I have never been very good at playing guitar. Don’t get me wrong, I can play the opening 12 notes of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple and I vaguely remember knowing how to play the theme tune to both The Simpsons and The X Files, but actually playing the guitar, no.
It wasn’t because I didn’t want to learn the guitar, I did, I really did, it’s just other things got in the way, like homework, watching Jet from Gladiators, and playing videogames.
I also got bored and frustrated very easily. I would have a song in my head that I wanted to play so I would jump straight in on that song regardless of whether or not it was feasible for a beginner to actually play the song, and then when I couldn’t play the song due to minimal muscle memory and sheer lack of actual skill I would give up. That is until I decided I wanted to play another song I liked and I began the whole sorry process once again.
As I grew older – and it became more and more apparent that I wasn’t going to be a rock god – my actual playing time on the guitar became less and less and as such the Fender Strat, once much loved, was consigned to the loft of my house and this is where it has been for 11 years.
During those 11 years the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises made a name for themselves and thus I currently own lots and lots of plastic crap. Three Guitars, two mics and a drum set at the last count. Whilst enjoyable neither of these franchises really struck a chord (sorry) with my inner musician, after all it was more Air Guitar than Guitar Legend.
Rock Band tried to bridge the gap between guitar game and guitar playing with its stringed peripheral a few years ago but I was never really interested. Why? Well I can give you 115 reason all of them beginning with a £ sign.
Now the latest iteration of rhythm games is here but this time with the added attraction of using your own real guitar with Rocksmith. Not only that but Rocksmith aims to not only teach you guitar but also some songs too, or so the box claims.
So what do you get in the box? Well it all depends on the package you purchase. Rocksmith comes in two distinct flavours: the first is for musicians, after party players and people like me e.g. you have a guitar. In the pack you will get the game, Ubisoft’s Real Tone cable, which basically allows you to plug your guitar into the console or PC, and finally some stickers to stick to the top of your fret board so you know where to put your fingers. The second version comes with all of the above but also a junior sized Les Paul guitar.
Rocksmith helps guide you on your way from the very moment you load up the disc by advising you how to plug your guitar into your console via the Real Tone Cable, as well as helping you tune your guitar and the help never really stops. Rocksmith dynamically alters the difficulty of the song based on how well you are actually playing from playing a single note right up to an arrangement which mixes both single notes and chords.
Rocksmith allows you to play the songs in any order you wish but the best order for a beginner is determined by Rocksmith’s Journey Mode. This allows you to learn 12 different techniques along the way such as shifting, sustains, slides, bends and harmonics and then put them into practice by learning a song which – when you get to a high enough level on the song – will utilize those techniques.
Each technique has its own mini-game in the Guitarcade ranging from a Galaga style game in Ducks, a racing game in Scale Runner, A Dr. Mario-esq puzzle game in Super Slider, and you can mix up your guitar skills with some zombie killing in Dawn of the Chordead.
If you so desire you can break down each song in the Riff Repeater and learn the song in one of three modes. Free play allows you to just play the song and requires every note to be hit regardless of speed. The Leveler will start at the lowest level previously attained on the song and gives you 30 chances to get it right with the percentages increasing until you have “Mastered” the song. The accelerator mode detects your current skill level, slowing down the play and then gradually increasing it as you hit every note at each speed level.
Finally there is Amp Mode, this mode basically allows you to turn your console into a guitar amp with a multitude of effect pedals. The game defaults to the correct amp settings during gameplay so that songs sound as they should but this is where you can play and experiment before mapping one of three custom tone slots.
So this leaves me at the current point of time. I have looked through all of the available songs in the UK currently and what is the considered difficulty of each song for a beginner. Every week for the next six months I will aim to play at least five hours of Rocksmith and every month I will aim to learn a set number of songs and techniques. Along the way I will share with you my thoughts, my frustration and my elation each month in a series of short articles and we will discover the claim that anybody can play guitar with Rocksmith.
The songs that I will be aiming to master once I have completed them in the Journey Mode are as follows:
Go With The Flow by Queens of The Stone Age
Song 2 by Blur
All The Small Things by Blink-182
Next Girl by The Black Keys (as recommended by Tara of TMPGOTI)
Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand
Vaseline by Stone Temple Pilots
Use Somebody by Kings of Leon
Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones
Are You Gonna Go My Way by Lenny Kravitz
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynryd Skynryd
What’s My Age Again by Blink-182