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    Rock Band / Guitar Hero
    Is it helping or hurting?

    A Look at Rock Band, Guitar Hero and the Music Industry
    - by George Broyer

    Almost everyone would love to be a rock star! ~ To be able to travel the world and live the lifestyle is a common dream of musicians and others alike. Who wouldn't want the attention of a legion of screaming fans clamoring for you to perform? Thanks to the revolutionary video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band, now anyone can get up on stage and become a Rock God. Using game controllers shaped like musical instruments, players can perform songs by popular artists from a variety of music genres. The original Guitar Hero games featured only guitar and some bass parts with guitar shaped controllers. Then the original designers of Guitar Hero left the franchise to create another rhythm video game entitled Rock Band and changed the world of video gaming once more. With Rock Band, players were now able to play all the standard instruments in a rock band including bass guitar, a microphone for singing, and the drums. The Guitar Hero series followed suit and also introduced the same instruments as well. So, now any person regardless of musical skill could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, drums like Neil Peart, and more.

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    However, there has been a firestorm of controversy in the musician's community of whether these games are actually hurting or helping music and musicians. The discussion has focused mainly on the fact that people who are playing the games are equating that experience with creating or performing actual music. Everyone from famous musicians to players in garage bands seems to have a varying opinion on the impact of these rhythm games. Some famous bands such as Aerosmith, Metallica, AD/DC, Van Halen, and even the Beatles are having their own editions of these games released which feature a majority of each band's catalogues for people to play. There are musicians who think that these games will introduce playing instruments to a whole new generation. Chris Pennie, who is the drummer for the band Coheed and Cambria, said during an interview on the cable network G4 that it was "pretty amazing to have something like Rock band because at least you get the motions."

    Still other musicians are not buying into the phenomenon of the games. Prince has recently rejected the notion of having his own version saying on PBS's The Tavis Smiley show that he thinks "it's more important that kids learn how to actually play... it's not easy." He went on to say, "It took me a long time, and it was frustrating at first. And you just have to stick with it, and it's cool for people who don't have time to learn… or ain't interested in it, but to play music is one of the greatest things." Rush only made it 1/3rd of the way through their own song "Tom Sawyer" on the Colbert Report before failing and complaining about the feel and game play. So the debate rages between musicians about these games and how people can get a false sense of playing music from them. Out of the four instruments currently available, the one that has seemed to receive the most attention has been the drums because of the similarity of playing the game and the real thing.

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    Discuss Rock Band and Guitar Hero at DrumChat.com.

    On popular drumming forums such as DrumChat.com, there are frequent discussions on the validity of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games as they regard to playing the drums. The talk seems to side with either the video game drum set being a good launching pad to an actual drum set or a tool of delusion to people who simply drum by color on a TV screen while thinking they are the next Lars Ulrich. The argument against the games is that the drummers who learn on Rock Band or Guitar Hero can develop bad drumming habits because they are imitating without learning the fundamentals of drumming. Rock Band drummers learn by repeating a rigid set of "notes" and thus do not learn how to be creative or improvise. Also, that people will take making music for granted without putting in the hours of practice need to play the drums properly. People who favor the game point out that it can help build the hand and foot coordination necessary to play the drums as well as being a tool for keeping up with current music styles. It can also boost the interests of people for the instrument and lead more people to start learning how to play the drums correctly. Alex Rigopulos, the co-founder of Harmonix, who makes Rock Band, seems to agree with the latter. He recently told a blog on The New York times that he's "continually seeing people migrate from 'Rock Band' onto real drums naturally." So the question is, how exactly does playing a video game drum set translate to being able to play the drums for real?

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    First, we must look at how the Rock Band and Guitar Hero drums are played. The drum sets are made to emulate the set-up of a 3 piece drum set. Substituting rubber pads for drums, cymbals and hi-hats, the players strike the color-coded pieces with drumsticks and use a foot pedal to play the bass drum. Newer models of the drums can even attach pads that resemble cymbals instead of playing the lower coordinating rubber pads. For advanced drummers, a company named ION built a Premium Drum Set for Rock Band and Guitar Hero which is one step away from being an actual electronic drum set complete with the ability to arrange the pads wherever you want unlike the stationary standard drum sets that come with the games. So unlike playing the guitar controllers which require only pressing buttons while moving a strum bar, playing the drums does require basically the same motions needed to play real drums. Players are made to strike the rubber pads for drums and move their foot for the bass drum in rhythm with the song. Guitar Hero: Metallica also introduced a second foot pedal so drummers could emulate playing double bass drums, which are very popular in heavy metal. Thus, players must have some basic coordination to play the drums in these games. But does going through the motions on a video game help people be able to start drumming on a real drum set?

    In order to play drums, there are several factors that must come into play. As with any musical instrument, a level of natural talent for making music is greatly helpful when playing. Most musicians have a natural affinity for creating music while there are some people who can become technically proficient while lacking some of the creativity. It may be that Rock Band / Guitar Hero drummers can join into this latter category or that the game awakens a dormant existing talent in some people. The same basic coordination and rhythm needed to play the Rock Band / Guitar Hero games must be present as the drummer is the backbone of the group and must be able to keep the entire band in time. However, most drum sets consist of more than four options as a standard 5 piece drum set has two tom tom drums, a bass drum, a snare drum, two cymbals, and a hi-hat. Experienced drummers often have larger set-ups with even more drums and cymbals. There are also basic drum rudiments that drummers must learn in order to create and play simple and complex beats. There are several styles of drumming such as samba, reggae, and more that require their own drumming skills, nuances and techniques. Many drummers learn to play drums by taking drum lessons through experienced teachers who have gone through the process themselves. The most important requirements to play the drums or any other musical instrument are dedication and perseverance. Learning to play music does not happen overnight for most. Guitar Hero / Rock Band are the complete opposite of this as almost anyone can pick up the games and start playing right away.

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    Another factor when discussing the relationship between real drums and Rock Band drums is the financial aspect. The Rock Band / Guitar Hero games with the instrument bundles retail for under $200. It would be very hard to find a quality drum set for that price. Most starter drum sets cost several hundreds of dollars and most of those don't always include all the parts you need like cymbals which can be another couple hundred dollars. Then include the cost of drum lessons and drum accessories and the total amount needed to start playing the drums for real can added up pretty quickly. So, for the investment to make sense, you must be really certain that drumming is something you want to do and so it requires a level of commitment not needed for playing video games. The Rock Band / Guitar Hero games only need a one time small monetary commitment, where the drums will be something that will be ongoing.

    So again, the question remains if playing the drums on Rock Band / Guitar Hero can translate over to really playing the drums. Several different people have attempted to test this theory out. On the cable network G4, a reporter who usually was able to correctly play up to 99% of Coheed and Cambria's "Welcome Home" on the Expert level swapped places with the drummer in the band to see if he could play the song for real. He used color coded mats to help mark the drums since he was not a drummer and proceeded to play the song pretty well. Still, was this just an exercise in imitation of one song or someone playing the drums after doing the same on Rock Band? According to Harmonix's Alex Rigopulos, the answer is the latter. He said in an interview with OXM that "you can take a person that's playing on the expert levels in Rock Band on the drums and put them on a real drum set, and they can play the drums… these people have learned the fundamentals of drums, and this isn't abstracting fundamentals - you can put these people on a drum set and they have some basic skills now."

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    On the other side of the coin, people have also attempted to see if playing drums can help you play Rock Band and Guitar Hero. As previously mentions regarding Rush, this is not always the case as the game works more of timing and following the color-coded "notes" rather than intuitive musical feel. Another study by MTV featured the band Cartel as they tried their hand at Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" and David Bowie's "Suffragette City" with each member playing their natural instrument. The group also failed at first but, over a time span of 45 minutes, they got better and better. The drummer, who failed on the medium skill level, said that drumming was closer to the real thing on the Expert level as there was more of the song to actually play. The guitarist of the band who fought his way through three songs on Expert drums stated that he did not think that playing the drums would enable anyone to play real drums right away but was a good tool to just have some fun playing music.

    Whether you want to keep playing the Rock Band / Guitar Hero drums, your real drums, or go back and forth between the two, there are a great number of resources to help you get better. For playing the drums for real, there are numerous online drum lessons sites as well as many drum lessons books and drum lessons DVDs to help you become a better drummer. You should have no problem finding plenty of drum tips to improve your drumming. This is also true with Rock Band / Guitar Hero drumming as there is a plethora of places to find Rock Band Tips and more. There are even Drum Play-Along Books which take some of the songs found in the Rock Band game and offer drum transcriptions and drum-less tracks to help you play those songs on your drum kit. These resources can help take your drumming to the next level no matter what format you decide to use.

    Custom Drumsticks

    With all of that being said, it may still be too early to accurately determine one way or another if the skills it takes to play the video drum set will lead to those players being able to play a real drum set properly. What is known is that the games should at least peak the interest of potential drummers to take up drumming and use the resources at hand to become a full fledged "drum bum" (like how we worked that in? ). The basics can certainly be picked up by playing the fun and entertaining game whether real musicians are crazy about the idea or not. However, more dedication and work is needed to transfer those skills into something more. The makers of both these games may continue to tinker with their drum set design so that it emulates a real drum set even more so. They may end up offering drum lessons content to help push the next generation of drummers to become better using their equipment. Who knows what the future holds when it comes to these innovative games. All we know is that regardless of the shortcomings of the games in regards to making music, they should help foster interest in kids to want to make the real deal. So have fun playing your video game drum set or your authentic drum kit and just remember that music is all about enjoying the sounds and getting lost inside the intricate web of music notes and beats.

    Discuss this article at DrumChat.com

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