Archive for November, 2012

Guitar Status: November 25, 2012

Nov 25 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It’s a four day weekend, and I took advantage of that to do quite a bit of guitar playing! And other related guitar work: as I mentioned last week, I’ve been feeling that my guitar was out of adjustment, so I decided to bring it in to get adjusted. Somewhat randomly, I decided to give Mark’s Guitar Repair in Campbell a try; we’ll see how different the guitar plays when I get it back, but I have a good feeling about that choice so far. He seems like a straightforwardly conscientious and knowledgeable guy, and he knew about the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier (e.g. telling me that he couldn’t work on the frets), so I’m hoping he’ll improve what he can while leaving the instrument usable with Rock Band.

I wanted to drop the guitar off on Friday (and hopefully I’ll get it back next Saturday), so I spent some of Thursday getting some Rocksmith practice in. Now that I realize how sensitive the tuning is to my finger position, I went through the scale drill mode again while making sure to hit the frets, and did a lot better this time. And I went through another set of songs (four of them, I think?); I also noticed that I seemed to be doing better at bending notes, so I went back to that challenge and managed to get a gold medal on it, as well as on whatever was the other technique challenge that I hadn’t gotten a gold medal on. I also poked around the manual a bit; Master Mode, which gives you double points but removes the in-game interface, sounds like a great idea, reinforcing the idea that the point is to learn how to really play these songs, not to play a game about the songs. A very pleasant time with Rocksmith, none of the frustration that I’d had on my other recent sessions with the game.

Because the guitar I’d been using with Rocksmith was in the shop, I went back to Rock Band 3 for my practice on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m glad I did. On Saturday, I went through my practice routine, and went through the last couple of Tier 2 songs and the first two Tier 3 songs. I’m going to add Me Enamorata and Good Girl to my practice rotation, and I’ll occasionally throw in Working for the Weekend. Which makes my practice rotation even longer; I was forgetting which songs were on it, so I decided to write it down, and the list is (marking ones I don’t plan to play every week as (sometimes):

  • I Love Rock and Roll (sometimes)
  • Last Dance
  • I Wanna Be Sedated
  • Take on Me (sometimes)
  • Yoshimi
  • More Than a Feeling
  • Outer Space
  • The Only Exception
  • Jerk It Out
  • Whip It
  • London Calling
  • I Need to Know
  • I Got You
  • Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
  • Need You Tonight
  • Livin’ On a Prayer
  • Me Enamora
  • Working for the Weekend (sometimes)
  • Good Girl

16–19 songs is a lot; but I’m learning something from all of them, so I hesitate to give any of them up. In fact, I should be learning more from them, and Me Enamora is a great example: it’s rather difficult for me right now, but difficult in a way that makes me think I could learn it if I put in the time.

So on Sunday, that’s what I did: I went through the songs on the practice list that had sections that I reliably can’t play (as opposed to the songs where I should be able to play any individual segment, I just mess up sometimes), and dropped into training mode for appropriate bits. (Which had the frustration that training mode on the one bit of London Calling that I miss on triggers a bug that freezes the whole console; le sigh. But now I know what to do and I should be able to practice that one offline.)

In particular, I spent some amount of time on Me Enamora. Not enough to actually be able to play it well—I came in not having gotten 100% on any of the training segments, and left having gotten 100% on only one of them, at least at full speed—but it’s a start. I’ll try to do that more often over the coming weeks. (Unfortunately, it also triggered a feeling that Rock Band doesn’t reliably detect fast pull-offs: there are several songs where I’m fairly sure I’m doing the right thing but it only gives me credit for a pull-off two-thirds of the time.)

I also played through some of the songs plugged in today, for the first time in a month or two. I’m very glad that I did that, and I should do it more. You could make a case that I should always do that; I’m not entirely convinced of that, I suspect that playing songs muted gives me a clearer (and less forgiving) view of what bits in songs I really don’t know how to to play at all, and might also be a useful bridge to allow me to learn a song while I’m still bad enough at it to feel embarrassed about listening to myself. Still, definitely something I should get back to, and possibly something I should make the norm—e.g. having gold stars or full combos be a goal is actively unhelpful in some ways.

A good use of a four-day weekend. And I’m looking forward to getting my guitar back; I’m also thinking I should get a guitar stand (instead of having my guitars lying against various walls), and I should probably get a better guitar sooner rather than later. And I should get a bass one of these months, too; though I really don’t have enough time for my guitar practice now, especially given that I don’t want to keep Miranda up on weeknights with my guitar playing, let alone to add another instrument into the mix! Maybe once I’ve gone through all the songs once in Rocksmith; or maybe Liesl would be interested in learning bass…

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Guitar Status: November 18, 2012

Nov 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It was another weekend where I was quite busy on Saturday, so I only had one day to practice; and I again chose Rocksmith over Rock Band 3.

In terms of non-song stuff: I did the tremolo technique challenge (quite easy, all the practice I’ve done on that paid off), which only leaves me with the chord challenge to do. So I think I’ve learned, or at least seen, all the techniques the game is going to throw at me; though, going through the menus, there seem to be videos explaining more techniques. And I unlocked another minigame, this time about scales. That was frustrating, because it’s something I really would like to learn, and the minigame seems like an appropriate method. But the game thought I was out of tune enough to miss notes; I fiddled around with tuning, but something weird seems to be going on with the frets.

Which is a nudge that I should get my guitar looked after—probably there’s some basic way it’s out of adjustment. Or maybe I should just buy a non-Rock Band guitar? I certainly plan to do that eventually, so maybe now is the time, I just don’t feel like figuring out how to pick out a good one.

After that I went through maybe 8 songs? The game really does have a solid library; Rock Band has more songs, but Rocksmith‘s taste seems like it’s probably about as good. (Perhaps slightly narrower, but narrower in a way that is reasonably consistent with my tastes.) And there’s a lot of overlap between the two games; I assume that means that the same bands are willing to be approached by both franchises. I also browsed the DLC selection, and there are lots of songs there that I would like; I haven’t bought any yet, because I haven’t finished the on-disc songs, but I’ll be happy to jump into the DLC when that’s over with.

A good session, minigame tuning frustration aside: I really enjoyed it. I’m still about pros and cons of the two games—particularly noticeable today was Rocksmith‘s forcing (or at least strongly encouraging) you to learn songs full speed as a whole instead of going through chunks slowed down. So at some point I’ll definitely want to go back to Rock Band 3 with an eye towards the differences, and towards getting out of that game some of what I’m getting out of Rocksmith. And, conversely, I’ll have to look through Rocksmith‘s various menus to see what options there are for learning songs. But for now I’m doing what Rocksmith is suggesting and am getting a lot out of that.

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VGHVI Minecraft: October 25, 2012

Nov 18 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Pictures from the October Minecraft session:

I mostly wandered around. I started off with a few pictures of the center of town:

I don’t think this picture was on the side of the tower the last time I looked?

The edge of the city at sunset.

And then, when wandering over to see what Miranda was doing, I noticed lava flowing down the side of a mountain, and decided to strike out to the west. (Or at least what I think of as west, before sunrise/sunset got moved 90 degrees.)

Lava flowing down a mountain. Or at least a hill.

The snow on this tree makes it look like a face

Misty forest at sunrise

Valley between cliffs

Mushroom island

The only person I saw doing any building was Miranda, who was finishing off the wood temple she started last month. It’s done now, and looks rather lovely:

Starting the evening’s work on the temple

Looking into the birch room of the temple

Inside the birch room

The birch room from above

Looking into the jungle wood room

Inside the jungle wood room

A reminder of what last month’s pine room looked like

The central room

Finishing off the temple roof

The temple roof at night

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Guitar Status: November 11, 2012

Nov 11 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

We had a busy weekend coming up, so I didn’t think I would have any time on Sunday to practice guitar; which raised the question, should I play Rock Band 3, Rocksmith, or both on Saturday? I ended up going with Rocksmith, out of curiosity/novelty, and it was a very frustrating experience that turned out well in the end.

I decided that I would reserve one of my guitars for Rocksmith playing, to avoid having to worry that the muting would screw up its tuning. And I started the practice by going through more of the technique challenges: I tried the bends challenge again, and got a little better, but still didn’t do as well as on the other challenges. Then on to a couple of new techniques, namely palm muting and harmonics; both interesting to experiment with, I’ll have to work on them in game. And, finally, power chords: that was actually pretty frustrating, because I’ve spent a lot of time playing power chords in Rock Band 3, and I know my fingers were in the right place but Rocksmith was claiming that I was doing something wrong.

I’m still not sure what was going on there: maybe I really wasn’t doing something right (e.g. I might have only been strumming two strings at times), maybe the guitar was a bit out of tune, maybe there was something funny with my timing. Which is a problem I’ve already seen several times with Rocksmith: when the game claims you’re doing something wrong, it’s very frustrating trying to figure out what is actually going wrong. And there was an hour or so in the middle of my practice yesterday when that was happening all over the place, enough so to get me to consider giving up the game completely.

Eventually, I figured out one of the issues: the game was accurately reporting that I was out of tune on some of my notes, and it wasn’t an issue with the guitar not being tuned properly: it’s just that, when playing the first fret, if you don’t put your finger on the fret (or immediately below it), instead putting it significantly higher than that, then the note is noticeably sharp. So once I put my finger in the right place, then all of a sudden I started getting credit for notes. Which was good to have learned; I just wish the game could have somehow been more explicit about that. And, after that realization, the game got somewhat less frustrating to me.

Which raises some interesting questions. How much rounding should the game do on notes? Should it round all notes to the nearest fret, on the theory that your fingers are probably basically in the right place, that if the note is out of tune then it’s frequently a sign that your guitar is out of tune, which you can’t do much about in the middle of a song? If it can’t do that, could it give you guidance on improving your pitch? Should it try to infer a model of how out of tune your guitar is and how out of sync your audio and video is, and try to act accordingly, giving you guidance on areas where you aren’t matching the model?

I tend to think it should be smarter; I’m less sure about the “round to the nearest fret” issue, but to some extent I lean towards doing that as well. Which would make it more gamey, more mechanical; but in this instance it seems like the two sweet spots are either an easy-to-understand mechanical model or a more complex model that acts like a human teacher, and right now the game is in a bit of a grey area. (I feel that way about pitch bends, too.)

I’m still thinking about Rocksmith versus Rock Band 3. My current guess is that I’ll spend most of my time on Rocksmith for the next month or so, and I’m certainly getting something significant out of it, but I’m not at all sure that that’s a sign that it’s the better game. It’s by far preferable to be able to hear what you’re playing, and somewhat preferable for the game to try to teach a wider range of techniques; but, if I want to really hear what I’m playing, I can play Rock Band 3 with the guitar plugged into the amp. The issue there is that Rock Band 3 will detect false strums; Rocksmith, in contrast, will let you do whatever you want when it’s not telling you to play, so actually maybe what I want is Rock Band 3 without a penalty for false strums? Which I can get a reasonable approximation of by just not caring about my score and turning down the crowd noise.

And if you set that aside, then what are the other differences? I’m not nearly far enough into Rocksmith to understand what learning a song is like in it; my suspicion is that adaptive difficulty is kind of fun but ultimately not what I want, that I’ll miss Rock Band 3 picking out of specific sections to focus on (maybe that’s there in Rocksmith?), and that I won’t care about Rocksmith‘s video games at all. I definitely think Rocksmith‘s idea of having multiple guitar parts is a good one; but Rock Band 3‘s music library is far superior. (Though I appreciate Rocksmith reminding me that I should listen to the Rolling Stones more…) Either game’s notation is fine. (For guitar; Rock Band 3‘s lack of ambition for keyboard parts is not so cool, though of course Rocksmith doesn’t have that at all.)

There has to be some sort of conceptual synthesis possible going forward. I’m not sure what, though, and I also somewhat suspect that neither company is going to do another iteration refining either game beyond the valiant first attempt that each is. Maybe I’m wrong about that; maybe I’ll have to wait another five or ten years for somebody else to take a swing at the problem and for technology to catch up with these issues. (I wonder: is there a homebrew scene around the Rocksmith guitar to USB adapter?)

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Guitar Status: November 4, 2012

Nov 04 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I went through my practice rotation, which is getting pretty long, and then tried maybe four more Tier 2 songs. I don’t remember all of the songs I tried, but I tentatively think Need You Tonight and Livin’ on a Prayer will enter the practice rotation. That rotation is getting pretty long now, but I tend to think that’s a good thing: the Tier 2 songs in particular have lots of bits that would be good for me to learn and that are definitely within my grasp but that I can’t play fluently yet. So if the length of the regular practice rotation means that I don’t have time to try out new candidate songs to add to it, I’m okay with that: that means that I should practice more until I get good at those parts! They’re all songs I don’t mind playing, and several of them I quite like, so I’m happy to play them over and over again from week to week.

And today I tried Rocksmith; there were good and bad parts, but overall there were more than enough good parts that I’ve changed the title of this post to reflect what I expect to be the focus of this series going forward. Because I really like listening to the guitar, and I also like having the strings respond normally instead of having the muting damping their movement, and it’s great to have a game that lets me do that.

Which isn’t to say I loved everything about Rocksmith from the start. There was one frustrating period when it claimed I missed a bunch of notes; I eventually figured out that what was going on was that my guitar was out of tune, and the game’s automatic tuning hadn’t picked that up. My guitar unfortunately goes out of tune super easily; I’m not sure how much of that is the amount of playing I’ve done with the mute on, and how much is the bad job I did restringing it the first time I replaced strings, but there’s something not right there. (I have two of the Rock Band 3 Squier guitars and no other electric guitars, maybe I should just use one of them solely for Rocksmith.) Once I figured that out, though, things got a lot better; in fact, it seemed at times that Rocksmith does a better job of note/strum detection than Rock Band 3. (I’ve already gotten a 200 note streak; incidentally, the audio lag hasn’t interfered with my enjoyment of the game much at all.)

The gradual ramping up of difficulty is interesting; right now, songs are too easy, but that’s understandable, and I’m willing to give the game a pass on that. (I suspect I’ll like the adaptive difficulty quite a bit eventually, in particular that it will allow me to play all the notes in the body of a song but only some notes in tricky solos.) At first, I was playing song after song instead of going into the technique trainer (easy to do the way they designed it), so it actually threw techniques at me in songs before I knew what the notation meant or how to perform those techniques; eventually, though, I went back to the technique trainers. I’ve gone through about half of them so far, and they seem fine; I’ve only gone through one of the minigames (the one about sliding), and I wasn’t at all impressed by it, but I’m reserving judgment for now: it may be that they’re an effective way to make drilling techniques be more bearable.

Like Rampant Coyote said, it’s nice to be asked to perform a wider range of techniques than Rock Band 3 allows. Though so far I’ve really only had to do with one new technique, namely bending strings, and my experience there has been iffy: not sure how much there has to do with my lack of experience / understanding of what to listen to, how much has to do with the game not clearly explaining what’s going on, and how much has to do with the fact that the Rock Band 3 guitar I’m using has these bumps along the frets that make bending strings much less smooth than I’d like.

The game’s notation seems fine; not better than Rock Band 3 notation, but not clearly worse, and I suspect that, after flipping the string ordering in the options, it will help me a bit at learning tablature, which is potentially useful. Though the one time so far that the game has thrown barre chords at me, I couldn’t sight read them at all just from the notation; but even that was useful, because then I had to rely on the chord names, so I got some practice translating chord names into barred A minor and major chords. I assume it will become second nature soon enough, though.

I’m still very much getting used to the game: it has its opinions about how to do things, and I’m pretty sure those opinions aren’t how I eventually want to spend my time learning guitar, but I also suspect that those opinions are a pretty good guide for what I need right now. And, poking through the menu options, it looks like it has a reasonable range of knobs to turn to let me use it as a song learning tool.

So I’m definitely glad I followed Rampant Coyote’s lead. Like him, I think I’ll stick with both games, but it really is great to have a game that is encouraging me to listen to the sounds I’m making, instead of consciously keeping me in a fantasy bubble.

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