Learning by apeing the experts. And why not…

Enthused by the brilliant Guitar Hero/Doritos TV commercial currently doing the rounds (“Alan was a rock star/At least in his own mind” – replace ‘Alan’ with ‘Simon’ and you’ll know where I’m coming from), I’ve been thinking about the possibilities offered to learning by the clutch of musical rhythm-based console games.

Much like the critic who slams a film he hasn’t seen, I haven’t played any of these games. So – obviously – I’m more than qualified to talk about them…

Former Rolling Stones guitarist Bill Wyman claimed not long ago that these games encourage kids “not to learn” real musical instruments, while Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason argued in the same piece that “if [the kids] spent as much time practising the guitar as learning how to press the buttons they’d be damn good by now”.

I’m not convinced by this argument, although I do agree that taking a contrary position can seem counter-intuitive. (I also need to say that I’m a huge fan of both bands.)

Intuitive reasoning: because kids are simplistically apeing someone talented playing a musical instrument, they are not using those hours practising to play one for real.

Counter-intuitive reasoning: playing a musical instrument well is very hard (the best musicians make it look easy, but it isn’t) and requires dedication. A console game such as The Beatles: Rock Band allows people to try an instrument, to truly engage with the music and have fun. In short, it offers immersive qualities not often available in the first stages of traditional music learning.

It seems intuitive to me that the opposite of what Bill and Nick are saying will be the case: that many ‘kids’ will be inspired to take up a musical instrument such as the guitar because of the fun and the experience they’ve had with these console games.

Also, while they may not learn how to play the instrument itself, they will learn, whether they realise it or not, about melody structure, rhythm, beat and harmony.

Now I’m not saying everyone who tries one of these games will do this. Let’s face it, some people should remain like Alan – true virtuosos of the air guitar. But to dismiss these rhythm-based games – and games consoles generally – as being irrelevant to learning in the twenty-first century seems like a huge missed opportunity.

Finally, in the ‘intuitive reasoning’ argument above, one statement of logic does not follow the other. They are, in fact, completely unrelated. I bet Wayne Rooney plays football console games, and he’s still quite useful on a football pitch.

But in fairness to educational discourse and research, I think I should support my conjectures by purchasing one of these games for my Wii. Rock on!

Simon Kear

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