Pro Keys Status, March 13, 2011

Mar 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I finished six more songs today; that brought me up to rank 30.

I'm at rank 30 with 10,620,581 points

An improvement of 548,496 points over last week, or 91,416 per song: smaller improvements than I’d been making last week, but still enough for a boost of 8 ranks. Hopefully I’ll make it into the 20s next week, though that isn’t guaranteed, given that I only have one song left and that other people are improving as well; even if I do, I don’t expect to stay there for very long, but hopefully I’ve got a good enough cushion over 100th place (or even 50th place) to stay pretty high up on the leaderboard for a while.

As one might expect, the songs are definitely getting harder. I was surprised at how easy Bohemian Rhapsody was this time, but the songs after that (e.g. Llama) were tricky, and I occasionally even failed out. Also, my leaderboard scores weren’t as high as I’m used to (I think I only made it into the 30s once today): I get the impression that there are several people who have put a good effort into these songs but who haven’t bothered to go through the easier ones. The songs are generally still fun: Bohemian Rhapsody is remarkable in its own way, and I quite enjoyed playing Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

My big accomplishment this week, though, was that I finally made it through Antibodies on Expert without no-fail turned on! I wasn’t too optimistic when I first tried it: I failed out at around 15%, and training mode didn’t help much. But then I went through the whole song on with no-fail turned on, and that got the rhythm into my fingers. (It helps a lot that the second half of the song is pretty easy: there are two quite tricky bits at the start, but once you make it past those, it’s almost all smooth sailing, while still having a rhythm that helps you when replaying the first part.) So after a couple of no-fail runs, the second of which was rather good, I turned failure back on; and I did fail a few times, but eventually I made it all the way through the song.

I still don’t like the song, and it’s the one that I’m by far the worst at: I’m not even in the top 1% of players. I’m pretty sure that, if all I cared about was my rank on the leaderboard, my best strategy would be to try to go for 100% on Medium but (despite this series of posts) I’m not so focused on my score as that: I want to play the pieces well, and playing on Medium is incompatible with that. (Hmm, actually, looking through the leaderboard, maybe Medium wouldn’t be good enough to bump up my score much. And my rank is 268th place, which isn’t a complete embarrassment, at least.)

Anyways, that means that I have one song left! That last song is Roundabout, and I expect it to take a fair amount of work to go through: it’s a lot more musical than Antibodies, but my memory (bolstered by looking at the sheet music) is that there are some fast repeated arpeggios that will take some amount of luck for me to hit well, and the less repetitive bits are quite a bit trickier than in any other song on the disc. Still, it’s only one song, and a song that I won’t resent while playing it over and over again, so I expect that I’ll finish it next week.

And then I’ll be done! At least with the on-disc content: there’s DLC that I could play. I’ll certainly try to learn the Billy Joel pack better than I have so far: my first impression of that one was that it was fun but hard enough that I dipped down to Hard on a few of the songs. I have some Doors DLC lying around; I’ll give those more of a try, and if I like them I guess I’ll download the rest of the Doors DLC. And Modern Love is super fun, I’ll give that a few more tries. After that, I’ll give a scan for other keyboard DLC that could be interesting; anybody have any recommendations? In general, though, I expect I’ll be putting in most of my Rock Band time working on Pro Guitar.

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Pro Keys Status, March 6, 2011

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have to play Rock Band this weekend, what with GDC having just ended, but it actually ended up being a really nice way to relax; so I played it a lot, going through all nine Nightmare songs and the first two Impossible songs. (It didn’t hurt that I have a Squier sitting against the wall motivating me to finish up Pro Keys.) And I’m happy to say that I’ve accomplished all of my goals, with seven songs to spare!

I'm at rank 38 with 10,072,085 points

That’s an improvement of 1,253,740 over last week, or 113,976 points per song. If I can keep that up for the remaining seven songs, I’ll end up with 10,869,917 points, which (if others’ scores don’t change) would leave me in 23rd place; who knows if that will happen (I’ve never successfully played two of the remaining songs—Antibodies and Roundabout—on Expert), but I’d be surprised if I didn’t end up somewhere in the twenties.

Playing through the Nightmare songs has been super interesting: that label is quite inappropriate! The songs are getting musically more complex rather than just throwing fast repetitive notes at me; as a result, I dipped into training mode on pretty much every song this level, but I ended up doing better on these songs than on the Challenging songs. There was only one song where I didn’t manage five stars (Fly Like an Eagle—that noodling around at the end, which practice mode labels “Trippy Part” (as opposed to three earlier sections that are labeled “Spacey Part”), is hard!), and even there, I did well enough that I’m in 31st place on the song leaderboard. (So you could make a case that the star cuttofs are calibrated wrong; but it didn’t feel like a five-star performance to me, which is corroborated by my only hitting 88% of the notes.) And I even managed gold stars on two of the songs, and on 20th Century Boy I hit 8th place on the leaderboard, which I believe is my highest rank yet. (I see that I’m already down to 9th place, though. I didn’t get gold stars on that song; again, possible calibration failure, but I only got 91% of the solo, so it didn’t feel like a gold star performance, I think people just aren’t putting in the time to learn the solo.)

In fact, there were several songs where I felt like I could hit 100%: not that it was likely that I’d do so, but that there wasn’t any group of notes in the song that I felt that I shouldn’t be able to hit most of the time. Even so, it was quite a surprise when I managed to actually do that on Cold as Ice!

I got 100% on Cold as Ice!

Despite that, though, I still haven’t gotten the Pro Keys Streak 500: that looks impossible! Hmm, this forum post suggests trying Antibodies on medium, maybe I’ll be able to manage that? I might go back and work on some of the remaining Pro Keys goals once I’ve gone through all the songs: five-starring all the songs on Expert seems like it’s just out of reach without heroic effort, but hopefully I’ll be able to five-star them all on Hard? (Heck, who knows if I’ll be able to three-star them all on Expert without turning on no fail…)

I doubt I’ll be done next week: even though I have only seven songs left, I just don’t see myself finishing both Antibodies and Roundabout next week. So probably two weeks left, potentially three weeks. (I may end up going out and buying sheet music for Roundabout, so I can practice it on the piano, albeit in a significantly different form.) My MIDI adapter should show up this week, so I’ll definitely want to jump into Pro Guitar soon; I may actually end up interleaving the two, because my fingers definitely need more toughening up before they’ll be able to handle long stretches of play on the Squier. (Just playing Alice’s Restaurant for a bit last night was enough to get my fingers aching.) Fortunately, that only affects my left hand, while I only use my right hand for keys, so switching between the two shouldn’t be a problem.

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Pro Keys Status, February 27, 2011

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I didn’t have a lot of time this week to play Rock Band, but I did manage to finish off the last six Challenging songs. Which, it turns out, was enough to give me a nice boost: I’m rank 65 now.

I'm at rank 65 with 8,818,345 points

That’s an improvement of 535,479 points compared to last week, or almost 90,000 per song. Which is particularly surprising since there was one song (Break on Through (To the Other Side)) that I actually didn’t improve my score on at all: for whatever reason, my fingers really weren’t feeling it during the last part of that song today. Actually, there were several songs where I was worried about my performance, but on most of them things clicked eventually and I managed to do a decent job. Still, we’re far past where I can come close to hitting 100% of the notes; in fact, I didn’t get gold stars on any of the songs today, and didn’t manage five stars on all of them. (I am not alone in this; I’m still happy with my per-song ranks, and I managed to hit 23rd place on Portions for Foxes today.)

Right now, 50th place is 9,259,776 points; even allowing for other people improving, I should be at the very least close to hitting that rank at my next session, and may pass it. (Assuming I don’t take time off after GDC craziness.) I have 18 songs left; if I can average 90,000 point improvements on the remaining ones, then that will put me at about 10.4 million points. Which may be a bit optimistic, but probably not too much so: as the songs get harder, they generally contain more points, so there’s more room for improvement, and that seems to be making up for me missing more of the notes. (And it’s not like I did a spectacular job on my first run through the songs, either, the counterexample mentioned above aside: most of them I’ve played through successfully once on hard and once on expert.) So even if today was a bit of an exception, hitting 10 million points looks very doable now.

Though not everything is going well for me in the Rock Band leaderboard watch: Jonathan is now 18,088,640 fans ahead of me. And that gap will get wider before it gets smaller: working on my pro keys skills is great, but it doesn’t actually end up netting me any in-game goals. So my fan count will stay close to where it is until I get done with my current project and start working on another instrument, and who knows how many fans he’ll have by then.

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Pro Keys Status, February 20, 2011

Feb 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I finished off the moderate songs yesterday, and did the first three challenging songs. I didn’t manage to 100% any of the moderate songs; some of them I’m fairly confident that I could get 100% on if I tried hard enough, but on many of them that’s not the case. In general, I’m finding songs at this level to be a lot of fun to play and learn: it’s hitting the sweet spot of being complex enough that I enjoy the music and enjoy the learning process while not overwhelming me.

I'm at rank 77 with 8,282,866 points

I’m up to rank 77 now, with a little over 8 million points; that’s up 19 positions and about 550,000 points compared to last week. That’s an average improvement of almost 70,000 points per song; if I can keep that up, I’ll end up somewhere in the mid 30’s. Which isn’t completely crazy—I’m in that area for a fair number of individual songs—but of course other people are improving as well. Still, hitting 50th place doesn’t seem as unachievable as it once did. If things go well, I could even conceivably get a score of ten million; we’ll see how close I end up, and if the answer is “very close” I’ll probably go for it.

When we were playing through London Calling a week and a half ago, Jonathan asked if I’d been paying attention to my fan count. I hadn’t been paying attention too closely at the time, but I quickly figured out why he was asking; Jonathan, I’m paying attention to my fan count now:

malvasia bianca 281,323,808; Academy of Dr X 277,149,520

My apologies for the crappy screenshot: I don’t see a way to get that leaderboard on the Rock Band website. Which is too bad, because that screen shot is out of date: I’m actually at 289,672,432 fans now. Though I imagine that Jonathan will pass me again soon: the main reason for my recent climb is that Liesl and I finished off the road challenges over the last two weekends (we still have gold medals to earn on some of them, but at least now we’ve completed everything), and that’s given me a nice bump. It looks like he’s going through songs on guitar and keys now; that should give him a convincing lead over me.

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Pro Keys Status: I’m Number 96!

Feb 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I'm rank 96 with 7,735,307 points as of February 13, 2011

I had a lot of free time this weekend, a fair amount of which I spent working on Rock Band pro keys songs, and it’s paid off: I’ve reached my goal much faster than I expected! Specifically, as of today I’m rank 96, with a score of 7,735,307 points.

Which I am super excited about. And I’m nowhere near done: I’m only four songs into Moderate difficulty, which means that I have a full three and a half tiers of songs to improve my performance on. Which is just as well, I’m sure that by next weekend I’ll be under 100 again if I don’t do anything; but clearly I can do a lot better.

Right now I’d need about 9,100,000 points to reach 50th place; that would mean I’d need to improve my score by about 50,000 points on each of the remaining songs, which seems (barely) doable. Of course, by then the bar for 50th place will be higher, so I probably won’t ever reach it, but I should be able to put quite a bit of room between myself and 100th place. It’s certainly not uncommon for me to be somewhere in the 30s on individual song rank, though it’s also not uncommon for me to be quite a bit lower than that.

I’ve given up on the idea of getting 100% on most of the songs. I only managed it on two of the Apprentice songs and one of the Solid songs; I could get 100% on many more if I tried, but not all of them (there’s one Apprentice song (Humanoid) that I haven’t even gotten five stars on yet), and so far I’m not convinced that I’ll be able to get 100% on any of the Moderate songs even if I put in quite a bit more work than I have.

Judging by my ranks on individual songs, my skill set seems quite a bit different from many of my competitors’. I’m still not particularly good on songs that are fast and repetitive, so even when I feel like I’m doing well on those my rank is in the three-digit range. Conversely, with songs that are more melodic or that have what seem to me to be completely natural chord progressions, I’ll find myself in the mid 30’s after not very many attempts, even though I miss a few notes that I know I’m capable of hitting. It makes me feel better about my guitar scores – I feel that I’m a pretty decent Rock Band guitarist, but I’m not nearly as good at the really hard fast songs as many people seem to be, so I’m happy that, while their skills seem to transfer to some extent to pro keys, having a solid piano/harpsichord background is more helpful.

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Pro Keys Status, February 5, 2011

Feb 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

What with the job search and piano recital accompaniment, I haven’t found time to work on my Rock Band 3 pro keys skills for the last few weeks. And, as I feared, my rank has slipped: I’m now at rank 174:

I'm rank 174 as of February 5, 2011

I did put in an hour or two today, however, doing the first three apprentice songs. The Con was easy to get 100% on (I think I did it on my second try); Werewolves of London and Heart of Glass are both quite doable, but I haven’t yet managed either of them. I didn’t even get gold stars on Heart of Glass, but that’s because it’s graded way too hard: on my best run, I only missed one cluster of notes, got rank 129, and only reached five stars on the (admittedly quite long) final chord.

I’m not sure how much effort I’ll sink into the 100% goal. I’m enjoying putting in a good effort on songs, but playing Werewolves of London over and over again hoping to not get bored during the repetitive chord progression while staying focused enough to hit the flair at the end accurately got to be a bit much. So for now, I’m thinking that I might relax on that and just give each song a few solid runthroughs to work out the kinks and then move on.

Just doing well but not perfect on those three songs was good enough to get me another 100,000 points. Which is good, because the bar for rank 100 is now around 7,500,000 points, and I’m sure it will be higher by the time I get close.

Playing this and practicing for the recital has gotten me wondering more about the virtues of memorization. My daughter’s violin teacher uses the Suzuki method, which means that she’s had to memorize all of the pieces she’s been playing. And both experiences have made me wish that I were a bit better at translating directly from sounds to fingers: I have decent musical memory, I think, but I’m not using it enough.

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Piano: Recital Accompaniment

Jan 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I haven’t had much time recently to work on my Rock Band 3 pro keys skills. Part of that is due to a secret project, but part of that is because my daughter’s violin teacher has roped me in to do some of the piano accompaniment for an upcoming recital. Most of the pieces are easy enough that I don’t have to practice much to play them well enough not to distract from the students’ violin playing; a few of them are trickier, though, so I need to put in some time on those ones.

And I can confirm: it’s not just Rock Band‘s imagination that I have a hard time playing repetitive notes quickly with a sufficiently accurate rhythm, my hands really are pretty rusty. Fortunately, I’m getting better, so I think that by the time the performance rolls around (the Friday after next), my playing shouldn’t distract too much.

With luck, that will make me better at Rock Band, too. But it’s also a reminder of the physicality of keyboard playing: not just different fingers reacting differently, but different keys at different heights, fingers on different positions depending on the surrounding notes, and different instruments having different notions of how far you have to press a key for it to register. So I’ll continue to whine about Rock Band‘s lack of audible feedback; I should probably spend more time playing on the keyboard in GarageBand via the MIDI adapter, to understand its behavior better.

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Rock Band 3: Pro Keys Status

Jan 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When I bought Rock Band 3, I dived right into pro keys; here’s my current status. I’ve gone through all the songs (including the hall of fame setlist on hard); the only songs that I haven’t done on expert are Antibodies and Roundabout. Also, I’ve done all but one of the training lessons. Roundabout is its own special thing, but for Antibodies and the lesson, the main issue is that I have a hard time playing fast repetitive notes with a sufficiently accurate rhythm. I find it frustrating that I can’t hear my mistakes, but I don’t have any evidence that being able to hear them would actually help. (I should probably just try Antibodies and the lesson on a real piano, so I can better understand what my fingers are doing.)

I’m thinking that I should delve into the songs more deeply, though: see what it feels like to master them instead of being happy with completing them successfully. On a related note, the game brings out my competitive nature, so I am paying attention to the leaderboards a bit; when I first went through the songs, I was in around 100th place, but now I’ve dropped to 152nd.

I'm rank 152 with 6,505,853 points as of January 16, 2011

(This is for on-disc songs only – no sense measuring myself based on how much DLC people have bought.)

I’ve started going through the early songs trying to master them; I’ve gotten 100% on all the warmup songs but, well, they’re warmup songs for a reason. (Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have to go through several of them a bunch of times…) I’m vaguely curious how far I’ll be able to keep getting 100% without putting in hours of effort per song; I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do some of the apprentice songs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I couldn’t do all of them. Conversely, I’m also curious to see how well I’ll be able to learn the impossible songs: 100%ing any of them isn’t plausible, but maybe 5-starring most of them is a reasonable goal?

Right now, the person in 100th place is Bebedora with 7,207,975 points. Earning an extra 700,000 points seems eminently doable: even on the warmup songs, the difference in score between my first performance and my best performance was a few tens of thousands of points, and I’ve got a lot more room for potential improvement on the later songs. (Though of course maintaining long streaks is that much harder on the later songs; incidentally, I still haven’t earned the “Pro Keys Streak 500” goal, though I’m not sure what my longest streak is.) But the bar is getting continually raised—when I checked on this a couple of weeks ago, 7,000,000 points would have been enough to get 100th place. So, while I still imagine that I’ll be able to crack the top 100 again at some point, I don’t expect to be able to stay there indefinitely: I’m not a bad pianist, but there are many much better pianists than myself, and many people with a lot more time to devote to playing Rock Band.

Still, it will be fun trying to reach that goal, and hopefully I’ll learn something along the way.

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