Guitar (Hero) Lessons

26 02 2007

Like most people, music defines a large part of my life. For a long time as a kid, I played cello, and was in the whole classical music scene. One day, I’d like to get that going again. But since then, my interests have spread. And, I think my classical roots have defined many of my favorite genres of music. I still listen to some of the heavy death metal, from time to time, of course. But my favorite remains Progressive Rock.  I’ve always wanted to be able to pick up a guitar and play riffs from my favorite songs, these songs. But, my efforts have always gone awry, and I was never able to put my finger as to why I have been so unable to learn something as an adult that I so easily learned as a kid.  I think I finally found out…

Recently, I purchased a Playstation 2, 2 wireless guitars, and Guitar Hero I and II. It was somewhat of an impulse buy, but still, I had been thinking about getting the whole setup for a while. I had gotten my first glimpse of Guitar Hero last year sometime, when a coworker let me borrow his setup for a weekend. I was glued to the game for the majority of the weekend, at the expense of my family’s time.  Despite this, I still bought my own. At least this time, the system would be mine, and I wouldn’t have to hurry to get as much time in it before I had to give it back.

So, anyways, I finally have my own PS2, and I’ve been playing Guitar Hero on and off for the past 2-3 months.
At first, I started with career mode on Medium. I beat that pretty quick as it only needed 4 buttons. No shifting on the fret board meant it was rather simple to get going. I would miss notes, and the hardest songs were difficult, and a few took a couple tries to beat. But, my technique was flawed, and it showed when I got to the Hard setting. On Hard, I was having the most difficult time, at first, getting the shifting down on many songs. Or getting some double note combinations. Or even getting some high speed solo down good enough.  Slowly, but surely, I progressed through the Harder of the Hard songs, and found a technique that worked for me. My shifting became cleaner, I could read the notes faster, and I could hit several, but not all high speed combos.  This is where I’m at now, even at the expert level.

This is a video game, after all, and beating levels is nothing special, people do it all the time. Heck, I’m sure there are people who are way better at Guitar Hero than I am (I’m still improving). But, as I look on my abilities  to “play” the game now, and the techniques I employ in order to hit certain fingering patterns, I am intrigued at how I came to this point.  If you took out the fact that it is a game, and there are only five buttons, you would see that the same fundamental learning techniques and patterns are at work here as they are on a real guitar. I mean, you have to know when to shift, how to keep a beat, when to strum. You have to hit some notes fast, and others hard, and still others fast AND hard. I find it amazing that I hold the Guitar Hero guitar in a similar manner as I’ve been told to for other instruments. I’m sure it’s no mistake, as this was not a concious effort. What was conscious was the effort in getting certain shifts and fingerings to work for me and play the song “properly”.

Where am I going with this little rant? Well, I just want to shout out that I’m amazed that with only about an hour or so a day, every other day, on average, I have gotten my fingers to learn how to play a toy guitar controller with 5 “notes”. And have fun doing it.  What I want to try to figure out is how to translate this to a real guitar. I have one, and I have tried to learn, but failed in the past because I couldn’t keep with it. I think these past two months with a video game have tought me more about learning a new instrument than the last few years of on-again, off-again guitar lessons:

  • practice every day, for only about an hour
  • Try to make progress, learn something new
  • don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • and, most importantly, Have fun

With a real instrument, it does take a little more motivation than a fake one, but I think that I’m not the only person in the world who is now more inspired to learn to play a real guitar after becoming somewhat proficient at Guitar Hero.

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