Improvisation in music games

Joshua Pablo Rosenstock. Free Play Meets Gameplay: iGotBand, a Video Game for Improvisers. Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 11–15, 2010.

Guitar Hero, Rock Band and games like them have done a wonderful service to non-musicians. The games give a good sense of what playing an instrument in a band is like. The interface is simplified, but the overall experience is qualitatively remarkably similar. The games also change their players’ listening habits. A non-musician friend told me that until he played through Beatles Rock Band as Paul McCartney, he had never paid attention to a song’s bassline. Now he hears all those familiar Beatles songs in a new and richer way, and generally has learned to listen like a musician.

There is one crucial difference between the games and real music-making, however, and that is the absence of improvisation. The player moves through the song like a train on a track, and the games penalize any variation from the prescribed notes. Not all real-life music is improvisational either, but there is usually some element of personal expressiveness. Not so in Guitar Hero. Mimicry is the only way to play.

The South Park kids get their Guitar Hero on

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