Music, for me, really started in the 6th grade. Following in my uncle’s footsteps, I chose to play saxophone in the junior high band, which was an instrument that never suited me. I could play, and I wasn’t bad, but band class sucked, playing saxophone sucked, and most of all, practicing sucked. By the end of 7th grade, I was done, relegating my spare school hours to epic fantasy adventure novels in a silent study hall.
A few years passed. I became increasingly interested in music, namely rock and alternative. Artists like The Offspring, HIM, and Breaking Benjamin captured my attention like nothing else could. The heaviness. The musicality. The sheer variation in sound that every band could create from instrument to instrument absolutely floored me.
Being 15 means you’ve got to be cool. Cool with your friends. Cool with the opposite sex. At that age, you’ll do whatever you have to for coolness points. I wanted to be able to create and play music like the artists that I admired. Not trusting my own novice timekeeping, I couldn’t play drums, and my unreliable pubescent voice definitely ruled out singing. That just left guitar. Guitars are definitely cool. They boost you to another level, giving you a +6 coolness modifier. I’d made up my mind. I had to have one.
On a snowy Christmas morning in the early 2000s, it wasn’t just cool…it was downright cold. As I ripped through layers and layers of wrapping paper and tape, I revealed a S101 Stratocaster in tobacco sunburst, along with everything that I needed to start rocking out. I was overjoyed. My saxophone-toting uncle also played guitar, and ran me through the basics. As cool as playing guitar was, practicing still wasn’t cool, because I never stopped sucking, and after only a few rudimentary lessons, my guitar proceeded to collect dust for the next few years. Sure, I packed it away to college with me, but it was nothing more than a cobweb holder.
By this point, I had resigned myself to be a lifelong lover of music, player of none, except on Guitar Hero, which doesn’t really count (though I was a master).
After college, a friend of mine with wizard-like guitar shredding skills invited me out to a few of his live gigs, and I got guitar fever again. But after only a few lessons, practice shredded my ambition, and my guitar became a dust magnet yet again.
When I saw commercials for Rocksmith, the tiny glimmer of musical hope in my soul brightened. Plug in a real guitar and play songs just like on Guitar Hero? That sounds amazing!
And it was. For a few minutes, at least. The original Rocksmith was both a revelation and a frustration for me. Jacking in and playing a real guitar, butchering actual songs that I knew, was like a dream come true. But yet again, it came down to practice, and Rocksmith got in the way of that. The load times in Rocksmith were and are heinously long. So long, in fact, that simply changing between songs became more trouble than it’s worth. If you have the patience to sit through loading screen after loading screen after loading screen, more power to you, but I certainly don’t, and so I gave up. Again.
And yet, I couldn’t quite let myself give up entirely. When Rocksmith 2014 was announced, and I heard that the loading issues from the original had been reconciled, I couldn’t resist. I snapped the game up on Black Friday and dove back in. The difference was night and day. Rocksmith 2014 fixed nearly all of my issues with the original, and I was ecstatic.
I can’t say enough good things about the in-game Riff Repeater. Countless times, that feature has saved me from giving up on a song completely, letting me play at a speed that I’m comfortable with until I get it right. Getting constant visual aid along with your own audio feedback is a method of practicing that just can’t be rivalled.
As I go through songs, I’m constantly encountering new symbols, or configurations of notes, or sounds that I don’t know how to actually reproduce. The in-game lessons are probably the coolest part of the entire package. They literally act as a guitar instructor that you can go back to for the same lessons as many times as you need. These lessons don’t judge you when you have to repeat Bends 201 23 times. Well, maybe it judges you a little. When I say you, I mean me. Power chords are my favorite thing right now, and tremolo is my least. I’m still working on effectively strumming up and down on beat, but I digress.
It’s been well over ten years since I was that teenager, just looking to be cool. My musical horizons have broadened more than I ever would have imagined, but luckily, the catalog of songs available in Rocksmith 2014 has a little of everything. Fall Out Boy? Check. The Rolling Stones? You betcha. Week after week, new DLC is churned out, and with an ever-expanding library, there’s something for everyone. I find myself constantly going back to play Soundgarden, a band I haven’t listened to in over ten years. And I never get sick of playing Rock and Roll All Nite by KISS.
I still don’t practice enough. I don’t even pick up my guitar enough. But that’s not the point. The point is that Rocksmith 2014 literally gives you all of the tools to learn guitar at your pace. My pace is apparently that of a hibernating snail, but I’ll get there one day! For those of you like me, just resolve to pick up your guitar once a day. I guarantee you that more often than not, you’ll look up at the clock, fingers cracked with wear, and wonder where all of the time went. You definitely just got cooler.