Is this a painless way to quickly learn the rudiments of keyboarding?
Now that all components of my jammer are in built and in place, I’m focusing on learning to actually play the thing, as quickly and painlessly as possible.
However, “the possible” is rapidly changing due to innovations in several areas. This is an exploration of what gaming technology has recent brought in, which seems at first bizarre - what could games possibly have to do with music?
Guitar Hero, when it burst onto the scene a few years back, intrigued. The game itself was only a game, and taught the player only to press a few buttons in time to music, guided by visual effects that force-fed the buttons and timings. Yet, it had definite possibilities: it was well designed, gave fast, accurate feed-back on mistakes, immediate reward for success and was not a slog like formal practice is, but way fun; my son played it for hours, and organized parties around the game.
Side note: I sometimes ponder; if my thirty-something son had spent just half of the time and intense focus he spent playing video games (say 8,000 hours out of an estimated 16,000) on practicing an instrument he would now be a certified virtuoso and I could retire.
Quick, accurate feedback coupled with a measured reward system are the key ingredients for fast, child-style learning, which is exactly what one wants in learning to play music – dry rote study can only be done for so long before the mind and the fingers revolt. Besides, my goal is to be able to join a good band, sometime before I grow old and senile, and so time is of the essence. Rote learning is just not very effective - very few pro musicians learned that way! - and it is s-l-o-w.
Just in the last few months has it become possible to hook up midi instruments to a high-quality video game. The ingredients (beside the game console itself) are:
- A decent game: said game is Rock Band 3, and it has a “PRO” instruments option; the option to select having a real instrument (midi) hooked up to it
- An Xbox/Playstation/Wii to Midi input interface: Rock Band 3 midi PRO-Adapter. One plugs a standard Midi cable (non-USB) into it.
- An instrument with standard midi-out, of course.
So what about alternate instruments? Can they work as well? The answer is an unqualified yes. The additional ingredients are:
- A decent alternate keyboard or other instrument: even a PC keyboard will do, although it has definite limitations. The raw, unmodified Axis-49 will work, but the signal has to do through a computer.
- Midi-routing software to convert the instrument’s production (which comes in on the “Midi-In” logical buss) to a signal on the “Midi-Out” buss.
My new Midi Integrator does this well and there are doubtless others. Midi Integrator is free, works on Win/Mac machines, works as soon as installed and is easily configured.
That’s it. Setup is pretty simple, for technical details, see hooking up alternate keyboards.
I've only had 4 sessions as of this writing, and the first two were mostly spent in learning to run an XBox. Perhaps 3 hours of practice.
- It was a shock at first to play – the layout is just as you’d expect: a piano-like tableau, but thank fully the C-D-E sections are colored differently from the F-G-A-B sections, a trick I independently invented and documented here: http://www.musicscienceguy.com/2008/03/jammer-playing-reading-music-scores.html. This helps a great deal.
- I was able to select songs I knew well, a couple of Billy Joel pieces.
- At first it was pretty hard to relate hitting a key that was way off to the left or right as being really under or over the current row. My fingers would get confused, and would say "the diagram says it's over there, why do you want me to go down here or up there".
- By the second session, I was getting used to it, and by the fourth session it seemed fairly natural. Still I have a long way to go. Interestingly, playing pieces ranked "harder pieces" on the jammer actually seemed to improve the learning rate, as it was pretty simple to memorize the movements. With the aid of a dot on C to help with touch-positioning, I did not need to look at the keyboard.
- Sharps and flats give me trouble still are giving me trouble, but since they are always in the same relative place, I even managed to hit a few.
- Playing practice scales in "Practice mode" was not useful at all -the fingers got totally mixed up and did not improve! This is totally counter-intuitive, and an interesting discovery, possibly even a scientific-investigation worthy one. *
I am not sure why this would be. Good thesis material, perhaps?
* "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny'" - Isaac Asimov
Just had my fifth session (about an hour an a half) - learning progresses, at a rate noticeably greater than I have gotten from standard practice. I have gone from one star to 3- stars at the "easy" level.
With midi integration, this could train a musician to be very versatile on a jammer or sonome:
- want to sound like Jimi Hendrix? Hmmm, just add the pitch and mod effects and pedal control and switch to Guitar mode
- Want to play drums – just figure out a finger mapping that makes sense, you’ll have all the basic drum sounds under the fingers of one hand, and turn on drum training.
Who will be the first to try?