Monday, January 29, 2007

The Low Cost of (Guitar) Heroism

Stephen Levy wrote an article for Newsweek titled The Low Cost of (Guitar) Heroism. It's an interesting article with a great lead:
Legend has it that the iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson was granted his otherworldly chops by Satan himself, at a deal forged at a Mississippi crossroads. The price was his soul. In 2007, one does not have to cut such a hard bargain to get the unique rush of being a guitar god. You don't even have to sit in your room and practice for months on end. All you need is a PlayStation 2, a special game controller that looks like a tiny Gibson model SG and software called Guitar Hero 2.

Here's the rub, though:
Clearly, Guitar Hero is fun. But by bestowing the rewards of virtuosity to those who haven't spent years to earn it, is it dumbing down musicianship? If a teenager can easily become a make-believe guitar hero, does that mean he won't ever bother to master the real thing?

That idea has been getting quite a bit of play in the last few days, but Levy has it backwards. It's not how many people won't learn how to play the guitar because of Guitar Hero, it's how many people will. It's not a bad thing--it's an opportunity.

How many of you guys (who don't play already) would learn how to play the guitar if learning it was more like a game? I'd like to learn, but I'm not going to spend a hundred hours of misery staring at a book and plunking chords. I need a score, an objective indicator of how I'm doing. I need measurement.

Levy talked to the CEO of Gibson Guitar about this, and here's what he had to say:
"One of the issues that musical instruments have is that they're difficult to learn," says Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar, which is aggressively integrating computer technology into new product lines. "Building calluses and painstakingly learning all the musical fingering is not creative, but is the discipline to get the creative rewards ... In the future we want to reduce the crap you have to deal with to allow people access to that creativity."

Juszkiewciz understands what is happening, and if they create the right product, they're going to print money. If I could learn how to play the guitar more quickly with the assistance of computer technology, does it somehow make by ability less meaningful? No. Skill is skill.

So if anyone "games up" learning a musical instrument, I'm there. Hurry up.

Site Meter