Rock Band 3 will revolutionize piano teaching

I’m guessing this keyboard is basically like an Oxygen or a Korg K25. Remember this?

It was a massive flop. Basically because it taught piano in the traditional context. Repeat after me. Play this scale. Learn this traditional melody. Learn how to read the notes and so forth.

Rock Band ditches all of this and gets to the real issue at hand (for the majority of people): play this song. The catch is that something like guitar or drums is pretty complex to visualize in a reaction-based game. Imagine tablature flying down those five ramps and you can see why they simplified the guitar.

The vocal visualization for Rock Band is a little better, in that it is basically a MIDI grid notation view of the melody. There isn’t much detail; just enough to get the gist of the melody, but it still is a more accurate model than the flying dots.

The flying dots are great by the way. I’ve seen many non-musicians play some seriously hard stuff using the flying dots – it’s a game, but it’s a skill too. Now Harmonix has decided to apply the popular flying dots model to a 25-key keyboard. Why is this earth shattering? Because for the first time, this game-y model of performance is actually being done on an honest-to-goodness instrument. Something where after playing some rounds of the game you could go up to a real piano and play, and it would sound like what you just did in the game. This isn’t just a cool idea for a game, this is the future of music education.

Think of all the tricks and traps and gimmicks music educators have tried over the years to get kids to learn piano. Much of that will be obsolete when this game comes out. Of course, I’m not talking about the long stretches of piano lessons that end in recital performance. I’m talking about the group and class piano methods that aim to teach masses of kids a modicum of basic piano skills. This game basically solves that old problem of “how do I get these kids to get over their fear of piano?”

In my classes, I tend to steer away from heavy piano playing, and address piano as more of a means to an end – an input device among many others for getting your musical ideas to become a reality. I may want to incorporate this game though, as this is the first game that *is* going to be popular, and *is* going to end up actually teaching a skill.

Be prepared, music teachers. Big changes are coming, and they’re coming faster than they ever have before.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

1 thought on “Rock Band 3 will revolutionize piano teaching”

  1. Harmonics has spent a lot of time working out the actual notes of the songs, and it shows. I was more than impressed with the result. All the notes are legit, or rather as legit as a double-octave keyboard can be.

    I don’t think such a system would ever replace piano teachers though. Teachers will always have one thing these gaming systems lack. Tutorials can only take you so far before you get stumped. The ability for a teacher to answer questions is a paramount part of the student’s learning process. Likewise, many teachers ask their students questions that lead them towards the right way to play a note. This is one of the best ways for students to learn the hows and the whys of music theory and performance.

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