Several years ago I tried to purse some research on whether or not using music video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero could actually be used as educational tools in music classrooms. While there were a few concepts that could possibly benefit from the use of these and other rhythmic oriented games my final conclusion was that at that point in time they probably couldnâ€™t be incorporated as a legitimate part of any educational curriculum. Fast forward to 2010 and the release of Rock Band 3 and things have changed quite a bit.
Please note that this review of Rock Band 3 is purely from an educational perspective. As a fun game to play with friends RB3 is top notch to say the least, and there are dozens of other reviews of the game for those wanting to explore the game play aspect of it. This review however is solely dedicated to whether the game could actually help a pianist, guitarist, drummer, or singer to play a real instrument better.
Realistic Instruments and Rock Band 3
The biggest thing that has changed my mind from an educational context is the new inclusion of â€œrealisticâ€ instruments in Rock Band 3. Users can now purchase special wireless keyboards and wireless guitars that actually have the appropriate number of keys or strings. When these realistic instruments are used with Rock Band 3 in place of the standard five color button guitars it opens up a new realm of possibilities for teaching actual musical concepts with them, and it appears that Rock Band 3 is headed down the right track in that regard.
Piano Fundamentals, Scales, and Arpeggios in Rock Band 3
For the visually oriented pianist Rock Band 3 might just be a great way to practice certain kinds of fundamental skills. When the user goes into Practice mode in the program and selects the Keys portion of the tutorial they are able to practice dozens of different scales, arpeggios, chords, and fingering patterns that (while intended to help them play the songs better) also do a pretty good job of reinforcing those fundamentals. For a visual learner that does not read music well it may indeed be a better way to get those scales and fingerings into their heads by seeing the top to bottom scrolling piano keyboard to tell them what keys to press.
While the practice mode in Rock Band 3 does not go into any great depth with these exercises it does allow the student to slow down the exercises until they start to get the hang of them. As they increase their fingering skills the speed can be turned up, but the game will not â€œpassâ€ a user until they are able to play a scale or chord pattern two times in a row at 100% accuracy. Another nice thing about the piano section of the practice tutorials is that each one has a brief set of instructions that reinforce the need for proper finger pass under when playing full octave scales.
Using Rock Band 3 as a Tool To Reinforce Piano Instruction
Believe me, for a beginner or novice pianist these exercises can be HARD at the upper levels. For this reason I would not suggest using the program with beginners, however at the high school level, once a student has a bit of practice and experience under their belt, the skills covered in the practice tutorials could be quite useful.
The game includes piano keyboard practice sessions that cover:
- Major and Natural Minor Scales
- Mixolydian and Dorian Scales
- Pentatonic Scales
- Chromatic Scale
- 3 note and 4 note chords
- Advanced scales
From a piano point of view it is my belief that Rock Band 3 could definitely be used as an enrichment portion of any intermediate piano class. Keep in mind of course that there is no traditional notation used in the program, but as any musician knows part of the difficulty of learning scales, arpeggios, and the like is using repetition to develop the muscle memory to be able to do it without active, conscious thought and RB3â€™s tutorials do that quite well. If the student is getting all the traditional notation instruction outside of the game I see no reason why they could not improve to some extent by using the practice tutorials built into the game.