If you’ve never picked up a guitar before, the promise that you will be able to learn guitar in just 60 days while playing a video game might sound too good to be true. How could it be that easy? In reality, it is a little too good to be true, but Rocksmith 2014 does keep its promise to some extent.
Following the Rocksmith method will help a beginner to learn guitar exercises, chord shapes, and tunes, as well as improve dexterity. However, without a teacher to provide more nuanced feedback, the Rocksmith method also has the potential to teach bad habits and leave you stuck without an obvious path to the other side of technical challenges.
That said, while Rocksmith is not a complete pathway to learning guitar for beginners, it is an effective tool to have in the toolkit for a beginner attempting to learn guitar, as long as it is combined with a teacher or fellow guitarist who can offer feedback on all of the steps to learning guitar for beginners that Rocksmith fails to teach.
What Is Rocksmith?
First, let’s have a little backstory.
Video games have an educational capacity, teaching the player how to engage in specific tasks to achieve specific outcomes. The Rock Band and Guitar Hero games were excellent because they simulated playing guitar in a band.
They did not teach actual instrumental performance, though (although this is less the case with Rock Band since the drum kit was close enough to an actual drum kit that playing Rock Band transferred quite easily to playing the real drum kit).
Instead of learning guitar for beginners, these games taught one how to hit buttons and flip a switch in rhythm.
Rocksmith has a similar layout as the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, in which the screen scrolls an image of the fretboard and shows which frets and strings to play in time with the tune.
The major difference with these classic games is that the user trades the cheap plastic controllers that went with those games for a real instrument.
The games come with a Rocksmith Real Tone Cable adapter, a proprietary piece of hardware allowing the user to connect a guitar or bass to the console or computer via a USB port. Rocksmith (2011) and Rocksmith (2014) can be played on the PC, Xbox, and Playstation platforms.
After connecting an instrument, following brief calibration instructions, and undergoing a mandatory tutorial, the user starts learning guitar for beginners.
What’s The Gameplay Like?
While the gameplay is similar to other guitar games like Guitar Hero and Rockband, the layout is a bit different, as Rocksmith needs to show the user the frets and the strings simultaneously.
The visual appearance in gameplay is horizontal with the six strings and fret numbers instead of the vertical layout of other games showing solely frets (or fret buttons, more like).
The part of the guitar neck shown on the screen shifts between frets as the song plays. For example, if the frets needed are mainly in the section between the 4th and 7th frets, then those are the ones shown on the screen. When higher frets are required later in the riff, the screen might focus frets 7 through ten, and so on.
All the strings have different colors, helping the user discern between them on the screen.
The strings are arrayed spatially as they would be in tablature, but the colors and the key in the bottom right, reminding the user which is which, help users to keep track.
One of the essential educational components of the game is the user’s ability to choose the complexity of a song (meaning they can choose stripped-down parts that approximate the song, or the full guitar part), the part they play (such as bass, rhythm, or lead guitar), and the tempo.
When users create a new profile, they first encounter the skill test. The game asks the user to play a song so it can assess their skill level and tailor the game according to the result.
This is something like a pre-assessment, but the game also adapts as the user progresses in much the same way a teacher would utilize a formative assessment.
Riff Repeater mode allows the user to break down a riff, or a part of a riff, or a solo. The game will prompt a user to use Riff Repeater when they are struggling with a particular section of music. This is one of the oldest pedagogical tricks in the book for teaching music: take a small chunk of music, play it slowly, and gradually bring it up to speed and add more chunks until the piece is playable in full. This feature really defines the game as a tool for learning guitar for beginners.
There are also basic mini-games that feature different layouts and focus on training certain guitar tricks and techniques.
Practicing fundamentals requires patience because fundamentals often do not sound like music and they take a lot of time.
These mini-games gamify the experience, making it possible to practice the most tedious elements of learning guitar for beginners while making the whole experience fun.
The game also allows users to tailor their guitar tone with some nice effect options in concert with the Rocksmith Real Tone Cable. It also automatically adapts the guitar tone accordingly if a user selects a new song. For example, if the user selects Bohemian Rhapsody, they will hear that their guitar tone gets pretty close to Brian May’s tone in the song.
Progress and statistic tracking allow the user to see how they’re improving in aspects like successful note percentage, which techniques they continue to struggle with, and on which aspects of their playing, they should focus.
This helps users keep track of their journey and get extra help whenever necessary. It is analogous to the transparent assessment mechanisms essential to successful formative assessment for students.
In other words, people improve faster when they can see how they are doing and what they need to improve in order to get better.
Games and apps like Rocksmith and Yousician tend to show the users what to do and how to do it but do not tell them why.
Essentially it is like showing the tip of the branch but never where the branch connects with the stem, so users end up failing to see the whole tree and the forest in which it resides, which is essential if they are to navigate the forest independently after they finish Rocksmith.
The user doesn’t learn what that technique, pattern, or lick indicates and means.
Rather, they just learn the guitar tricks, patterns, and techniques by heart without knowing the reasons and structures behind them.
Rocksmith is essentially the Rosetta Stone language learning method in the guitar world. The method teaches some vocabulary and basic skills with a unique technique that includes pictures and shortcuts to remember the words.
The method will not bring the user deep into the language, as it lacks the structures needed to make sense and tie the superficial information to a more holistic understanding.
If one’s goal is just to find their way around in a foreign country, this method works. For playing instruments, this approach leaves massive holes in one’s understanding that will come back to hurt later on.
The games and the songs in Rocksmith are great supplements for beginner guitarists who are also attempting to learn guitar using another source, thus Rocksmith is an excellent supplement for a guitar student.
Still, it cannot function as the only source of instruction.
Programming Incorrect Muscle Memory
Another important factor to consider when learning through a game is the risk of incorrectly learning a new technique or pattern, repeating it many times, and engraving it into one’s muscle memory.
With no teacher to catch it, when the user does something incorrectly, the user might end up burning an incorrect technique into their memory.
As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined. Thus, the first steps when learning to play an instrument are essential because this is when the techniques and new skills are being written to muscle memory, which is a huge part of learning guitar for beginners.
Learning bad technique may not hamstring a new guitarist playing simple patterns, but the bad technique will make it impossible to play more complex material.
Bad techniques engraved deeply in one’s muscle memory necessitate ‘unlearning’ bad habits, which often takes just as long as learning them in the first place.
Any self-taught guitarist will attest to how much of a pain that is!
Does Rocksmith 2014 work with an acoustic guitar?
Rocksmith 2014 can now work with an acoustic guitar after the latest update. Now, the game allows the user to use a microphone to transmit audio signal to the game. The game experience is better when the connection is made directly to the computer or console with the Rocksmith Real Tone Cable.
With an electro-acoustic guitar, it is better to use the jack plug for the connection as that direct signal translates into more accurate note tracking.
How long does it take to learn guitar with Rocksmith?
Rocksmith 2014 promises players to teach them how to play the guitar in 60 days, provided they play for an hour per day. Like most things, learning guitar for beginners is not one-size-fits-all, and the time may differ for each individual.
The actual definition of ‘play’ is used by Rocksmith quite loosely here too. Strumming strings is technically playing the guitar, but that’s not the same as being able to play music with confidence and fluency.
So ‘play’? absolutely! But play well? That’s up for debate.
What’s the difference between Rocksmith and Rocksmith Remastered?
Rocksmith 2014 is the updated version of Rocksmith, initially released in 2011. Rocksmith 2014 features a customizable learning curve, stat tracking, richer practice tools, overhauled menus, and new songs to learn and play.
In 2016, Ubisoft updated the Rocksmith 2014 again, allowing players to play the game with their guitar without needing a real tone cable.
The Microphone Mode allowed users to play guitar with a USB microphone or any input device that simulates a mic.
With the update, players could use acoustic guitars with a microphone to play the game.
Playing the game this way costs users the possibility of modifying their tone with the many customization options Rocksmith offers. The clean tone is the only option with a mic setup.
In short, Rocksmith is a great game for beginner guitarists to practice and play for fun. One can learn new songs and woodshed techniques while feeling as though they are playing a game. It is a great supplement for students, but will not suffice as one’s only tool to learn guitar.
The best thing to do with Rocksmith is to use it as a practice platform instead of the primary resource for learning. Learning guitar through Rocksmith is fun, but it is better to learn from a more comprehensive teacher and use this as a supplemental activity.