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Well, at least Stevie Van Zandt and Britain’s Youth Music seem to think so. A recent article in The Times refers to research by Youth Music indicating that the games have prompted upwards of 2.5 million children to take up musical instruments.

I’m skeptical. No doubt the games are a lot of fun for people who can’t play a musical instrument and they’re probably preferable to your average shoot-em-up. Further, it’s a decent wager that they do pique interest to the point where the kiddies bug mom and dad to buy them a guitar or a drum kit. But these games, while they mimic real instruments, are nothing like real instruments. It’s more like air guitar with props. This really hit home when I saw a video of the band Rush playing one of their own tunes on one of these games and not scoring particularly well.

I’d wager that once the reality of learning an instrument kicks in, junior’s new guitar will soon find a home in the corner gathering dust while waiting for the eventual indignity of placement next to an old stack of gardening magazines at the spring garage sale. Certainly, some kids will stick it out and eventually reach a level of at least modest proficiency, but how do we know that simply offering them real instruments at an early age wouldn’t be at least as effective? If all these games do is create a new generation of “table beaters” instead of competent drummers, haven’t we taken a step backwards?

There are few things that I love as much as playing musical instruments. I don’t know if other people get (or would get) as much enjoyment but there is something to be said for an artistic outlet that grows with you, challenges you, and allows you to express yourself (even if no one cares to listen) throughout your life. I always encourage people to give it a try no matter what their age.

I’m just not sure that pretending to do it is the best way of introducing it to people.

Comments

  1. #1 Rogue Epidemiologist
    December 2, 2008

    I was playing Rock Band over the holiday weekend, and while I was able to beat several levels by singing into a headset mic and playing the “drums,” I assure you I did not magically turn into Phil Collins.

    The thing about that report is that it shows that kids who play these music games are interested in playing real musical instruments, but I guarantee you, two weeks after mum and dad give them a real guitar for Xmas, they’ll give up because learning to play music ain’t easy. Heck, it requires you to *read* things! Like NOTES!

    To keep it up, you really have to hammer in some discipline and you have to supplement with real music lessons. But keep the interest there, too! Let them learn songs they know and enjoy (no more of this “Kum-ba-ya” crap). Pop music is easy to play because it’s mostly chords and simple melodies anyway.

  2. #2 mjfgates
    December 2, 2008

    “Rock Band” isn’t helping my kids learn to play an instrument. It is causing my ten-year-old to learn to sing, though.

  3. #3 Larro
    December 2, 2008

    I play electric guitar and pick up an acoustic every so often. I totally get what you are saying though. I’ve also played in a couple of garage bands but nothing ever came of it (not that I care because to me I have a personal affinity for music and composition).

  4. #4 Gerry L
    December 2, 2008

    I just returned from a holiday visit to my brother’s house where my nephew entertained himself — not me — by playing the drum part in Rock Band for what seemed like a very, very long time. I was surprised that the drumming sound I could hear was so UNmusical. Just a stick hitting a hard surface. Is it always like that … or does he just not have the knack?

  5. #5 Dunc
    December 3, 2008

    The thing about that report is that it shows that kids who play these music games are interested in playing real musical instruments

    Lots of kids are interested in playing real instruments. It usually doesn’t last once they realise how much work is involved.

    If anything, I think these games are likely to exacerbate that tendency. Why spend all that time and effort learning to play a real instrument when you can just pretend?

  6. #6 Bill from Dover
    December 3, 2008

    Maybe it all has to do with the guitar being the easiest instrument to learn how to play badly.

  7. #7 Dunc
    December 3, 2008

    Rubbish – any instrument is easy to learn to play badly. I’m appallingly bad at the bagpipe chanter, and I’ve hardly tried at all. :)

  8. #8 Foos84
    December 9, 2008

    Not long ago, I got together with some guys I used to be in a band with, and we played Rock Band. It was surreal, to say the least.

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