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(This was going to be an meditation on whether Rock Band is a good stepping stone for learning how to play real drums. As I wrote it it became something different all together. So I'm posting this then I'll get back to the drums part.)

Those of you on my friends list know I have a little obsession with a game called Rock Band. It borders on MMO obsession, but thankfully it doesn't take over my life like FFXI or WoW. The game is made by a great group of folks over at Harmonix, which made such classics as Amplitude and the first two Guitar Hero games. Harmonix is a great company with wonderful people, a few of whom I've had the chance to speak with in person.

Harmonix's mission is simple enough; bring music interaction to the common man. A vast majority of the employees at Harmonix are real musicians, which include members of bands such as Freeze Pop, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Bang Camaro. They want people to feel the thrill of playing music.

Rock Band, and it's successor Rock Band 2, is the biggest step forward to this goal in years. It brings the full band experience to the living room. Rock Band nights have replaced Karaoke nights at many bars and night clubs, and with new tracks for the game being released every week, ranging in genres from blues to funk to death metal, there is something for everyone and no chance of the game becoming stale in the next few years.

However, Rock Band also has it's detractors. Many people refuse to play the game decrying that it's a waste of time and people should learn real instruments if they want to play music. While the value of learning to play a real instrument cannot be overstated, many people who cast their gaze downwards at the game ignore the simple fact that Rock Band is not a substitute for playing an instrument; it's an introduction. While one cannot possibly learn anything from playing a fake plastic guitar that can transfer over to a real guitar beyond simple rhythm and time keeping, it does one important thing; it shows right from the start that music can be fun.

We all know the story. Many of us have even experienced this. We decide that we're going to learn an instrument, say guitar or drums, and learn to play our favorite songs. We grab a cheap instrument and maybe a book or two, sit down excitedly and immediately discover this this is hard. Most of us cannot even begin to approach the sound of our favorite musicians. We struggle to learn on our own; sometimes we persevere and make headway, other times we just simply quit. We might decide to pay for lessons; surely a teacher can show us the fun to be had. Instead you spend months focusing on simple rudiments and scales. While these things are extremely important in playing music, one can make the argument that they are not fun enough for beginners to engage them in the craft, which is why many, many people give up early in learning music.

(On that note, I am not saying that learning the basics is not important. It is extremely important. People dedicated to the craft know the importance of these things and even have fun with them. I'm trying to approach this from the layman's point of view, who might not be dedicated enough to realize the importance of the basics.)

Rock Band as a game focuses entirely on the fun of playing music, and goes a step further from past games in that it introduces the fun of playing music with other people. It starts you off simple, but still playing your favorite songs. To play harder songs on higher difficulties, players need to practice their part over and over and learn new techniques. Along the way they can play with other people. By themselves they may not be the best at a song, but together they can work towards making it sound as good as possible. By the time a player is playing competently at expert level, he has learned several things:

-Music is Fun
-Even the simplest sounding song can be hard
-Getting good at an instrument takes practice
-Playing with others is fun, even if you're not the best player in the world

With those things learned, a mind is now more open and better prepared to pick up a real instrument and start learning. They're more open to the idea of practice, and more open to the idea of getting together with a friend to bang out a few rough songs.

So, while Rock Band is not a substitute for playing a real instrument, it can be an important stepping stone in taking the plunge in learning how to play an instrument.
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July 2009

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