Rocksmith, Powerful Training Tool or Just Another 'Guitar Hero'?

Despite being the first of its kind, Ubisoft's Rocksmith has caused quite a stir under musicians and non-musicians alike. Does this game really help you better your playing? Is it really the best way to learn to play?

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A year or two ago, while jamming with some friends, one of them mentioned Rocksmith to me. Never having heard of it at that time I asked him what it was all about and the answer was quite impressive to me at the time. I was told that it's basically a lot like "Guitar Hero" but using a real guitar. What's more is that it actually offers lessons to improve your playing.

So once I heard of the new and improved 2014 version I just had to get it, being a massive "music-head" and admittedly filled with childish excitement at the thought of combining gaming and practice time. 

However, once I ordered it, in preparation of its arrival and as to sort out any technical issues I may encounter upon installation, I started reading up about it and realized this game is actually quite the topic of debate among musicians and non-musicians. The main subject of debate seems to be whether this game is really as effective at both teaching and improving guitar and bass guitar abilities as Ubisoft claims it to be.

There are tonnes of "success stories" posted around YouTube about John-Q-Public having known not even how to hold a guitar much less play it, and in a specified amount of time, now being able to jam along to his favorite songs. However, I doubt that a developer will post any video about anyone that could not learn from the game. 

So let's cut to the chase, through all the hype and all the media campaigns and answer the question: Is this an effective substitute for a guitar teacher or just another game with the addition of incorporating one of our favorite pass times into its premise?

...so, upon its arrival I installed the game, sorted out the one or two technical issues and started up, ESP in hand.

What does the game offer? You have the option of learning the songs included with the game (and where applicable the ones you download), you can take lessons, you can play arcade type games using your guitar as your joystick, you can jam with a virtual band and there is even an option to create your own tone, like using the game as a pedal.

The main focus for the purposes of our discussion is of course the first two, learning songs and taking lessons.

The game includes quite a decent list of songs from a few different era's and styles. From the Ramones with "Blitzkrieg Bop," to Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box," to Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" and much more. The list is undoubtedly made up of songs with quite enjoyable guitar parts.

The difficulty of the "play along" style learning of the song is adjusted as you hit more notes accurately. Afterwards you are given feedback based on how accurately you played the song you chose.

Regarding the lessons, the lessons offered starts from the very basics, such as how to hold your guitar, how to hold a pick etc. On the other end of the spectrum there are "master" lessons on your more "advanced" guitar techniques such as "master bending," "master slides," "master chord lesson" and so on. 

The automatic adjustments to difficulty apply to just about all aspects of the game, when you miss a lot of notes or struggle with a technique the game will slow it down for you until you catch up.

So all of this seems very impressive on paper. Does the actual game live up to all of the possibilities that this repertoire claims to offer?

The answer is not as straight forward as it may seem. On the one hand, if you are an absolute beginner and have never touched a guitar in your life, this will undoubtedly bring all the technical based skills to you in a practical and effective manner. No longer will anyone who wants to learn from scratch have to watch a video or read a book and then have to try and perfect any technical skill without even knowing whether they are doing it the right way. In short, it prevents you from picking up bad habits from your first days of playing. When a technique is not performed correctly, the game literally tells you.

In addition to teaching newcomers the basics, the game takes some of the boredom out of practicing each day by allowing you to incorporate your practice into a less mechanical method than sitting in silence practicing whatever technique it is you are working on, by letting you do this as means of playing games. Although limited, the arcade games do offer a quirky alternative to stringent practice sessions and possible loss of interest.

When it comes to those who are already familiar with a guitar or bass guitar, whether you are a beginner or advanced player, the grey area seems to come in with regards to what this game offers.

The usefulness of the lessons will depend on your level of playing, you may have experience in all the lessons offered but on the other hand, there may be certain aspects of playing that you struggle with and that can be improved by working through the corresponding lessons.

Seeing as there is always something new to learn when it comes to music, learning new songs like the ones available to play through the game, can offer you some tips or techniques or skills that you previously didn't have or didn't work on, and the points factor brings a type of motivation to the learning experience and encourages the players to work on fluency and accuracy.

When taking all this into account, it can definitely be said that Rocksmith does have a lot to offer in terms of teaching both new and experienced players some new moves.

Unfortunately though, this game is not perfect, and there are quite a few shortfalls that deserves attention.

On the technique side of things, the layout while playing along, although it could be much worse, can actually be quite confusing to players who use tab and are used to tab. There is an option to invert the neck, but even though this brings a tab look to the layout, it's still far from being fluent and effective.

While the lessons may be good in teaching technique, there is very little in the line of musical theory and the closest you will get to scales is a scale mini game in the arcade section.

Looking at all the factors we've touched on, even though we've only done so briefly, we come to the reason this game draws so many different opinions.

From one side, it can be said that all the lessons are actually just aimed at getting someone to fluently play the songs that are included. Even though it may provide a good foundation towards learning good habits and fluency, it provides very little in learning someone to improvise and does not give you the tools needed to prosper as a guitarist. The training wheels stay on if you are to rely solely on this as a learning tool.

From another prospective, Rocksmith actually does provide the means to practice techniques and build physical ability such as strength and speed, and provides a more stimulating method of doing so. The physical skill that can be taken from it by new players can be used in further learning. It teaches you your first words in the musical language, and should you continue to more advanced playing later these basic skills will always stick with you.

So, in conclusion, Rocksmith is an effective tool in getting new players started out, and experienced players obtain a new sense of fun in playing. As a stand alone teacher it's not enough to get you to the levels of your favorite guitarists, but can give you a strong foundation to build upon if you do take your training further. It introduces diverse styles of writing and playing by offering a wide range of rock music to learn that could stimulate creative development in budding writers and players.

The future looks bright for the genre if the educational range of this game can be expanded. As it is, it teaches good technique but seems to lack in showing players how it all fits together in the big spectrum of music. But hopefully, Ubisoft will not quit in expanding this game to reach its full potential in the near future.

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    vppark2
    My brother got me this for Christmas when it first came out. Cool concept, but Im not necessarily a beginner. Ive been playing for 7 years. Thought there wasnt enough song selection either. I highly recommend getting the 2014 version though. I bought that last Christmas. Song selection is great, and there are songs with different tunings. Not just E standard and Drop D like in the first one. This version will also precisely show how much progress you have in playing a song, and will throw in something more difficult to play. Same with lessons. I learned a lot from this version. I can finally tap decently haha. Also learning pinch harmonics.
    Everlong729
    Got the first one when it came out. It definitely helped alot. My dad had been trying to teach me chords and stuff but it just seemed boring. Having something to play along with that progressively gets more challenging is a great way to learn. I only played it for a week or two just to learn some Nirvana a little bit, but it definitely got me started as a guitarist. I now own two awesome guitars (Les Paul Standard Pro and a Ltd. Ed Firebird)and I feel like I should thank whoever made rocksmith because it made learning guitar a slightly better experience.
    twoshay
    My own experience was this... I live a ways out of town - getting to lessons would be a pain, and no one nearby to jam with. In about a year of self-study I made a little progress. So I picked up Rocksmith and in about a month made more progress than the whole year before. I don't expect this game to replace professional lessons, but it's definitely got me back on the road to sounding more like music than noise. It has also made practicing FUN again.
    VanCricken
    I totally love this game. Definitely it was a major improvement in my motivation to learn how to play and there's also a big community that keeps adding new songs to the library. Right now I have something like 500 songs.
    syntheticocean
    Is it the PC version that has 500+ songs? I only have like 100 songs with RS1 imported.
    twoshay
    There's an 'underground' community of folks building custom songs for it. You've got to be selective, though - lots of the 'customs' are whipped out in an hour or so by folks that aren't getting paid for it... and sometimes that shows. I decided to just stick with the official, licensed inventory for now myself.
    dimlight2
    My way to see it, instead of spending hours playing with a plastic guitar, i think you get more from playing with a real guitar. Rocksmith is such a great educational game. I bought the first one when it came out and it helped me with my guitar playing, correcting some of my flaws and got me into a bunch of bands i didn't know existed. I recommend using the riff repeater before playing a song, that helps a lot. I wanna buy the new one cause it corrected all the wrong things from the first one, and you can play more songs in different tune.
    snoble029
    I don't see why anyone should have a problem with Rocksmith. It's totally different than guitar hero--that's just a guitar-shaped controller, but with Rocksmith it's a real guitar. I don't have this game, but I really want it. I've owned a guitar for about two years, but I'm pretty awful at playing because I don't have the patience to sit down and practice--I'm still stuck on power chords and Crazy Train. Boredom is my main problem, and if Rocksmith can help with that it's the best practice tool I've ever heard of.
    INSULIN
    learn guitar the old fashion way -guitar-amp-tuner and write own songs
    mario_sphinx
    don't expect to be some kind of slash or whatever with this game. this gives you the real basics so you can start have lessons with a teacher. this captivates you, give you notions of the basics, tells you when you miss a note, shows you what to expect from this guitar world. i play this since last december and i can tell you that i really got some evolution. i need a few more and then i'll go get lessons with a professional. don't put guitar pro aside neither the music theory too. if you are new with guitar or bass, try it! you're gonna save the patience of a teacher. if play for a long time, well, then this may be some kind of productive fun for you.
    Eissari
    Got the first one when it came out. It's not that great to be honest. Also it goes to load screen too often, which kills the fun for me.
    StaticBacon
    I have rocksmith 2014, and its great fun. I've been playing for almost a year, and got it a few months ago. If I was just beginning then I would have been much better. The session mode with the adaptive backing band is really good for practising, but i have to admit I learn songs faster on YouTube.
    wafflesyrup
    I'm glad this provides a fun little avenue for beginners but I'm truly puzzled by the fact that the majority of people who use this as a training tool already have Internet access... There's crap out there but there's also free quality lessons. I've taught my self to play all from free online material, none of which was particularly hard to digest and implement in practice. Musical notes, major/minor scale. Harmony. Harmonic function. It's all there.
    axelgarcia1
    i don't practice enough to say i'm "experienced" but i've taken plenty of guitar lessons. it doesn't focus much on the theory but it does help with the actual playing. that's just my experience with it though.
    fanofnumber80
    See as for me, I play this game and I like can't do it but I look up the tabs on the internet and I am good at it, so I haven't came alone the setting to invert the look yet so there may be different versions or I'm just blind, but like I looked up the tabs for The Def Leppard song Pour some sugar on me, I am pretty good at it but I play it on the game I dont even know what I'm doing I think its just how you approach it so all in all do what is better for you
    Beximus
    I think that's a fair review, and I agree with the conclusion. As someone who's probably just above a beginner's level, I find it useful as a tool to keep you playing songs you might like but were always scared to try, and give an alternative way to approach techniques in a way that will probably keep you more interested than just sitting alone in your room playing scales back and forth. I really enjoy playing, and as someone who's prone to be easily defeated sometimes, it's been brilliant for me. It definitely needs some kind of supplement to it - actual lessons are probably the best, because just playing the game you've got no one to break you of bad habits, and there's nothing better than having someone there to ask questions to in real time, who can help you. My biggest gripe is that sometimes it gets too difficult too quickly, and if you end up in a song completely struggling, it can really put you off. An easy way to keep it at a certain level (not just riff repeater) for a whole playthrough or more would be appreciated. So yeah, buy it, enjoy it, but don't treat it as a sole learning tool, because it's not quite good enough for that yet.
    danielgoodwill
    I only bought this game (the first one)for the cable. its cheaper to get the rocksmith cable then it is for most of the USB cables ive seen. A little laggy when used with effects but it gets the job done.
    dave.green.1800
    Having tried to learn guitar basics on and off for years I decided to give this a go. It's amazing as a beginner learning tool and very intuitive to the beginner frame of mind. Within a couple of days I had picked up the basics and was switching between chords albeit slowly at first. I've been playing it for about 4 months now and have successfullly transferred skills learned to jamming outside of the game. Experienced playing friends say it's amazing how quick it teaches you compared to a teacher or internet tutorial course and some have bought it solely for the tone designer thus minimising bulky and expensive gear if you just want to jam in your bedroom. I can highly recommend this game as a beginner platform and experienced player game. It broke the repetitive 'f**k this I can't do it' cycle I was stuck in each time I picked up the guitar. Side note: don't buy this game on a PC through Steam, you apparently need the Rocksmith Realtone cable that is included in the same price purchased through Amazon.
    Bigmuthatrukka
    I get what the reviewer is saying but for improvisation the session mode is brilliant, also you can switch key and modes and you get the graphical breakdown of the shape of the notes to play and the tonal match whithin a scale so you can get familiar with this while just randomly noodling away, with dynamic accompaniment. Now if that isn't improv, I don't know what is.
    kratos379
    The game is more about playing than it is about learning music theory, which I think is the main problem. It's all about what you want to learn. If your only goal is to cover songs, then this game should be able to give you everything you need. However, if you want to learn to jam, you'll need more. I would say one of the strengths of this game though is that like online lessons for academics, you can just work on your own at what you're struggling without needing another person there with you. You can move exactly at your own pace as well. I've been enjoying it quite a bit and those are some of the reasons.
    Azrael6676
    I taught myself how to play years ago, and while I'm fairly decent, there's a lot of stuff I do incorrectly, or just can't really do at all. I loved GH and RB for the fun of pretending, but now that I have RS, I don't even touch the other games. I'm unlearning a lot of the bad habits I taught myself, and am gaining a lot of skills I gave up on years ago. While it certainly doesn't beat getting actual lessons, it is still a good learning tool.
    peepster1005
    I'll be honest, I was pretty skeptical about this game when I first saw it. I haven't actually bought the game, though, I've just watched videos of other people playing through songs and posting them on the YouTube. At first, I was super confused (because like the article mentioned, those who are good at reading tabs might be confused with Rocksmiths layout.) But after watching these videos for a while and learning how the game works, I can certainly say that I'm impressed with this game! I've found the notations that Rocksmith offers to be spot-on (most notably the notation for '(Don't Fear) The Reaper' - by far better than any tab you'll find on the internet!). I unfortunately cannot make a comment as to whether or not Rocksmith actually helps new beginners learn how to play the guitar due to the fact that I have been playing guitar for 8+ years, but I can confidently say that the game can definitely help those who are experienced enough to play songs at the hardest difficulty learn how to play a bunch of different songs in their entirety. Definitely worth checking out, if you haven't already!
    dr.avery
    It's nice to be able to jam along with some tunes. There is a wide variety of music to choose from - especially if you don't hamstring your musical taste to "I only like late '90s Norwegian black metal" The accuracy of chord detection is substandard, especially for power chords. The brilliant irony of this, is that you will be furious at the game for getting your score docked while nailing the hell out of a song you couldn't play last week. But then... Wasn't that the point of playing the game in the first place? Being able to play better than you do now? If you're an experienced player, sometimes you're going to know better than the game. Ignore the score and revel in the fact that you've mastered Knights of Cydonia well enough to play it in concert.