I’ll start this out with some context – while I’ve technically been playing guitar for seven years, I definitely don’t have seven years’ worth of experience with the instrument. I took lessons for a couple of years at the age of thirteen, and learned scales and chords and some theory but with the years following of on-and-off playing I never really developed a great deal of skill or a style of my own. Since finishing school and having some time on my hands, I’ve been having what’s almost a premature midlife crisis of wishing I’d formed that shitty metal band of greasy teens that I’d always dreamed of, and have really been giving guitar a proper whack. I figured I’d give Rocksmith 2014 a try, after hearing so many claims of how effective it is, and log my progress here. Let week one begin!
I began by jumping through all the hoops that Rocksmith makes you, most of which are fine; calibrating your guitar volume, tuning up, and so on. Some seemed a little odd considering I’d chosen my difficulty level as one who’d learned the basics of guitar before though. I was able to push through to ‘learn a song’ quickly enough, but it would intermittently throw rather insulting ‘how to strum a note’ or ‘what is a fret’ video lessons at me for reasons I don’t quite understand. Still, better safe than sorry, and as soon as I was playing on a track, Rocksmith’s difficulty settings felt pretty spot on. They would adapt as I played (quite literally, if I messed up badly I would see a whole bunch of approaching difficult notes disappear) and most things felt within grasp, with some exceptions that would push me to repeat and improve.
What really threw me, however, is the system of the strings onscreen. If you’ve learned guitar and tablature or tab music before, you’ll know the bottom E string (as in, the lowest SOUNDING string, but physically highest up string) is on the bottom, with the A, D, G, B and E going upwards. It confuses some newcomers, but eventually it begins to make sense, especially from a theoretical standpoint, and becomes the way you understand your instrument. Rocksmith flips this upside down and has the bottom E at the top, assumedly to appease new guitar players who are looking at their strings and seeing it physically at the top. That’s well and good, however not only is this a real hurdle for someone who already has experience with the instrument, but it’s going to be a real hurdle when Rocksmith-learned guitarists when they come to read music on tablature. You have to kind of flip everything you know about sight-reading notes on its head and react as quickly as possible – it gets easier, definitely, but even after a week it catches me out on occasion.
This is all part of learning the ‘language of Rocksmith’ if you will, which is possibly the only real setback for it teaching you guitar at a terrific pace. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do; Guitar Hero had their work cut out for them with a mere five frets, but here we have a full 22 frets and six different strings, and replicating that as an easily-readable system wasn’t ever going to be easy. The toughest nut to crack is the colour-coding of the strings, and while red for bottom E and yellow for A get drummed into you quickly enough, I still tend to panic and have to really think what I’m doing when they throw the greens and blues at me. I’m sure it’ll come with more time, but like learning any instrument, you can’t get it with a click of the fingers.
So, with these initial impressions aside, I’m going to work out how the hell I get the rhythm right on Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’. Come back next week to see how I’ve progressed!