I’m almost 40 and have been “playing” the guitar for close to 30 years. Yet 20 years ago I was so much better at the instrument. What went wrong?
It could well have been a combination of things. Like getting a job and getting involved in relationships, rather than being able to find the time to spend practicing.
But I really want to get to grips with the instrument again. Here’s a clip of me playing on an original piece in 1999:
And here’s a more recent attempt at the same lick in 2015:
Oh dear. Clearly, something is missing there (and I practiced quite a bit to get it sounding quite as good as that).
What hope have I got of ever returning – or even surpassing – my earlier expertise?
Well, I’m not sure, but I’m certain the answer lies in technology.
Getting Started With Guitar, Again
Back in 1987 when I received my first guitar, I struggled with the heavy gauge strings and ridiculously high action. (You could have won an Olympic gold pole vaulting over the bridge of the guitar!)
Understanding little of how a guitar is set up – and that the guys who sold it so me could have sorted that out – I elected to purchase an electric guitar a few months later, which made playing far easier. Offering a lighter gauge, low action and a generally easier to use feel, the cherry red Fender Stratocaster copy stayed with me for years.
Recently I sold my website on Flippa.com, which left me with enough spare change to buy a 2015 Gibson Les Paul Special. For the past 15 years I’ve had a succession of acoustics, culminating with my much-loved 1975 Ibanez Concord 647 Dreadnaught 12-string, which possesses a wonderful sound. It can be a bit tricky to play at times, however, making the Les Paul a welcome addition to my (modest) collection.
My Aim: Play A Guitar Solo
What I hope to achieve is to polish my playing to such an extent that I would feel comfortable about playing in front of other people, which I really don’t. It doesn’t matter if those people are friends, family, or an audience in a pub or club.
Once upon a time, I’d be able to learn and then recall a guitar solo such as the one in Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. These days, I’m totally unrehearsed, but there is also a general unfamiliarity with the fret positions, the strings, the guitar and the general pattern of the solo. At 18 again I could have recognised the solo as being based on a particular scale, as well as be able to anticipate where my fingers would go next. Any largely self-taught player would have the same ability.
The real aim is to regain that familiarity, refresh my guitar playing relying not on endless books and the odd lesson, but with technology.
Apps & Hardware I’ll Be Using
Sure, you can hire a guitar teacher, and perhaps after a certain amount of refreshing and relearning, this would be a good idea to help consolidate your learning so far. But before you get there, you’ll need to put your hand in your pocket and buy a copy of Rocksmith 2014.
Rocksmith 2014 is seriously one of the most amazing games ever produced. It’s essentially Guitar Hero (or any of its clones, such as Frets On Fire) but with a real guitar instead of an overpriced guitar-shaped plastic controller. Thanks to a special USB cable that converts the guitar output into data compatible with your PC and the game, Rocksmith 2014 not only trains you to play songs based on the success you’ve had so far, but it also challenges you by adding more notes in while you’re playing.
(My copy of Rocksmith 2014 was purchased in digital format, and of course USB cables cannot be downloaded… so I bought my USB-to-guitar cable on Amazon. While I haven’t heard of any problems so far of people buying the wrong cable for their system – Rocksmith 2014 is available on PC and consoles – make sure you check the description and buy a compatible USB-to-guitar cable.)
If you’ve achieved a good score, more and more notes and chords are added for you to hit, and the game also provides theory support in the shape of lessons disguised as 8-bit arcade mini-games.
While it’s quite possible to play Rocksmith 2014 with your PC, I like to enjoy the experience on a larger TV. You’ll also need a decent electric guitar, of course (although the game has a bass guitar mode, and you can develop lead or rhythm skills on your electric guitar). Rather marvelously, Rocksmith 2014 also features a guitar tuner.
How I Got There: Learning with Rocksmith
You’ve probably seen how Guitar Hero and Rock Band play. The aim is to complete a track by holding the right colored button and hitting the guitar “string” in time with the music, like this:
But really, all that’s going on there is extreme gaming. There’s no actual guitar being played, and hence no usable skill being developed. Contrast this with Rocksmith 2014…
As you can see, same principle, vastly different outcome.
Rocksmith 2014 offers several different play modes, which you can use individually – or together – to get your guitar playing sharpened up. As you’ve seen above, there’s the standard performance mode. This features over 50 tracks built into the game, which can be added to with affordable DLC from particular bands, or compiled from popular sub-genres.
Now, while you can stick to competition challenges, Rocksmith 2014 recommends various other activities that you can engage with. Interactive lessons teach everything from strapping a guitar on comfortably to trills and tapping, with the details presented in high definition video. When you make a mistake, this is picked up on, and the lesson tailored around the problem, helping you to overcome it.
Arcade-style mini-games also aid in the development (and refreshment) of skills such as quick chord changes, scales, bends, and muscle memory, with a focus on speed, dexterity, and knowledge.
Perhaps the most important practice element in the game is the Riff Repeater, which adjusts the speed of a passage from the song you’re currently learning (whether a riff, a lick or a solo), and plays it repeatedly at the slower speed, detecting your improvement and speeding it back up until you master the section. And to prove your success with a song, Rocksmith 2014 features Master Mode, enabling you to play a track without assistance. Play the songs from memory!
If you just want to play, meanwhile, then the session mode is available, allowing you to put together a band of instruments that will play based on your improvisation. While there’s no point system for this section, performance, lessons and mini-games all count towards your overall score.
What I Learned with Rocksmith 2014
Although I have been using Rocksmith, I’ve also been playing without it. This is important, as with any learning process, engaging with the tools in a less formalized way can aid your development without the pressure of learning. This is something we’ve looked at countless times on MakeUseOf previously, with popular services such as YouTube identified for aiding your personal development. You can certainly find plenty of superb guitar tutorials on YouTube, but Rocksmith 2014 adds an extra dimension.
And my playing has improved considerably. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but a step in the right direction.
Have You Tried It?
So, that’s Rocksmith 2014, and how even experienced guitarists can benefit from it. Have you tried it, and found it useful? Perhaps it didn’t do the trick for you… Or did you think Rocksmith 2014 was just a Guitar Hero clone? Tell us about it in the comments.