My frustration about Guitar Hero

Posted by steve | Music | Monday 19 January 2009 6:46 pm

So, our teenager has been anxious to have us purchase the Guitar Hero video game, and guitar controller.  It’s an enormously popular video game and I can understand it’s appeal.  I’m going to go out and purchase it.  However, I’m also going to use this BLOG to vent a little about the whole concept.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band (similar video game themes) annoy me.  Here’s the deal.  As a musician, I have a lot of frustration with the general degradation of modern musical values.  I honor creativity expressed in music.  It just sounds like a lot of popular music today is nothing like what I call “real music”.  And, yes I know that classical composers generously “lifted” whole excerpts from each other.  

Yet when I hear modern popular music that has obvious copied sections from music I listened to 20 years ago, it really disappoints me.

I know.  I sound like an old fart complaining about “the newfangled crap these kids call music.”

What bothers me about video games like Guitar Hero is that it seems to substitute learning about playing a real music instrument with learning to play a “fake” music instrument.  The musician in me finds the whole concept difficult to abide.  The best argument I can support is the one where video games like this teach how to play in time and how to recognize chord changes.

It just feels like it further establishes a public acceptance of “just doing” things instead of learning things or gaining a valuable skill.  Learning to play an instrument is difficult and rewarding.  I’m not sure what learning to play Guitar Hero accomplishes.  That’s a bit harsh.  I’m okay with playing video games for the “fun of it.”  I just struggle when I think the video game is a substitute for the fun of playing a real musical instrument.

Okay.  I’ll step off my rant soap box now.



  1. Comment by Brian T. Rice — January 19, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    I feel more or less the same way. The closest answer to this concern in the game-space is Wii Music which seems to have a number of shortcomings despite being a generative music system, and hasn’t sold well.

  2. Comment by Kevin Sano — February 5, 2009 @ 10:58 am

    It’s not that bad actually. The first 2 guitar hero games frequently barrage you with screens like “isn’t it time to buy a real guitar?” and Rock Band in particular likes to give you information about the featured musicians and genuinely tries to get you interested in playing the actual instruments. Almost every employee at Harmonix(the developer) is a musician in one way or another.

    It’s the main reason why I started playing guitar. Playing along with that plastic guitar can actually give you a better understanding of how the songs are built up.

  3. Comment by Mike Stramba — February 17, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Does your teenager (girl ? / boy ?), have any interest in learning to play a real instrument? Has he/she played with any of your studio equipment?

    Why not buy a real guitar, or maybe rent one to see if (s)he has any interest? .. maybe along with a “learning how to play” dvd ?

    btw, I’ve “played at” guitar and keyboard for years, and one of these days maybe I’ll “really” learn to play, beyond my “musical sketches” :


  4. Comment by steve — February 17, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    Hi, Mike. Actually, I already own several guitars and keyboards. And our son has both an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. He rarely plays them even if I sit with him to show him some chords. He does play Viola in Strings Orchestra in school, so I know there’s some musician-ship going on.

    I get frustrated because I believe he doesn’t play any of these instruments on his own (even the viola) because it’s “too hard”.

    Thanks for the comments,
    – Steve

  5. Comment by Mike Stramba — February 18, 2009 @ 2:57 am

    Hi Steve,

    Does he know about midi ? .. or guitar TABS’s?

    Maybe if he downloaded a Midi file or TAB of one of his favorite songs (or you could figure out how to play it 😉 if not available), he might like to ‘jam’ against that .. or learn the song.

    Another neat tool is using a sound editor / utility to slow down guitar riffs. Audacity is free and has a pretty good “tempo slow down”.

    I sympathize with the “too hard” idea. I’ve been “playing at” guitar for years, and have learned some simple stuff, but I too get frustrated when trying to get to the “next level”

    btw, I downloaded some of your music, I particularly like ‘Leaving Me’.

    Have you played with any of the Software Synths like PropellerHead Reason ? (they have a demo on their site you can download).


  6. Comment by Orange Amps — February 24, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    Very true, while the games are pretty fun I can definitely see how it kills the creativity normally involved in music.

  7. Comment by guitar hero — May 22, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

    I like your website. I have added it to my favorites.

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