With the recent releases of Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live, I thought I’d revisit a question I received quite often in the late 2000s during the peak popularity of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero video games: can playing a rock band video game make you a better guitar player? First of all, we are talking about a video game, and like all video games it’s not meant to be a substitute for reality. But it’s a fun video game, and there are a few skills used in the games that can apply to playing guitar, bass, or drums.
Timing and Rhythm – Rock Band is based on timing, and timing is important when playing music. This is where the video games most resemble the real thing. Locking in to the beat and finding the rhythm are essential for all music. In that respect, you use the same skill set whether you’re learning to play “Panama” by Van Halen on an actual guitar, bass or drum set, or you’re playing “Panama” on the Rock Band 4.
Active Listening – You listen to music differently when you’re learning to play an instrument, compared to listening for pure enjoyment. I’ve found that I listen the same way when I play the Rock Band video games. I focus on things like song structure and movement in the guitar parts.
Exposure to New Music – An important element to learning an instrument is hearing different ways that instrument is used in different styles of music. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band games are fantastic resources for that type of exposure. I’ve even had students who chose the songs they learned based solely on the music from the games.
Again, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are video games designed for enjoyment. I think their comparisons to actual guitar are drawn because the controllers look like a guitar and function similarly to a guitar. But it’s not a guitar; it’s a video game controller. If the games can function as a “gateway” to someone’s interest in playing a real instrument, then that’s great! I’ve had students start playing instruments because they we good at Rock Band.
So enjoy Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live for what they are, and if the benefits cross over to playing an instrument then that’s fantastic! If you enjoy music and it’s become an important part of your life, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying music while playing a video game.
*Portions of this blog post originally appeared on musicandrockschool.com.