Saturday, February 23, 2008

Guitar Hero and Actual Guitar Playing

Somehow this post managed to stay in my draft waiting for me to finish it for two months, so here it goes.

(If you don't know what Guitar Hero is, it probably means that you just woke up from the dead. So first of all, get a shower because you stink, and then check out Wikipedia).

Some time ago I've seen a comic strip in the internet making fun of people who play Guitar Hero by saying that maybe they are able to finish the game in "Expert" difficulty, but they don't even know how to hold a real guitar and play a basic chord.

This made me laugh mostly because it's true, but then it made me think about it in another way - is Guitar Hero related to real guitar playing at all?

To figure it out I came up with the following questions:
  • Will expert Guitar Hero players learn how to play guitar faster than a non-Guitar Hero players?
  • Will experienced guitar players or expert musicians learn the Guitar Hero skills faster than others?
No doubt a research needs to be conducted to resolve those questions, but I'll try to make some assumptions.

Here are some milestones I thought about that are needed to be achieved in order to gain experience in the game. They are mostly based on my experience and watching new players moving from playing in easy difficulty to hard (I've seen about 5-10 of them).

  • Pressing the first three buttons (green, red, yellow) correctly and strumming downward when needed.
  • Pressing more than one button simultaneously.
  • Dealing with the fourth (blue) button correctly.
  • Starting to connect with the song's rhythm.
  • Using all the five buttons (mostly the fifth, orange button). This implicitly means learning how to move the hand across the "guitar's" neck without looking.
  • Beginning to play a song more by listening to it than looking at every single note.
  • Strumming upward in addition to the downward strumming.
  • Getting used to hard solos.
  • "Parse" a screen full of notes by looking at the large picture, rather than looking at each note.
  • Using the hammer-off / pull-on technique.
  • Quick finger positioning, mostly for 3-string chords (Guitar Hero III).

So basically the important techniques that are being practiced are:
  • Finger positioning.
  • Note reading / parsing.
  • Rhythm processing.
  • Strumming.

Leaving the note reading alone (let's face it – they are not even close to tabs) I think that most of the techniques here are mostly crucial for a fair guitar play. Also I must about myself, that after wasting some time with Guitar Hero and reaching expert difficulty, I really did notice an improvement in my real guitar play, mostly dealing with song rhythms.

So I think that the answer for the first question is yes.

The answer to the second question is much more obvious after the analysis has been done – it's quite clear that experienced players will stumble upon smaller obstacles that the newbies; the things they need to learn is more or less how to handle the fake guitar and how to read the notes quickly. I'm basing that on my flat mate Ami, who is quite an experienced piano player. He finished a song in "Expert" level on his first play ever, and still is the best Guitar Hero player I've ever seen in real life.

Bottom line: not all the games we play are useless: in some we study about vicious weapons and what's the most efficient way to kill a monster, in some we learn how to wear a dog or manipulate George Washington (sorry for the spoiler) and in some we learn how to play a real guitar.

Happy gaming!


lorg said...

I'm wondering, would you set a starting guitar player playing with guitar hero first?

It sounds a bit like Pick-of-Destiny, just more costly.

StatusReport said...

Nah, I wouldn't.

If you wanna play real guitar - go to a teacher or use the tutorials at

It's just a nice method to improve skills by playing with your friends :)

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