During my first year in business school, I wrote a business plan for a company that would provide music education online. It was called Rockstart (pretty clever, eh?). I submitted the business plan into my business school’s New Venture Challenge, which is a fantastic class and competition at the school that ends up selecting 10 finalists who compete for $25K in funding. Music education in public schools has been in a sad state of decline for years, and it was my vision that Rockstart would revolutionize music education by teaching through performance of popular rock songs and making learning fun.
Performing music has been a vital part of my life, and has generated some of my best life lessons and friendships over the years. But having been through traditional education since the age of 5, I can see its weaknesses. Too often beginners are stuck doing rote exercises and playing music that doesn’t appeal to them. It’s not fun. Playing scales and slogging your way through Fur Elise have their places, but it’s those early experiences that shape how someone views musical performance. How many people play in their junior high band and quit because they are playing third clarinet on a Sousa march? How about playing rhythm guitar on Evenflow? Now we’re talking.
Rockstart didn’t even get selected into the class, much less the finals. I appealed, I made personal appointments with the faculty, I plead my case. I knew they were wrong. I remember one faculty member saying “There is something here that music education needs, but I don’t think it’s online music lessons.” Enamored with my idea, I still thought he was off . . . until now.
The thing that musical education needs is the console game Guitar Hero, which has been gaining wide acceptance as the new and fun party game for both serious and casual gamers. Why? Because Guitar Hero takes everything that is fun about performing music and throws out all the rest.
For those unfamiliar with it, Guitar Hero involves strapping on a little miniature guitar with five colored buttons on the neck and a little switch on the body. In the game, a simulation of the guitar neck is shown where colored “notes” float down from top to bottom. As each note hits the bottom of the virtual neck, the player is tasked with pushing down the appropriate colored button on the neck and “strumming” the switch. The game features popular rock songs from different eras, from Black Sabbath to Kansas to Rage Against the Machine. It has modes from beginner to expert, with expert actually being quite challenging as the “notes” rain down fast and furious.
Behind the virtual guitar neck on-screen are rock stars playing on stage which move when the players move, surrounded by a virtual crowd that gets wilder and screams louder the more notes a player hits accurately.
A guitar player myself, I found that though the little Guitar Hero guitar doesn’t exactly represent the real guitar, it does develop timing and manual dexterity in a realistic way. And were the game player able to upgrade their miniature guitar to another piece of hardware that represented more closely a real guitar they might quickly notice that they could learn to play the real thing pretty easily.
But until that is here, legions of young gamers are plugging away at classic rock songs (there are no top 40 hiphop songs in Guitar Hero), becoming enamored with the experience of the crowd going wild for you after you bang out a killer riff. And the essence of rock n’ roll lives on.