What happened to the Rockband Generation?

Simon DasGupta, Founder of San Diego Drum Lessons, discusses the rise and, well, hopefully temporary hiatus of one of the best facilitators to drum lessons in some time…

Since it’s introduction in 2007; the billion dollar franchise “Rockband” has inspired millions of people to do something that they may not have otherwise done – play music.

When I am getting to know a new student, I am always interested to know what inspired them to learn to play the drums. There are of course some common answers. A new hobby, a supplement to Drum Line or band classes at school, a lifelong ambition, something to reduce stress or pursue a creative channel, or a desire to improve existing skills. These are all common answers. Sadly, what I rarely hear nowadays is something that used to come up a lot: “because I got interested by playing Rockband”. Thinking back; I don’t believe I have heard a new student mention Rockband or Guitar Hero for the best part of two years.

When talking among fellow music educators, there is always mixed feelings when it comes to the gaming community’s take on playing musical instruments. Most music teachers, at least that I know, do not like Rockband simply because in many cases, they view it to be unrealistic. Surely the point not to be overlooked is that this is a game – not formal music education. Furthermore, the point of the game is to let everyone experience the fun of playing an instrument, and the rush of playing in a band – without taking hours of lessons. It is leisure – pure and simple – and it is very, very good at what it set out to achieve.

When it comes to drums and understanding rhythm, I have always supported the view that Rockband is a great introduction to the world of drumming. First and foremost, anything that inspires someone to pick up drum sticks is, in my book, a really good idea. Granted, playing the drums that come with the set, or the slightly more advanced options available are still not necessarily like playing the real thing, buy they still deliver a satisfying result to the gamer, while developing vital rhythmic skills needed to play drum beats. As I have seen personally, some people get so inspired playing Rockband that they go on to take formal lessons – something they may not have entertained had they not been inspired by the game in the first place.

So, as a Music Educator, I find the decline in this product worrying. In an age where music budgets are being slashed from schools, and access to private education in many parts of the world is limited, this really is a missed opportunity. There may be some hope. Writing for Engadget.com; Ben Gilbert writes: “Harmonix (Creator Of Rockband) is actually trying to determine how you feel about those (Rockband gaming) peripherals in a survey sent out via Twitter. More importantly, not only is Harmonix trying to determine if you still own old peripherals — but also the company is asking very specific questions about which aspects of a Rock Band game are most important to you. It’s also asking which current-gen game consoles you own. Smells an awful lot like Harmonix is pretty seriously considering a rebirth of its biggest-ever franchise – the franchise that both helped popularize music games and managed to get more than one Beatle onstage during a video game press conference”.

So I for one am keeping my fingers crossed for a rebirth of Rockband. Anything that makes music accessible, at any level, has to be a good thing for music education.

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