At last, your shame will end. At last, you will be able to tell your guitar-playing friends that you too can play guitar, well sorta, thanks to Rock Band 3's pro guitar mode. Plus, you will have learned guitar better.
There is a simplicity to Rock Band 3's Pro Guitar mode that words can convey more cheaply, but less effectively and efficiently, than can a copy of Harmonix's next game played with a $150 special guitar-shaped controller in your hands.
Yes, in your hands, with Rock Band 3's Pro Guitar trainer mode running, this device, with all of its buttons, a separate one where each portion of guitar string should go on each fret...
... will seem like the perfectly non-confusing instrument with which to execute the commands that the training software spawns such as these...
A few weeks ago, with a device like the former in hand and an image like the latter in front of me, I overcame my fears and felt, more than I ever had in the past, like I had a shot at playing a real guitar.
When it launches in October, alongside that Mad Catz Pro Guitar you see above, Rock Band 3 will allow its braver and wealthier players to connect Pro Guitar (which doubles as a functional MIDI guitar) to game for a more advanced guitar-playing experience than you usually have when playing a music video game. Pro Guitar is more than just matching a rainbow of five buttons to a cascade of notes on your TV, as you flick a lever that pretends to be every string on the guitar. Pro Guitar mode expects you to ... oh no... know notes and... terrifying... hold down and strum the correct strings and ... shudder... move your hand to different places of that guitar neck while you play a song. Wait. Isn't this what those real guitar players sort of do when they're not sneering at people who play Rock Band and Guitar Hero?
Rock Band 3 has a forgiving and helpful Guitar Pro training mode. This is what we must celebrate. In this mode, you are taught the lessons of playing the closest thing the Harmonix franchise has ever offered to real guitar. As with the "pro" keyboard mode, these lessons are played in real-time, with the notes you need to play cascading down the screen. And, as with the pro keyboard mode, you can slow the lesson, essentially allowing you to downgrade to an underwater tempo if your fingers can't keep up. Once you complete a challenge, you can move on to the next one.
A Pro Guitar trainees gets a note highway that shows the strings of a real guitar. A note icon coming down that highway signals the string you need to strum with one hand and that you should hold down with your forefinger on the other. The number indicates on which part of the guitar's neck — which fret — you need to be pressing the string with that aforementioned forefinger.
Not too bad:
What's great about the Pro Guitar and what might make even real guitar players envious is that the Rock Band 3 pro guitars can show to the player on their TV what they're actually pressing. If you are holding down the wrong "string" on the neck of the guitar (remember, up there, it's all skinny buttons pretending to be parts of the string) or strumming the wrong string with your other hand (where the strings are actually strings), you can see that in the game. You won't just get audio feedback. You can see you touched the wrong thing. Good thing, because then you get asked to learn chords:
And learning chords can, well, look tough in screenshots (yes, this is the same shot as higher up, but you need to see it again to have a chance of understanding it):
The shot above introduces the new "wave" icon in Rock Band. They makes sense when you play them. The number shows, as described before, where your forefinger goes. The height of the rest of the wave indicates how many frets away the other notes are — you figure out which finger goes where through practice.
A few weeks past when I played this at the offices for Haromnix parent company MTV, I already have trouble fathoming how I pulled any of this off. I'm not so sure I did, not with the confidence and dexterity of a professional guitar player. But I was learning. The lessons have the ideal amount of feedback to make the reasons for errors — and the ways to correct them — obvious.
If in some way Rock Band was a stairway to learning how to play real guitar, the Pro Guitar training mode included in Rock Band 3 will probably get us not-playing-real-instrument heathens another flight up. For $150 you get a guitar that, added to the game you buy, can show you what you're doing wrong. The game's trainer, in theory, will show you how to do it right.
And then you can let loose solo:
Or risk it all with friends: