There have been lots of reviews that analyze the pros and cons of Rocksmith as a game. You can find those collected on Metacritic.com. But how effective is Rocksmith as a learning tool? What can Rocksmith teach a beginning guitar player? That’s what I’m going to answer in this article.
Before I break down what you, the beginner, will learn from Rocksmith, let me give you some general pros and cons that aren’t specific to Rocksmith’s educational effectiveness.
Rocksmith’s general pros and cons.
- The supplied cable is well-made and easy to connect to both your guitar and to the console.
- The interface is clean and clear. Navigating through the menus is easy and intuitive.
- The note tracking is remarkably good, especially for individual notes.
- The sound quality of the emulated amplifiers and effects is excellent.
- There are lots of tutorials explaining exactly what you should do and how to do it. These tutorials appear in-game as you encounter new gameplay elements.
- The mini-games are fun.
- Most importantly, there are lots of great, licensed songs to play along with.
- The graphics are dull. They do little to add to the excitement of playing on stage in a band.
- Rocksmith doesn’t always hear the chords you play properly. There will be times when you play the chord correctly and the game does not register it.
- There is a short delay between your physical attack on the string and the resulting guitar sound coming from the speakers. This lag can be minimized by using analog connections to your TV and speakers rather than HDMI. That can be a huge inconvenience for some and it doesn’t resolve the lag completely.
- The tutorials occur too often after you’ve learned the concepts they teach. For example, the tutorial for the Bending Technique Challenge will appear before the challenge every time you try it, even if you retry the challenge back to back. That gets old quick.
- You are forced to check your tuning constantly. I understand that proper tuning is key to tracking the notes you’re playing, but I wish Rocksmith would monitor the tuning during the songs and only prompt you to re-tune when it detects notes that have gone out of tune.
Beginners: what you’ll learn from Rocksmith.
Rocksmith tries to appeal to several audiences at once. It wants to be relevant to intermediate players but still be accessible to beginners. Although it is fun and educational for beginners who know the basics, unfortunately it leaves behind players who have never picked up a guitar before.
Basic essentials like how to tune your guitar, how to hold the guitar, how to hold the pick, how to pluck a string, alternate picking and how to fret notes are glossed over in a series of brief tutorials. There are nuances to all of these concepts that need to be fleshed out for the beginner to feel comfortable.
Also, technical details are left out. It is never made clear that your guitar’s volume knob needs to be turned all the way up for the game to “hear” what you’re playing.
Overall, I feel like absolute beginners will feel overwhelmed with this game. If you are an absolute beginner, I recommend learning some basics before jumping in to Rocksmith. But if you are comfortable with the essential concepts listed above, you’ll have fun and learn a lot.
- How to tune your guitar. You tune up so much in this game you’ll be a tuning expert!
- How to play positionally, that is, keeping your hand stationary and using each of your fingers to to find the notes. The game encourages you use one finger per fret and tells you when to move your hand to a new position
- Lots of techniques, including slides, bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, tremolo picking, etc. Rocksmith has lots of special technique challenges that focus on each technique to help you hone your skills. There are also mini- arcade style-games that make the learning even more fun.
- Lots of songs! Rocksmith is all about performing complete songs during shows in increasingly more posh venues in front of a virtual crowd. You’ll spend time between shows learning the songs needed in the upcoming show, as well as any techniques that are specific to those songs. There are more than 50 songs to learn, not including any downloadable songs that will be available after launch.
- How to practice. Rocksmith gets you to practice songs before performing them. It sounds obvious, but a big part of learning guitar is learning set aside time to practice. Rocksmith’s story mode encourages you to practice each song in the upcoming show beforehand rather than trial by fire during the show itself.
- Good timing. You’ll learn that hitting the right note isn’t the only requirement for playing well. You also have to hit the right note at the right time and hold it for the correct duration.
- Chords. As you get better, the game will automatically increase the difficulty and have you play chords instead of single notes in many places. You’ll learn the name of the chords and how to play them.
You won’t learn:
- The nuances of the basics. There’s specific subtleties to every technique that just aren’t covered. For example, Rocksmith never tells you to keep your fretting fingers low for single notes and high for chords.
- How to read music. Heck, you won’t even learn how to read TAB, the ubiquitous and easy-to-read form of guitar notation. You just learn how to identify colored blocks with strings and frets. That means that you’ll have to learn TAB or standard notation in order to learn songs outside of Rocksmith.
- Note names. Rocksmith never introduces you to any note names whatsoever. Knowing note names on your guitar is essential to becoming a complete musician, but Rocksmith avoids note naming altogether. Clearly Rocksmith remembers that this is a game after all and note memorization is about as fun as learning to play the glockenspiel.
- How to get your gear to sound like it does inside of Rocksmith. There are a lot of cool tones in Rocksmith but there aren’t any tips for recreating that sound with real gear.
Rocksmith does an excellent job of helping you move from the beginner phase into the deepest stages of intermediate-level guitar playing. You’ll be comfortable with all of the essential techniques and you’ll learn lots of songs. Most importantly, you’ll have fun during the learning process. But absolute novices beware. If you don’t know the basics, you’ll get frustrated quickly. For the rest of you, Rocksmith is a fun and highly educational game that will teach you how to play the guitar at a level much higher than you are now.
For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.