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How Rock Band taught me I’m allowed to sing

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It's my turn to sing, and the song is Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I don't know the song, but I know this is a female-fronted band. And I can't sing. A loop of a single note on guitar plays, and our drummer follows the complicated introduction almost perfectly. Some words appear on the right of the screen.

Next, something unexpected happens — words come out of my mouth, sung in lead singer Karen O's register, and the game tells me I'm "awesome!"

I know it's exaggerating — I'm playing on a lower difficulty, and my singing is soft to conserve energy and not draw attention to myself. But it's still encouraging. After a few songs I step up the difficulty to hard, then to expert. I feel my voice getting more accurate as the game gives real-time feedback. With my five gold stars for "Creep," I can supposedly call myself 99% of Thom Yorke.

I'm not going to say Rock Band's made me a good singer — that's totally different from getting a good score, even at the highest difficulty level. But its visual feedback has helped. It's also let me know that I'm allowed to sing — I can sing — even though I'm not up to a high standard.

 

I played the original Rock Band in the kitchen of a student flat in Lancaster, with friends on bass, drum, and guitar. Eventually, we started playing our real instruments together in a practice room. I was on guitar (I was already a decent guitar player) and vocals.

Rock Band has helped me get over any anxiety about singing in front of small groups. I wouldn't have thought, before, to pick up my guitar and sing a song, but Rock Band has got my voice to a standard at which that's fun for me (and not excruciating for those around me).

Rock Band 3 is attempting to do the same with instruments. The "pro" drums, keyboards, and guitars are all actual instruments. Even that guitar with the buttons can be played through a computer or MIDI device, although it is not as guitar-like as its stringed big brother.

I'll be surprised if anyone completely masters an instrument using Rock Band alone, but the series is doing more to bring musical performance to the masses than any one band is doing. Motivated kids have been picking up guitars and microphones since way before music games, but by sneaking them into living rooms, Harmonix is showing people who hadn't thought about it that, actually, musicianship is fun and not as unattainable as they might've thought.


Has Rock Band got you into musicianship? Have you picked up a pro guitar and learned something — or did you find the experience overwhelming? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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