic. I can actually do the former, if not very well; the latter makes my hand feel like it's been stuck in a vise. Meanwhile, my guitar-playing friend Mark was thrown off by the new Rock Band controller. When you press on the fretboard of a real guitar, you feel the tension further down the strings, which signals where you're supposed to strum. But when you're playing with Rock Band's guitar simulator, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. To Mark, it felt like a completely different instrument.

Advertisement

In the end, casual Rock Band players may not want to upgrade to the new controller—it's difficult enough to master that it's kind of a party buzz kill for instrument neophytes. (The PRO-Guitar can still be played in the classic five-button mode, however.) Hardcore fans who've already mastered the Rock Band catalog at the "expert" level, though, will probably adore the hours and hours of new, more complicated gameplay the updated plastic axe presents. And it must be said that while the PRO-Guitar isn't a real guitar, it is a real instrument—it's a fully functioning MIDI controller, so you can plug it into something like Garage Band and create your own digital music.

Ultimately, though, wannabe guitar gods may want to wait until next year,when the latest, greatest, fanciest Rock Band controller of all time will be released. The Rock Band 3"Squier® by Fender Stratocaster®" is a mash-up between an electric guitar and a game controller—it has sensors embedded in the neck so that it works with your game console, but you can also plug it into an amp and play for real. Rock!

The King of All Rock Band Controllers might be just the thing for easily distracted students like me, since the gaming elements will mask the rote, homeworklike nature of the guitar training process. Rick Peckham, a professor at the Berklee College of Music who helped develop the game, told me that while there are millions of people who play the guitar, there would be a whole lot more if it weren't for the "dark days" of the first few months. As someone who yearns to make it past the beginner phase someday, I just might ask for the Rock Band 3 Squier for a belated Christmas present.

And now, if you'll excuse me, Discipline & Punish is off to master "Du Hast" before we have to return all our loaner equipment.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Culturebox

The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The Difference Between Being a Hero and an Altruist

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Outward
Oct. 22 2014 10:37 AM Judge Upholds Puerto Rico’s Gay Marriage Ban in a Comically Inane Opinion
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 9:54 AM The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here I feel like a kid in some kind of store.
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 10:30 AM Monster Sunspot Will Make Thursday’s Eclipse That Much Cooler
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.