Guitar Status: February 18, 2013

Feb 18 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

A lot of guitar playing this week. I think I played Rocksmith two weekday evenings this week, and I played it either two or three days of the three-day weekend, and I got together with Joan to play guitar as well. And we sounded surprisingly non-horrible! She had me look up “12-bar blues”, so I watched a video about that (and then searched some more and got more confused, so I’m glad I started out with that one); that gave me something to work off of, and she played on top of that up at the twelfth fret. Which was a lot of fun, and something I’m not used to (my music background is classical, so improvisation is pretty foreign to me); good times.

As to Rocksmith, I’ve been going through DLC all week, both the songs I’d downloaded the previous week and the Clash three-pack that came out this week. (I hadn’t intentionally been focusing on DLC, but the game’s leveling up algorithm decided that that was what was appropriate to throw at me.) By now I’ve gone through all of those songs at least once, some of them twice, and I continue to think that they are a good, varied mix: e.g. this morning’s set was This Love, Tom Sawyer, Black Magic Woman, and Paris, and while I won’t claim that that’s the most coherent set of all time, I enjoyed playing each of the songs.

Some of the songs were ones I’d played on Rock Band 3 as well; interesting comparing the different versions. Rock Band 3 puts multiple parts together, and doesn’t expose string bending (or harmonics, as was noticeable in More Than a Feeling), but there are differences beyond that: Rocksmith uses two-note chords in More Than a Feeling while Rock Band 3 uses four-note chords, and some of the chord variants that Rock Band 3 has in London Calling aren’t there in Rocksmith. And I’m sure there are similar differences in the other direction, too. What’s a little more frustrating was finding the arpeggiation part in More Than a Feeling in Rocksmith: it’s there if you choose the appropriate guitar part, but when you’re playing at less than 100%, they don’t just remove notes, they change the timing. So that was pretty annoying: it was a part I knew how to play, yet the game was telling me I was doing the wrong thing when actually it was giving me the wrong notes! Eventually, though, I got good enough at what it was asking me to do to get those sections to 100% difficulty, at which point it gave me the correct notes.

(It would seem that I’m not the only person playing Rock Band less, because they just announced that they’ll stop releasing weekly DLC in a month and a half. No huge surprise—the Blitz rereleases mean that they effectively haven’t been releasing new DLC for much of the last month already—but a bit sad none the less.)

I had a string break today for the first time since I got the SG; I did buy an extra set of strings when I got the guitar, but the store didn’t have Gibson strings around, so they sold me some D’Addario strings instead. Which are fine, but my first reaction is that they’re a bit bright; I think I’ll try Gibson strings the next time I replace the new strings. Which raises the question of which type; I’ll start with the “Special Alloy Humbucker Guitar Strings”, but who knows what actually came on the guitar. (The web page for the guitar I have just says .010–.046, but it doesn’t specify the strings beyond that.)

The other thing I’ve been doing musically is practicing piano for the violin recital. Mostly pleasant enough, though I really am not thrilled with the arrangement for the Vivaldi pieces; I should probably go through those two most days between now and the recital, to at least try to get them sounding good.

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Guitar Status: December 30, 2012

Dec 30 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I thought this was going to be a light week: my parents were visiting, so I didn’t practice guitar yesterday. But they left this morning, and they actually left early enough this morning that I could start playing Rocksmith at 10am. Which meant that I had a bunch of time to play that game: I went through the seven songs that I’d unlocked Master mode on (I’m getting faster at that practice, though all the songs still require weekly review), and my current event was only four songs, with three of them taking only one or two playthroughs to get the target score. And, once I’d done that, the next event was only three songs, so I did that as well.

And even with that, I still had time left before I needed to go grocery shopping, so I decided to chip away a bit more at vocals in Rock Band 3. I finished I Got You on Expert (took several tries), Bohemian Rhapsody on Hard, and Good Vibrations on Medium. (With Miranda popping up to sing along as soon as I started Bohemian Rhapsody; Liesl joined in on that one, too.) So now only two songs left; I think I’ll be able to do Bohemian Rhapsody on Expert with a bit more practice, but I’m dubious about Good Vibrations. (Maybe I’ll be able to get it with judicious octave shifting, who knows…)

Still: approaching the end of my regular Rock Band 3 practice. Which is sad; more exciting is that I’m planning to go shopping for a better guitar on Saturday. The Rock Band 3 Squier has served me well, but I’m definitely running across its limitations now.

(Administrative note: if anybody is subscribed solely to the ‘pro guitar’ tag of this blog, I’m going to stop using that tag for general guitar learning, reserving it in the future for those rare occasions when I’m actually talking about Rock Band 3 pro guitar. So from now on I’ll just tag Rocksmith posts with ‘guitar’ (as well as ‘rocksmith’, of course). Though of course those posts will continue to be the vast majority of the posts in this blog anyways, making the tag almost pointless.)

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Guitar Status: December 23, 2012

Dec 23 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I played Rocksmith. I went through all of the songs I’d “mastered”, partly for didactic reasons but mostly as a defensive measure against being thrown one of them as an encore. And then I went through the next event; and I was glad at the end that I’d gone through the songs I’d mastered, I would have done much worse at Take Me Out otherwise!

And this morning I sung some in Rock Band 3: I’d been enjoying doing that when I was on break from work, and I figure I should get over my shyness if I’m going to want to keep doing that. I continued trying to five-star all of the songs on Expert; I now only have three left namely, I Got You, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Good Vibrations. Good Vibrations in particular is an amazing pain: it puts together a bunch of different vocal parts, including both ones that are too high for me and ones that are too low for me. So I kind of doubt I’ll be able to get five stars on that one; I’ll give it a shot, though. And, if I succeed at that, the only remaining vocal challenge will be to get 100% on 20th Century Boy; also seems like a long shot, but who knows.

I thought about practicing guitar some in Rock Band 3 this afternoon. Right now, though, I think I’m getting a lot more out of Rocksmith. So, as of now, I’m pausing my practice in Rock Band; once I’ve done enough singing to feel that I’ve given it a fair shot, I’ll remove that game from the list of games in progress. Though I imagine Liesl and I will return to it fairly often even after that, especially to sing.

But, in the meantime: focus on Rocksmith. Including getting a better guitar: the time has now come to do that, I don’t want to be fighting the guitar when bending strings, for example. So I’ll try out some guitars a friend has and then go off and buy one for myself. And I did in fact play more Rocksmith today, going through another event: I’m still making progress, and I still haven’t hit a wall, though I wonder how long it’s going to be before that happens on a solo-heavy piece. Which, fortunately, Rocksmith is less enamored of than the Rock Band series, though that may be artificial: the game hasn’t shown me different parts on almost any of the pieces, so maybe more solos are coming? I’ll find out eventually.

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Guitar Status: December 18, 2012

Dec 18 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It’s been a busy week for me musically: I took a week and a bit off from my job, which left me with lots of free time, and I decided that most of what I wanted to do during that free time was music! With, of course, the help of Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith.

The strengths and weaknesses of those two games is getting interesting enough that I should probably write about this soon on my main blog; but, basically, over the last week, I did my guitar practice almost exclusively through Rocksmith. I played through another set every day; these days, I’m seeing the same songs (and even the same guitar parts in the songs—one of the differences between the two games is that Rocksmith teaches you all the different guitar parts), but with higher score targets.

And, once the targets get high enough, I’m frequently getting to a level where I unlock “Master Mode” for that song, where I can play through the song without being shown the notes. I’ve unlocked that for seven songs now: Angela, Boys Don’t Cry, Go with the Flow, Next Girl, Song 2, Take Me Out, and When I’m with You. Some of them are super super simple, some are a little more complex.

At first, I didn’t actually play them in Master Mode, other than once as an experiment. But then it threw me into Master Mode in one of them as an encore, so I decided I should give them a try. I still have mixed feelings about being dumped into Master Mode without warning, to be honest (enough so that I’m now no longer actively trying to unlock Master Mode on songs until I get more confident with those seven), but ultimately I do want to learn this music.

So I spent a bit of time this weekend playing through all of those songs in rehearsal and then in Master Mode. It turns out that, if you don’t press the A button on the controller when you’re done playing a song, it will play through your performance again, but this time showing you the notes; I think that’s actually a really good idea from a didactic point of view, because you get the correction after you’ve made the mistake, right when you need it. Including corrections of mistakes you didn’t think you’d made, some of which are subtle: I don’t realize how bad my rhythm is in sections that I’m uncertain about until I listen to it.

So: yay Rocksmith! I’m thinking I should dial back my Rock Band 3 practice: for where I am now, Rocksmith is a better teaching tool for me.

Or rather, I should dial back my Rocksmith practice on guitar: I actually felt like singing this week, so I sung in Rock Band 3 for maybe an hour a day. To give me something to focus on, I decided to try for the goal of getting five-star on expert vocals on every song.

Looking around the goals, I actually started on a related goal: I sung the songs that I hadn’t five starred on expert on any instrument. It turned out there were only four of those; and Beast and the Harlot was not much fun to learn! But I managed it; after that, I started going through the remaining songs on vocals. I got five stars on maybe twenty or thirty more songs; now I have somewhere in the neighborhood of ten songs (I think a few less, seven or eight maybe?) left.

And, honestly, I doubt I’ll finish that goal any time soon: I won’t have much free time when the house is empty to sing, and I seem to recall that Good Vibrations was really hard. Who knows, though; and it’s certainly been fun working on that.

The one unfortunate thing that occurred in this process was that, during one play session, the game stopped being able to talk to the hard drive. Fortunately, rebooting the console and reseating the drive fixed that, but that got me pretty nervous. So I bought a USB stick and backed up my save files for all the games that let me do that. (And I’m annoyed that not all games do in fact allow you to back up your save file; fortunately, both Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith allow that.) I should probably look into Xbox cloud saves; that may actually be exactly what I’m looking for, for all I know.

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Guitar Status: December 9, 2012

Dec 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Friday evening, Liesl and I went through all the Rock Band 3 DLC that we’d bought over the last couple of months that we hadn’t yet played. (On fake guitar/bass.) Nothing particularly striking to report there, other than that Nugget Man’s lyrics are quite something.

I played Rocksmith on Saturday; two events, maybe 10 songs? I was going to stop after the first event, but then the second one looked short, and for the first time the game suggested ‘Riff Repeater’ mode to me. And that turned out to be something that I’d hoped was there but hadn’t yet gone looking for, namely Rocksmith‘s version of Rock Band 3‘s trainer mode: a way to focus on snippets of a song. Done in a typically Rocksmith-ey fashion, with the game either speeding up the snippet for you automatically or increasing the difficulty level automatically. And, with the help of that, I mastered my first song in the game, Next Girl. (Mastered = got over 100,000 points on a song with all sections at max difficulty; it unlocks a mastery mode for the song where you get double points but don’t get told what notes to play, I haven’t tried that yet.)

That may have been my first Rocksmith session where I never felt frustrated by the game: it seemed to be reliably detecting what I was trying to do, which was great. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration—sometimes it felt like it didn’t pick up on my bends, though admittedly my guitar makes that harder. And trying to do as well as it wanted on Space Ostrich was slightly frustrating, but that was mostly frustration with myself rather than the game. Still: I’m pretty sucked into the game. Which raises the question of how I should best use it; I’d been thinking I’d go through what it recommends until I feel like I’ve probably seen every song in the game, and then pick a subset of the songs to try for mastery on. (Using it in the same way I’m using Rock Band 3 now, basically.) And I may indeed do that, but seeing it throw the Riff Repeater mode at me makes it think that I’ll be able to stick with its suggestions longer than I expected? Who knows, no need to decide right now.

On Sunday, I played Rock Band 3. Not a lot—we wanted to clean the upstairs carpets and do some yard work—so I didn’t go through my full practice routine. I decided to go through most of the harder songs, including training on Me Enamorata; I still have a ways to go on that song. And I went through three or four new songs; I think I’ll put I Can See for Miles and King George into my practice routine, and I think I’ll need to spend a fair amount of time in training mode to do well on King George.

I expect to be playing a lot more guitar for the near future: I left my job on Friday, and I decided to take December off instead of applying immediately for another job. Honestly, part of me wants to spend all day playing guitar; I definitely won’t do that, but I may try to go through one Rocksmith event per day? And I’m actually tempted to spend some time working on singing, too. Who knows if I’ll end up doing that, we’ll see. But I will be somewhat restrained: I have programming to do, blog posts to write, and various loose ends to get in order.

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Guitar Status: December 2, 2012

Dec 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I got my guitar back from the shop. I can’t remember what all he said he adjusted, but he worked on the curvature of the neck, the tuning apparatus (the bridge, maybe?), put on a new set of strings, and probably did some other stuff.

In general, it feels a little better to play? Also, the new strings seem noticeably stiffer, which probably helps with the problem I’d been had from being out of tune when I press too hard. (I wonder if that will change as the strings get older.) And it sounds maybe a bit janglier, but I’m okay with that, in some sense it sounds to me more like an electric guitar should. I don’t think it will make a colossal difference in my playing, but I’m glad to have had the guitar set up, and the guy who did it seemed to know his stuff. (Mark’s Guitar Repair in Campbell.)

On the way home, I stopped by a local guitar shop to wander around for a bit. Mostly I just looked at price tags on guitars, I didn’t really try anything out. (I probably should have looked at effects pedals, too; ah well.) I’m thinking that, at some point, I should just pick a price point (not particularly high, $300-ish) and buy a guitar somewhat randomly there along with a couple of pedals, and just get used to the ways they can make noise. Then again, I should probably do that more than I have been with my current guitar; I’m just feeling somewhat hampered by some aspects of its construction (e.g. not being able to bend strings smoothly) and by my feeling that it’s almost certainly musically deficient in many ways.

Once I got home, I played Rocksmith for maybe three and a half hours. I went through something like nine songs; I’ve forgotten which ones they were (Sunshine of Your Love is the only one that comes to mind, though I’m sure I’d remember more if I looked at the track list), but I was enjoying the experience enough to keep at it.

I’d done a better job practicing guitar mid-week than normal this week: Good Girl in particular has gotten stuck in my head, so I’ve practiced it both unplugged and in game a few times. Which has gotten me back in the habit of playing Rock Band 3 plugged into my amp. And I figured out how to turn off failed note sounds (you have to scroll down to see the option on the appropriate menu, which is why I’d missed it before); I still wish the game had a way to turn off failed note detection completely, but at least now it’s not actively offensive. (I’m currently #11 on the Good Girl leaderboard, which made me happy until I checked how many people had played the song at all; the answer turns out to be 78 people, which made me despair at the lack of popularity of Pro Guitar, because it’s a super fun song to play. Though admittedly probably a lot of people overlooked it, because Carrie Underwood isn’t the first artist that comes to mind when thinking about guitar.)

On Sunday, I played Rock Band 3; I was feeling like I had a lot to do, so I didn’t try new songs, but I did go through all of my standard routine, and went through the practice sections of Me Enamorata. I can already see some improvement on that song, which is heartening; still a ways to go, the solo in particular will take a while, but that’s okay. Once I’d gone through all the standard practice songs muted, I went through a few of them plugged in; I was planning to only do two or three of them that way, but I enjoyed the experience enough that I ended up playing about half of them plugged in. The other main thing that I learned today was about The Only Exception: something was clearly off on the solo when I’d played it before, with one of the strings being a half-tone off, and when I looked more closely at the names of the chords it was displaying, I realized that it showed E7 for what looked like it was the fingering for a standard E chord. Putting those two bits of information together, I realized that I was supposed to tune the top string down a half step, to a D#; I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to realize that, but better late than never! (And most of the chords don’t sound awful in either tuning, they just sound better tuned correctly.)

My hand ached a noticeable amount by the end of the afternoon. After this week, I’m planning to take December off from working and to do a lot of guitar practice during then; I hope my hands are up to it…

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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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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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