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Rekindle the Fire

Rekindle the fire.

This story starts, as many do in early childhood, my early childhood to be exact. I was a normalish kid, played footy, played computer games, punched my younger brother, basically all the things you would expect of a 10 year old boy. It was at this age I really began to fall in love with music. I had an obsession with rock that hasn’t wavered in the 20 years since and like all kids who loved the likes of Guns’n’Roses and Metallica I dreamed of being in a rock band so I picked up a guitar. From the day I first strummed the nylon strings on my el cheapo acoustic guitar I had a new passion. That passion followed me as I grew up. Graduating from my crappy acoustic to a Stratocaster knock off I began to take my guitar to school, playing with mates who shared the love.  When I was 16 years old I spent a year in Chile as an exchange student, when I first arrived I didn’t speak the local lingo but my love for the guitar meant it wasn’t long before I was playing in a band and having the time of my life. While there I spent my remaining savings on having a guitar custom made just for me, this guitar would follow me everywhere and it became something of a solace, a tool I used to escape the pressures of the HSC upon my return to Australia.

But then something happened.  School finished and I moved away from home. Work, girlfriend and going out all became more important and it was getting harder to find time to play guitar. By the age of 24 my girlfriend had graduated to fiancée and then to pregnant fiancée. My first son was born and my precious guitar had been relegated to storage, only to be taken out once in a blue moon for a quick strum. Even this occasional play had disappeared once my second son was born. Time had moved on and it was with some regret I realised my guitar playing days were over. The passion had died and life had moved on.

Fast forward 3 years, I was a 27 year old husband and father of two. Video games had become my escape more so than ever before. When I needed a break from the hectic life of a dad I turned my console on. It was that year my wife bought me a present that would once again rekindle my love of the “axe”. She bought me Guitar Hero 3.  GH3 quickly became a time consuming blast, giving me the chance to pretend, if only for a moment, that I was a rock star just like those I idolised as a kid. Of course once the novelty wore off I began to feel a little hollow, I was substituting my passion as a child with a plastic toy. This feeling continued to nag at me, and while I had fun with the GH games I always felt I was robbing myself by playing them and not my real guitar which was still collecting dust in my garage.

Rekindle the Fire
Guitar Hero 3 lit the fire.

While the GH (and later Rockband) games were a poor substitute it had begun to stoke the fire, more and more I found myself thinking of dragging the guitar out to play. I continued to put it off, afraid of how bad I had become, knowing my once competent playing would have reduced to the painful plucking of a beginner. It was another video game that enabled me to get over that fear of failure.  Rocksmith was touted as a true guitar game. Unlike GH, Rocksmith allowed you to plug any electric guitar into your console and play. It promised to teach people the ways of the guitar god and guide them on the path to rock stardom. This was the excuse I had been looking for and finally blew the dust of my long neglected guitar.

I was right in my assumption that my skill had degraded; playing a simple scale was now a difficult task. My brain remembered how to do it but my fingers just wouldn’t do as they were told. This is where Rocksmith really came into its own. Its excellent interface, tutorial videos and activities allowed me to relearn the basics quite quickly. The finger calluses which were a permanent fixture in the past were once again growing and the love was returning. As I delved deeper into Rocksmith’s offerings I began to learn some of the many songs that came with the game. These songs were taught in a different way to how I had ever learned a song before. A combination of GH’s scrolling notes and traditional guitar tablature was Rocksmith’s method of teaching. Notes would scroll towards a representation of the guitar using colours and numbers to show me where to place my fingers. After taking some time to adjust to this, the method became almost natural, especially having spent so much time with GH previously.

Rekindle the Fire
Rocksmith fanned the flames.

The other thing that was interesting was the game’s dynamic difficulty. The first time I played any song it would be incredibly simple, only a few notes would appear and it gave me plenty of time to place my hands correctly. Once the game recognised I was reaching these notes easily it began to add more and more notes to the song, gradually ramping up the difficulty until I was playing the whole song. Of course this would happen over the course many attempts at the song, any guitarist will tell you, you can never get it the first go but repeating the song was by no means an unpleasant task. The gradual learning of each song gave a tangible sense of achievement, making me feel I was truly playing a guitar and not a game.

Since starting to play Rocksmith my love for the guitar has returned, and while I am nowhere near the guitarist I was once it has given me the drive to once again become a competent strummer. My guitar no longer looks like a dusty artefact from an Indiana Jones movie but has pride of place in my lounge room, always within arm’s reach if I feel the urge to strum out a tune. Rocksmith is not a substitute for a real guitar teacher. While my skills had degraded I still remember the theory behind the instrument. It is this theory that Rocksmith struggles with but if you are like me have let left your  guitar in a closet for too long this game may be just the thing to spark that fire once more. It did for me.

Rekindle the Fire
Rocksmith 2014 became a bonfire.

Matt Hewson