Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guitar vs. Guitar Hero

I was pointed out to me by my brother that playing the guitar is a lot like playing a video game: There are certain things you need to do with your fingers at certain times, and you need to memorize the moves (either specifically or generally) before you try it so it works out better.

He's right.

Having played electronic games for over two and a half decades, and finally poking about working on the ukulele, it's entirely true. It isn't true for all types of all computer games, but for example with games on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, you need to know which buttons and triggers to mash when. Some games on computers are finger-twiddlers (mash buttons!). But usually not just any buttons, the right ones at the right times. Which means, your fingers have to be in the right place at the right time, just like fingering for chords on a guitar or other stringed instrument (bass, banjo, ukulele, upright, violin, etc.).

I can see a future where the current Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitar necks don't just have five buttons and a few other controls on the body (see Rock Band guitar info), they have some larger amount depending on the complexity of the device. A ukulele has four strings, so four across by however many you want down the neck. Basses usually have four (although I have a bass with five). Guitars typically have six strings, so six buttons across by the number you have coming down the neck. A great deal more buttons, but the idea and the skills are exactly the same. Where are my fingers positioned, and when? In the TV show Californication, the young daughter plays guitar and also Guitar Hero. Can Guitar Hero be a lead-in to guitar playing? I'm not sure if it is, but it could be.

Here's a good point by my friend Dr. Matthew Bietz. I totally forgot to think about the next step, of production versus consumption. In guitar games, we are consumers, and copy (to some extent) the music. With a real guitar, you make your own music, or make riffs on things, or play things slightly differently and that can be a good thing. Production is much more powerful, on an important, fundamental human level.

The tagline for LittleBigPlanet by Sony and Media Molecule is Play. Create. Share., and when we play music together, that is what we are doing. Playing, creating, and sharing are all community building and community reinforcing activities, and since we are driven to connect, they are all important. Playing a guitar game, there is play, but there is no create and share.
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Ukulele... You may not have much love for the ukulele, but here are some things that may help you down the path.

Walk Don't Run by amazing little Japanese crocheted guys.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps covered by Jake Shimabukuo (who has his own YouTube channel). Over 5.5 million views. He goes nuts at 2:40, although there are hints of what is to come earlier and you should watch the entire video anyway. Amazing.

Here he is, at 1:10 he demonstrates the range of the ukulele. And he's at TED. Most of you have not been invited to TED. TED? Very cool. TED = ukulele.