Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #3

Lurching forward.

Expedition member: Me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 8:30 (3:00 last week)

I've discovered two pieces of information that might be helpful if you're just starting out (as I am).

First, sorting songs to get all the Pro guitar songs can be a bit confusing. When you're looking at the song filter list, it's not enough to just have Pro Guitar listed as one of the filters. You also need to go into song difficulty, and at first, none of the difficulties are checked. If you want to see all the Pro Guitar songs, check all the difficulties (beginner, apprentice, solid, nightmare, etc.), or choose difficulties as desired. That's a bit counterintuitive, but it works just fine, and the resulting song list will contain only Pro Guitar songs.

Second, if you're playing songs on Easy level, none of the song difficulty levels will include chords. That gives you a nice practice bank of songs to use for improving your ability to move your hand around the fretboard.

That's what I've been doing for the last week, playing all the Pro songs on Easy (including the downloads), while occasionally slipping in a new lesson. Like I said last week, that's how I learn something, completely exhausting a particular skill before I feel comfortable moving along.

What I'm noticing is that Harmonix, as has always been its particular genius, has once again provided incredibly detailed training, even on the Easy level. It's just incredibly thorough, and I still feel very confident in my ability to learn this freaky, supernatural instrument, because at no point have I felt overwhelmed.


Now, the update from Trail Breaker John Harwood.

Week 3 - 6.5hrs, total 29.75hrs
Highlight - "Werewolves of London" on Hard Bass is a blast! I was able to move up/down a couple of frets along the neck without looking. He can be taught!
Lowlight - Still can't strum fast/accurately enough for "Runaway" on Expert Bass - Clicking a strum bar has nothing on actually using a pick on a string at high speed.
Injury Level - Bah to injuries, I am invincible!!! (And I didn't play much, so promise to try to hurt myself next week)

Didn't get to do a lot of play this week due to kiddos being out on spring break so no time during the day and generally exhausted at the end of day. Only wound up playing Sunday-Wednesday and not much at that. Spent a bit of time reviewing my basic A/D/E chords on Justin's site and now that I have my minute drills cranking up to 62 changes on average, I figured I'd try one of the songs he recommends. Gave "Peggy Sue" a whirl and while I admire him not slowing the song down and making you pay attention and get used to it at speed, that makes yonder learning curve a smidge nasty. Trying to slow it down involved lots of pausing and rewinding his video. I think I'd learn far better with sheet music (high school band geek), so may dig out some of my wife's old music next week. I'm on the cusp of being able to play something on my own from memory and it's both tantalizing and exceedingly frustrating.

Took a crack at the 2nd lesson in the 1st medium lesson set in RB3 and killed it! Just for yucks, went back to the first one and 100%'d it at speed on the first go. The 2 fret split with index and ring finger really is becoming second nature and both of those lessons were complete show stoppers for me a couple of weeks ago, so it's a very nice feeling. My brick wall at the moment is chord changes and I just can't bring myself to play "The Hardest Button to Button" this week, so I focused on bass instead to continue to get my fingers used to moving around to different strings and get better at picking individual strings.

"Runaway" has gotten pretty routine aside from a couple of tricky parts when you go up the neck real quick (and man, do I want to learn those, they're crazy fun and sound great) and while I can sometimes get one direction down, I've yet to move and get back in time to avoid bad things happening.

Tried out "Werewolves of London" and jumped straight in on Bass Hard and it freaked me out the first time having no idea where to position my hands and when to move vs using other fingers, but then I had a major "duh" moment when I figured out the game is giving me more information than I thought it was: the numbers on the strings in the game are located relative to which finger you should be using. So if the number is centered, that's your middle finger, left side would be index, etc. That makes slowing things down in practice a whole new experience and vastly more useful and I completely take back my thoughts that Harmonix was assuming too much out of me when it came to the single note positioning. It was there all along. I'll need to go back through and review the video tutorials to see where they mentioned that (since I'm sure they did), but I managed to completely miss that.

So after my major Revelation of the Incredibly Obvious, "Werewolves" turned out to be a complete blast. Now I know where to put my hand so it does the most good (and presumably the beginnings of getting used to which finger you'd usually use where in general) and from there it was just a matter of getting the strumming down after practicing a bunch with just my fret hand. Noticed that I was easily moving from the 5th fret with ring finger down to the 2nd fret with my index finger (that's farther than you can stretch) without looking! That's a first! And it was just crazy-satisfying to be able to move your hand down and back without looking and just knowing how far I should move. I presume that'll get easier and I'll take it for granted, but for now that's mighty cool. Akin to when you master the orange button for the first time on Plastitar in Rock Band.
In sad expedition news this week, I believe we've lost Tour Guide David Gloier. After a steady exchange of e-mails in which he's getting progressively more interested in playing guitar and progressively less interested in using a real guitar to play Rock Band, he sent me this:
You know what it is? It's that I didn't need the training bits of the game. I pretty much know how to play. Do I know everything? No way, but that part of the game taught me nothing new. Well, it taught me a new system for reading tabs that I probably didn't need taking up space in my brain. haha. Playing the songs is fun, if I'm into that particular song, but much like the game with the original controller, I start to feel like I'm just parroting the songs. It really makes me want to turn it off and plug a guitar into an amp and just play without the restrictions the game imposes, and there are quite a few restrictions.

It has made me feel much more confident in my playing because sometimes it's hard to judge where you're at when you are learning by yourself, 5-starring some songs on expert quickly made me realize I'm more capable than I, at times, believe.

I really do hope that people who pick this up just use it as a stepping stone to further their playing. I'm sure some will master this game with the Squier and think they've learned all there is to learn, but that would be wrong. I think it can provide a good base and structure to get people off on the right foot and provide enough of a reward system to hold their interest during some of the most tedious parts of learning to play.

Harmonix has done a great job. A lot can be improved, but for the first shot out of the gate with this control scheme, they did pretty damn well.
Now, the plot twist. I e-mailed David and asked if he was bowing out, and he sent back this:
Don't sign me off just yet. I'll get back into it. Hell, I've got $400 invested in the game and controller. What choice do I have. It just made me realize how much fun a guitar and an amp can be. So much more nuance.

I'll attempt to keep playing at least once or twice a week and see if I can give you any more feedback. I really feel I need to play it, but it so much easier to just plug in to an amp. There's no menu and loading screens. ;-)

You can sum up my thoughts as "If you already know your way around a guitar, you may want to spend some time with it before taking the plunge and making a major purchase."

A large part of this might also be attributed to the fact that I just don't play games very much anymore. They don't hold my interest for very long. Every game I've bought in the last three years holds my interest for about a week and then I never get back to it. Is it a coincidence that this started about the time I picked up a guitar for the first time?

So, in summary: we still have an expedition guide, John has outplayed me roughly 3.5 to 1, and I'm still pluggging away at the rate of 30 minutes a day. And if you missed the bolded section in John's portion, by all means, go back and read it.

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