My Rocksmith 2014 Journey – From Zero To Hero
Playing a guitar is art. Even if you’re playing badly, you’re still making music. It might not be the best music or be close to what the professionals are doing, but it’s still music in one form or another. But really making the stringed instrument sing with melody and intensity is a different experience altogether. You get that chilling feeling in the back of your neck and you just feel like you can take on the world. You are making something truly beautiful, even if it’s just for yourself. I wanted to achieve that feeling and I chose Rocksmith 2014 to be my teacher. It combines both my love for music and gaming in one delightful combo.
This is going to be my personal account of Rocksmith and learning guitar and not a description of the game’s mechanics, features and weaknesses. If you want to know those things then I recommend you read through my pretty extensive review of the game. Rocksmith 2014’s tagline is “learn to play guitar in just 60-days”. I took this as a sort of “challenge accepted” and vowed to play every day for at least a couple of hours and since it was still holiday during that time period, I practiced for far longer on a daily bases.
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First, some history. I’m a sort of late bloomer to instrumental music since I only listened to musically devoid genres up until my teen years. I then discovered Guitar Hero and that opened my mind to all kinds of different music and caused that I now have an obsession with musicality and solid instrument work. I played Guitar Hero and Rock Band for years on end, becoming quite good at both the guitar and drums, but mostly the guitar. Throughout this timeframe I would often get comments such as “learn to play a real guitar” and “if only your fingers could learn how to be so fast on strings”. I genuinely wanted to learn the real thing, but I couldn’t because I spend so much time and money on gaming already. Little did I know that my obsessive Guitar Hero playing would actually help me on the journey to becoming a guitarist.
I decided to take the plunge by buying the Rocksmith 2014 bundle with the Epiphone Les Paul Junior, which is a solid guitar, but lacks real “guitar prowess” if I can call it that. It’s by no means a bad guitar, but it isn’t at the level of say a R3000 guitar. Still, it does the job and provides me with a way to play. With the equipment procured, an itch in my fingers and a dream, I decided to dive into the magical world of learning an instrument. I need to put a dent into the whole “10 000 hour” rule after all.
When I first booted up the game, I went straight to the Learn A Song mode to first check out the setlist and then decided to play the song that Rocksmith recommended to me which was R U Mine by Arctic Monkeys. There I was, all bright eyed and willing to prove something on this song. Of course, like I highlighted in my review, the song starts off with only a few notes to give you a bit of an idea of how the fully charted song would be like. For the most part, it was simple. I had to go from 2 to 5 and maybe 9 all on the low E string (the thickest string). I could feel that I struggled with the finger placement of the frets because I wasn’t used to looking for the 9th fret then subsequently hitting it too. I could tell that I was going to need some practice.
I understood that learning the guitar isn’t going to be easy. It’s a complex instrument with thousands upon thousands of potential sounds. It’s daunting, sure, but I felt that I had it in me. On to the second try of the song. This time with the difficulty ramped up a little bit. I then started struggling. The notes are now fast and require me to perform complex changes very quickly. I did manage to overcome it, but then the game leveled me up and threw chords in my direction. The confusion on my face was priceless. I had no idea what I was doing, I still struggled to get to correct frets and I just royally screwed everything up.
After this ordeal I wondered what the song would look like on full taps. I went into the Riff Repeater and put the difficulty to maximum and sweet lord did it look daunting. I thought it would be damn near impossible to do something like that. Little did I know that this song on max at the current skill level that I am now would actually be a cakewalk. But I’m getting far too ahead of myself here.
I knew I needed to practice. I needed to learn and I needed to get myself to be better. I then used Rocksmith’s lessons and Guitarcade to increase my skills and those really did help me a lot. The lessons showed me all the theory and how I can do it and the Guitarcade helped me refine my skills in the certain techniques. There were some days where I would be playing the game for 8 hours straight, jumping between lessons, songs and freestyling. My fingers sure took a beating in that time to the point where I had to take a day off just for them to heal up a bit. It was now physically painful to put my tender fingers on the strings so I decided I needed a little break.
Break was over in a day and I jumped right back into it. My main hurdle was probably chords. They were hard to do in the first place, but because I had such massive fingers and big, fat hands, the were even harder for me. There was one chord that I didn’t struggle with however and that was the two fingered power chord. If you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, it’s when one finger is on a fret and the other finger is on the next string, 2 frets down. It’s a simple and easy to use chord and thankfully for me there was a song that exclusively used on the highest difficulty. Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones. It’s an archetypical punk song with simple chords and patterns and it wasn’t hard at all to figure out. The song itself only really required fast strumming and the chord progression is really easy to remember.
After playing the song a few times, I was playing it on maximum difficulty. I still managed to hit the notes and then it bumped me up to Master Mode. Because I played the song a few times already, I already knew the chord progression and rhythm of the song and I could now play it almost flawlessly without even looking at the screen for the correct notes. My God, I learned a song. This made me so excited that I just wanted to experience it again. On to the next song.
The next breakthrough that happened in between the constant practicing and jumping between songs was with Now by Paramore. Yes, I know, not very manly, but their instrumentation is very good. The song didn’t look that hard with little chords and a lot of basic fret changes. I decided that this song was going to be my project for the next few days. The intro (as well as similar future parts) was probably the hardest to master. The tabbing would go like this: on the low E string it’s 5 slide to 14 twice, 7 slide to 10, 7, 12, 10, 7 all while continuously strumming those three times each. You can tell I’ve played that song a lot because I just recited that from memory, but regardless. The rest had to do with the G-string (giggle) and the B-string with fast strumming frets being played across most of the fretboard. Then there was a distorted section that required to do simple barre chords (holding multiple strings on a single fret). That’s basically the song.
I practiced and practiced and finally I was able to do it again. Learn a full song and can play it from memory. It also helped that it wasn’t a very simple song to master and actually required a fair amount of skill. I then proceeded to the next song and the next song as so it went on. With each song, which took me a few days to fully learn, I progressively became better and better. I played chords out of muscle memory, it was easier to find my place on the fretboard and so on. Now I could take any song and be at least a little familiar as to what is needed of me. The weeks flew by as I practiced and became better and better. My fingers started peeling skin and I once even had blisters on my fingers (10 points to whoever gets the reference), but they soon became calloused and now I can play without a hint of pain.
So there I was 60-days later. I could play a fair amount of songs already, some of them simple and some of them fairly hard. I can improvise on the guitar and make my own melodies thanks to the techniques I learned. I am now a guitarist. I can genuinely say that about myself now. I’m not the next Hendrix or anything, but I got some chops.
Earlier I said that Guitar Hero helped me and I would like to explain how. There were a few songs I played where extremely fast passages would jump up, but all on one string. Now, with me being quite good at rhythm games, I could nail these passages much easier than say someone that has never touched a guitar before. I’m also quite decent at tremolo picking (picking a string extremely fast up and down, almost like controlled masturbation) and that technique is fairly hard to learn. But thanks to playing Guitar Hero for so long, I already had the wrist power and the control necessary to do it well. Those stupid rhythm games helped me a lot at becoming a real musician so don’t believe the YouTube comments on a Through The Fire And The Flames Full Combo video.
I’ve now passed the initial learning stages and I’m now ready to tackle bigger things. I recently purchased the System of a Down song pack that appeared on the Rocksmith store that contained three songs: Aerials, Toxicity and BYOB. I learned all of those in a day. The entirety of the songs in a single day. I’m going to be a bit arrogant and say that that is extremely impressive for an amateur guitarist. With Aerials, I learned the whole song in just two sessions. I knew the chords, the fret progressions were easy to learn and there was a simple rhythm. I applied all that I have learned and mastered a song in no time. There’s nowhere to go but up at this point.
Here is a list of the songs I have mastered so far:
- Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones
- Everlong by Foo Fighters
- Now by Paramore
- Hollow by Alice in Chains
- Stone by Alice in Chains
- Would? by Alice in Chains (grunge songs are fairly easy)
- Knights of Cydonia by Muse (although I’m still struggling with the triplets)
- Welcome To The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance
- Bring Me To Life by Evanescence
- Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard
- My Own Summer (Shove it) by Deftones
- Sweet Mountain River by Monster Truck
- Down With The Sickness by Disturbed
- Hypnotize by System of a Down
- Aerials by System of a Down
- BYOB by System of a Down
- Toxicity by System of a Down (So much System)
Of course, those are only the ones that I’ve mastered. There are a lot of other songs that I only vaguely know and can’t confidently say that I know them well enough, yet they are on my “to practice” list. Not bad for someone that didn’t know his ass from a C minor just a few months ago.
So here I am. I have the techniques, I have the desire and I can only improve from here on out. Now it’s just a question of practice, time and further refinement of my skills. And it’s all thanks to Rocksmith 2014. A videogame that taught me how to make sweet music to make the world a better place.