Can you learn guitar only through the video game Rocksmith 2014?
Ubisoft, the company behind this increasingly popular series certainly believes so – and we’re seeing more and more guitarists begin or supplement their musical journey with this incredible game.
In fact, Ubisoft claims that Rocksmith can take an absolute beginner, and turn them into a skilled guitarist in only 60 days. But is that true?
I took professional guitar lessons for several years before setting out to further develop my skills through self-teaching. At the time of writing, I also have just shy of 600 hours logged in Rocksmith and still play it regularly.
My verdict is this: Rocksmith is very good at what it does, and it is a lot of fun. New and intermediate guitarists will be able to build serious skill and play many of their favorite songs, even if they only play this game and do no other practicing outside of it.
However, learning guitar isn’t a single skill – it is a large collection of multiple skills. Rocksmith teaches some of these well, and some of these not so well.
In this article I’d love to talk more about what these skills are, how Rocksmith can fit into a musician’s overall practice strategy, and just how far Rocksmith can take you on its own.
What Actually Is Rocksmith?
First things first, it’s important to understand what Rocksmith actually is.
Rocksmith is marketed first and foremost, as a music video game. Unlike popular game series like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, Rocksmith allows you to plugin your actual guitar, and play actual songs using the notes on your fretboard.
Some people may believe that learning guitar through a video game is somehow less serious than learning it through traditional means. However, it’s clear that Rocksmith can be about as powerful when you consider this:
At its core, Rocksmith is a fancy tab player. It is simply playing out tabs for you that are aligned with a recording, listening to see whether or not you hit the note, and scoring you accordingly.
This means that essentially, it’s not a whole lot different to using standard tablature software on your computer, or reading tabs out of a book. The difference is, many people consider Rocksmith to be much more fun (and this is hugely important to building skill and a willingness to practice, especially for beginners!)
Rocksmith has a number of unique features that make it particularly valuable to beginners, which we’ll cover in just a moment.
What’s Needed To Play Rocksmith?
A few things are needed to start playing Rocksmith 2014.
1. A Copy Of The Game
Alright, this one is pretty obvious. But did you know that the game varies slightly across systems?
Although the Xbox and Playstation copies of Rocksmith 2014 Remastered are identical, the PC version differs slightly and quite frankly, is the superior option if you have a computer that can run it.
This is because there is a mod available for the PC version that allows you to create and add your own custom songs to the game, which can be a lot of fun if you become bored with all of the songs that are already available.
2. A Rocksmith Cable
If you buy a physical copy of the game new, your game will ship with a Rocksmith cable.
Otherwise, you’re unfortunately required to play one in order to play the game. Other forms of connection (like connecting a regular patch cable) to an audio interface won’t work – you need to buy the official Rocksmith cable.
3. A Guitar
You will need a fully functional guitar in order to play the game. Who would’ve thought, right?
The question you might be wondering is, ‘will any guitar work for Rocksmith?’ Fortunately, the answer is yes!
However, electric guitars tend to work best, as the game is able to track them much easier. Because the base game is so heavily focused around rock music, electric guitars also make it easier to play solos.
The game can work with acoustic guitars, but it requires a microphone such as the Blue Yeti to be connected to the system in order to listen for it.
If you’re buying a guitar for the first time and you’re looking for something efficient for Rocksmith, we highly recommend something like the HSS Bullet Stratocaster.
It is an extremely versatile guitar that will sound great with any genre, at a very good price. The way the fretboard is set up also makes it very easy for beginners to play, and there is a lot of room to grow with it.
What Makes Rocksmith A Valuable Learning Tool?
So what actually makes Rocksmith such a valuable tool, both for beginners and experienced players alike?
It turns out, there’s a lot that makes Rocksmith unique, which is surely why it’s become so popular among guitarists.
As mentioned earlier, Rocksmith tracks your playing to see whether or not you hit the right notes at the right time. For most songs, there is even the option to automatically raise or lower the difficulty depending on how many notes you hit.
The game will also tell you if you hit notes early, or late.
This immediate feedback can be very useful, especially to a beginner who may not have a trained ear. Early on, it is not always easy to tell whether or not you played something correctly or incorrectly. With Rocksmith, the tracking is pretty accurate, and you can see yourself improving over time in an undeniable matter.
This is pretty motivating!
2. Riff Repeater
Rocksmith has a feature built into it called Riff Repeater, which essentially is a convenient way to practice certain sections of songs.
Rocksmith breaks each song down into different sections. For example, different sections of a verse, choruses, and of course solos are all split into separate sections.
Using Riff Repeater, you have the ability to immediately jump to any section of a song and practice it. You also have the ability to adjust the playback speed, or turn the difficulty up or down.
3. Dynamic Difficulty
All of the songs within Rocksmith 2014 have various difficulty levels built into them.
At easier difficulties, Rocksmith will only show you the most essential notes. As difficulty increases, so do the number of notes and extra techniques (such as slides, bends, etc.)
However, Rocksmith also has a feature called dynamic difficulty – which will automatically raise or lower the difficulty for certain sections based on how well you’ve played them in the past. As your skill increases, it will start you out on higher difficulties for new songs in the future.
Anyhow, this feature ensures you’re often playing just above your current skill level, making it effective at growing your skill.
That being said, you can always override dynamic difficulty, or even disable it completely if you wish to do so.
4. Large Song Variety
One thing about Rocksmith that makes it such a great tool for guitarists is the sheer amount of songs available.
The game itself ships with over 50 songs, and there are over 1,000 popular songs available for purchase for a few dollars a piece.
These songs cover a wide variety of genres, skill levels, and techniques. Additionally, many songs have additional parts charted out for rhythm guitar and bass.
Many guitarists – especially those who are still early in their guitar journey tend to play the same songs they are comfortable with over and over again. Because Rocksmith adapts so well to the individual playing it and the layout is so great for sight-reading, you can really feel like a rock star while playing. Nailing a song you haven’t practiced much before is an incredible feeling!
Playing a wide variety of songs also has the benefit of training your ear – making it easier to create and play your own material.
5. You’re Forced To Look At The Screen
Muscle memory is a critical skill, that Rocksmith can help build.
When you play tabs at your own place, you may find yourself constantly looking down at your hands to make sure they’re at the right frets before playing the note.
Because the songs in Rocksmith are constantly flowing, this becomes difficult. You’re forced to look at the screen in order to keep up with the upcoming notes, which means you don’t have time to look down at your fingers.
Over time, you will become more familiar with where the various notes are on the fretboard, and will have to look down at it less – even when you play outside of Rocksmith!
6. Additional Minigames To Practice Technique
Rocksmith has a collection of minigames inside of it, that are designed to help you improve your technique.
For example, a game called, ‘Temple Of Bends’ has you bend certain notes in order to escape spikes that are chasing you. Another game called ‘Scale Runner’ has you in a car, playing notes of scales to change lanes while you run from the police.
It is essentially just a fancy way to practice scales, but the way it’s setup makes it easy to get lost in and play for a long time. Many players have reported that they’ve gotten much better at soloing due to Scale Runner, as they no longer have to consciously think about what notes to play.
While I wouldn’t say they should replace traditional exercises, they certainly have an overall benefit and can be a great place for beginners to start out.
7. Interactive Lessons
Rocksmith includes a small series of built-in guitar lessons. These consist of videos demonstrating the technique, then prompting you to play it.
Because Rocksmith tracks your playing, it can detect the most common mistakes you’re likely to make, and give tailored advice to help you correct it.
Unfortunately, the series of lessons isn’t really that large, and just because you get your instrument to make the correct sound doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing with the best technique. However, these can still be quite useful to a beginner, and can aid you in playing increasingly difficult songs as your skill progresses.
8. It’s Flat-Out Fun!
More than anything, Rocksmith is just plain fun.
Rocksmith will simulate different amps, cabs and pedals in order to shape your tone as close to the actual song as possible. This means that your guitar sounds almost like the guitar actually used for the song, which is incredibly fun and makes it easy to really rock out.
Combine that with the fact that you can play a wide variety of songs at a skill level that suits you, and you’ll find yourself surprised with how good you’re able to sound.
This can be incredibly motivating and build a lot of confidence.
More so than anything, enjoyment of the instrument is critical to building skill. If you never have the desire to actually get better, you probably won’t.
Rocksmith makes it easy to measure your progress, and have a heck of a lot of fun while doing so!
Where Rocksmith Can’t Help
Unfortunately, Rocksmith on its own probably can’t turn you into any sort of guitar master – although it can get you pretty far.
Guitar is a series of many skills – not just one. Some of these skills can’t be taught simply by playing other people’s songs over and over again.
1. Proper Technique
Rocksmith tracks your playing, but the only thing they’re able to detect is the sound that came out of your instrument.
And just because you hit the right note, does not mean you did so with technique that will serve you in the long run.
For example, imagine yourself playing guitar only using one finger. While you could certainly hit every note while you were playing so, at some point you will have to start using your others as well.
Because of that, it’s possible to develop bad habits that can take serious work to undo later on.
2. Timing – To A Degree
Because it takes time for Rocksmith to receive and process the audio signal, there is a slight bit of latency between the time you play the note, and when the game actually plays it back to you.
Normally, this isn’t very significant (we are only talking about a fraction of a second here.)
However, because of the potential for latency, Rocksmith gives a bit of a window for you to play a note, while still counting as correct.
This means you could be slightly off in your timing, but Rocksmith will still treat it as if you played it perfectly.
Outside of Rocksmith, it is up to you to ensure your timing isn’t affected, and work on staying in rhythm – especially playing in a band. Performing exercises to a metronome can help with this.
3. Personality And Creativity
Being a game, Rocksmith has a clearly defined goal – play the song as accurately as possible.
Unfortunately, this means that you’re rewarded for playing things exactly as they are written, every single time, with no variance.
A lot of skill is built simply by playing guitar on your own, without trying to copy exactly what somebody else is doing. The little nuisances that breathe life into your music and make it your own, are all out the window when it comes to Rocksmith.
This is one of the primary reasons why Rocksmith should only be used as an accompaniment to other forms of practice if you want to further develop your musical talent.
What About Bass? Can Rocksmith Teach Bass Guitar?
Just about everything mentioned within this article, also applies to bass.
Rocksmith can be a great way to learn bass, build skill in creating your own basslines by ear, and teach you a wide variety of songs. The fact that Ubisoft supports bass guitar in their game in my opinion makes it all the more valuable, and is surely something many bassists appreciate.
However, it unfortunately suffers from the same drawbacks.
Still, it is a lot of fun as well, and certainly worth trying out! Just make sure to accompany your bass practice with more traditional exercises as well.
Ultimately, Rocksmith 2014 Remastered is an incredibly fun game that every guitarist (or bassist) should try out.
Beginner to intermediate players can use this as a legitimate way to build their skill, and rocking out to some of your favorite songs is a lot of fun regardless of your skill level.
I have found working with students that getting people into a habit of enjoying their instrument and playing it regularly can sometimes be half the battle. When you see what’s possible and how quickly you can build skill just be playing, you may find yourself wanting to practice exercises you previously loathed.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong. Pick up a copy of Rocksmith by clicking here, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them via the comment form below!