When musicians become gamers

Video games like the Guitar Hero franchise and the recently released Rock Band give gamers a chance to become “musicians”, if only in pretend. It was by happy accident (thanks to shuffle mode in iTunes) that I heard a discussion yesterday with NPR music blogger Carrie Brownstein on an (unfortunately unknown to me) NPR program on the subject.

The discussion centered on what Carrie had written in the post Are We Not Gamers?, which in turn derived from a review of Rock Band that Carrie wrote for Slate.com.

The line between gamers and non-gamers is clearly diminishing, if not already obsolete…. The best and newest games, such as Rock Band, meld the virtual with the actual; they make little distinction between what is palpable and what is imagined. With Rock Band, you are hanging out with your very real friends, playing along to the master recordings of real songs, and on screen you are atop some of the biggest stages in the world.

Of course, the truth is that you are nowhere except in front of your TV. But Rock Band professes that it doesn’t matter–though you might not be creating memorable music with your friends, you are creating a memorable, real-life moment, all with the help of the unreal.

I likely would not have written anything here about that discussion (or the blog or the review), except for something that happened to me on Monday night. On that night, I attended a parent’s meeting for my son’s high school band (he’s a percussionist) at which a local music store salesman presented SmartMusic.

My first thoughts (I hesitate to say) as he went through the demo were along the lines of, “This is a lot like Guitar Hero, except with real instruments.” To say that I was impressed with the system would be an understatement. Of course, it could have just been good salesmanship by the rep, but I don’t think so. Here’s the basic description of SmartMusic in their words:

Students never practice alone when they have SmartMusic at home. This interactive, computer-based practice system helps students get better faster, and makes practicing more fun. With amazing accompaniments for more than 30,000 titles, challenging exercises, and the ability to record personal CDs, SmartMusic is the future of music learning.

With SmartMusic loaded on a computer, students plug in a vocal or instrumental microphone and begin practicing. They play or sing their part with accompaniment and receive, in real time on the computer, detailed feedback on their performance. Ideal for woodwind, brass, string, and vocal musicians of all levels.

SmartMusic is your instant backup band that makes practicing fun!

If you remember Marc Prensky‘s 12 reasons games engage us, SmartMusic seems to meet all but the last one. Basically, they’ve taken the things that make learning in video games fun and applied them to learning in real life.

3 thoughts on “When musicians become gamers

  1. For a more guitar hero like experience, try out StarPlay!

    StarPlay provides recordings of real musicians, bands and orchestras. You get to be part of the band – hear the other musicians as you watch the video from your chosen spot – StarPlay listens to your performance and helps you perfect the piece with instant feedback as you play. With StarPlay you practice with real musicians, playing real music using your own instrument!

    The idea behind StarPlay actually came about from a one-day-session where students would join a professional orchestra and practice and perform together with musicians from the orchestra.

    Each student is designated to a player from the orchestra and the player provides the student with encouragement and feedback as they play. At the end of the day, the students will perform together with players from the orchestra.

    For many of the students, this was a once in a lifetime experience which inspired them to continue with music for life. StarPlay captures all the elements of this experience.

    StarPlay is currently available for free and supports woodwind, brass, strings and voice.


  2. Thanks for this. I didn’t know about SmartMusic. I’ve just completed a report (in the UK) looking at the links between console gaming and music, particularly focussed on whether young people are getting into “real” music making via console games. Get in touch if you want a pdf of the report. All the best, Andrew


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