Tuesday, August 5, 2008

So Music's Become A Game Now?

I like to think of myself as an abundant sort of chap. You know, a fellow who shares things and doesn't see things as scarce.

And I'm a musician, well a drummer at least, facing a test of my principles and abundance.

It's all to do with music and kids and what I've seen happening in recent months, whether what I've seen is good, bad or neither. Allow me to elaborate.

It's about these music "games" that are all the rage at the moment. Guitar Hero, Rock Band and whatever the rest are all called. As much as I understand the general gist is that you stick one of these into your Playstation, XBox or Wii thing, you get out the virtual guitar or drum kit and then you become some kind of virtual rock god.

Of course the way in which you "play" the instruments is a dumbed down and de-skilled version of the real thing. Far be it from me to praise guitarists, as they are the nemesis of the average drummer, not that I'm average, but I can see that to play the guitar proficiently requires talent, practice and musical intelligence. I'm sure that John Schofield and BB King didn't spend hour after hour in their bedrooms trying to play the most number of notes in the quickest time in order to become the legends they are.

I know the level of dedication and commitment that is needed to become a good drummer from first hand experience. There is a huge amount of practice required and a certain quantity of "woodshedding" as we call it; when you sit there alone at the kit and keep doing things until they work. But, ask any drummer this and they'll probably agree with me, what makes the best drummers isn't the notes they play. It's not about how fast they can play or how many notes they can cram into a bar. It's about what they don't play, about the notes they leave out and the way they make the music feel.

Yet there's a certain way in which drummers and guitarists are impressed with a chap who can play at twice the speed of Sri Lankan inflation, who can fly around a drum kit or tear up and down the neck of a Strat with the ferocity and blurred sense of motion that can only be matched by the speed of Dinidu downloading some porn as soon as he lands in his next foreign country. It can't be denied that it looks impressive, though maybe not musical, I mean the music bit, not Dinidu.

When I started playing the drums I had lessons for about a year. At that point my teacher told me that, if I wanted to progress my playing and take it to the next level, I needed to join a band. I didn't fully appreciate the wisdom of his words until much later. I though that having lessons, practicing at home and playing along to almost every CD you can imagine would have made me just about the best drummer in the world.

I trusted my teacher's opinion and went out and found a band. It was only then that I realised that playing with other musicians is a totally different environment and learning experience to playing on your own. The interaction and musical communication that you learn and that sort of musical telepathy can only be gleaned from playing with others. It's priceless and the more you do it the more you learn. The teacher was right.

My humble opinion is simply this. To become a good musician you need to learn the basics, to do the woodshedding and master the basic "muscle memory" bits that are required for your choice of instrument. Then you need to go out and put that knowledge to use. You play with other people and learn about the emotional and human side of music. You develop your own style and start to understand that two musicians can play the same notes read from the same page but, even though they'll both play them correctly, they'll feel different.

On the one hand all these games are teaching people (mostly kids) very simplified and dumbed down version of the most basic skills required to play the instrument. Being a top class "Rock Band" guitarist is only one step further up the ladder towards being a top class proper guitarist than being a great air guitarist is. A generation of kids who think they know how to play the drums because they can get a high score every time on their specific game just gets my snobbish muso's back up. I've put in a fairly large bag of effort to get to where I am now as a drummer and I don't want to be confronted by an army of twelve year olds who think it's easy.

Then, on the other hand, anything that encourages kids to take up music or an instrument has got to be a good thing. Anything that develops and grows musical intelligence must be good. I'm an absolute believer in the power of music. It's such a huge positive force and there are few people whose life isn't enriched by music. If there are kids, or adults even, who are playing music games and not playing war games or Grand Theft Violence then that's surely a good thing.

Music's an art form isn't it?

Or is it a game?


Sean said...

Regardless of the simplistic gameplay, I appreciate the fact that Guitar Hero has introduced classic rock to a whole new generation.

My nephews have discovered Hendrix, Sabbath, Queen, GnR, the Stones and loads more. Far better than the Emo stuff they were listening to before :)

DaphnetheGreat said...

Doesn't the good outweigh the bad ?

Ps - Dinidu, you can download porn in Lanka apparently..

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sean - I'm not sure if introducing those bands to kids is a good thing ;)

Daphnethegreat - Yes, it does, just that I guess it's hard to swallow sometimes.

Anonymous said...

My sense is let the snobbishness go dude. The snobbishness is not good. Who's allowed to play the drums, the guitar, how they play it, how they should practice, etc...
Not good. (It's called 'playing' isn't it?!)

Put this slightly differently: what if a 'professional writer' comes along and tells a 'blogger' they gotta learn how to write properly before publishing? You know, with full stips, kommas, and stufff like that, hmmm.... Snobbishness not good.