why rock band 3 will save music education… or video games. maybe both.


(image from Engadget)

I just woke up from a weekend of Rock Band 3 (yes, I play video games, though haven’t in a while), and I’m pretty sure someone got confused when they put a MIDI out port on my keytar. (The good news: I now have a keytar!) This is a big deal.

As fun as Rock Band was, and as great as it was in getting people interested in music, it was always limited by the fact that all you ever did was press five colored buttons and strum some bar in a weird facsimile of playing an instrument. Close, but not quite. The Rock Band drums were about as close as you got, though playing a song on the Expert level was pretty much like getting behind a real drum kit.

WIth Rock Band 3’s new slew of instruments — and why release a rhythm video game without another collection of plastic instruments? — things got a whole lot more interesting, as the keytar, pro guitar, and drum kit have midi capabilities. I played a couple songs on the expert setting of the Pro Keys instrument, and it was about the same as my fumblings behind a keyboard for my high school (and now faculty) band. When I was in the middle of a song, I realized that I wasn’t just mashing buttons together, I was playing real notes and chords to make up the song. It was pretty great (and on one song, I even got ranked #18 on the Rock Band leaderboards — not too shabby!).

But now, I can take that MIDI keyboard and — with the right adapter — plug it into my computer and use it with GarageBand as a real MIDI keyboard. The new guitar controller actually has six strings and 17 frets instead of five buttons and a strum bar, and it, too, has MIDI out — another real-deal MIDI controller ready to be used with GarageBand, et al.

This is huge.

In my head, I can see an after-school activity or unit in a class starting with Rock Band, working up to the Expert level, and then playing those same songs in GarageBand (hmm… I wonder if you can play Rock Band while using the MIDI out at the same time), recording the results and playing them back. This could make instruments more accessible and definitely more fun to practice than ever before.

There’s a Trojan horse situation happening here, though I’m not sure if it’s to sneak real music education into video games or to sneak video games into music education. It will be fun either way. (Did I mention that I now have a keytar?)