[IAEP] Real music learning in The Beatles: Rock Band

Alan Kay alan.nemo at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 15 11:38:32 EDT 2009

At PARC in the 70s we encouraged the children (12 and 13 year olds in this case) to think about the possible positives and negatives of using computers for things they were interested in. The most interesting ethic that came out of this was "Don't automate the center of your art/interests". And some of the examples they gave were related to the very first real time digital synth Smalltalk software on the Alto. For example, if you are interested in playing, don't get the computer to play for you, but it can be very useful for practicing to have it play the parts that other players would play. And, having the computer play music makes something that just doesn't sound as musical as human players would play, but if you are learning to orchestrate, then this is still a good idea because you can hear how the different timbres work and don't work together.

I thought this was really good. (Of course, I was already prejudiced along these lines.)

And, there is certainly no question that there are a few positive aspects in "Guitar Hero". For example, it has been pointed out that one salutary property is that it gets people to pay more attention to the music they are listening to (and this is a good thing given that "elevator music" and not just in elevators is teaching millions of humans to not pay attention to music). They have to pay some attention to rhythm. And here they have to pay some attention to pitch in order to sing along.

And learning to sing is one of the best (I think *the* best) way to get started in music.

On the other hand, I think a lot of the special pleading is rather like people pointing out that having street signs and labels on food packaging are inducements towards reading. Yes, indeed, but not of any kind of fluency that characterizes a fluent reader of serious writings.

So I think that this is still "the threshold problem" vs "the token problem" on the one hand, and the difference between confusing a fantasy experience with working towards something real on the other. There are some really good "working towards" experiences available in music in a gamut from "Band in a Box" (which I'm not a huge favorite of, but I would be if it were done better), and the "Music Minus One" experiences plus "The Amazing Slow Downer" (software that allows any music files to be played back at any speed while retaining the same pitch). The latter allow an enormous amount of good practicing to be down with the sounds of really good musicians in one's ears. However, it is not nearly the same thing as live performing, especially wrt jazz playing (in no small part because the MMO is too forgiving, which can be good for some kinds of practicing, but with live performances the imperative changes to "you must know where you are, track the rhythm
 very closely, and don't drop any beats!").

The children's ethic governs all of this stuff pretty well. (And I think we all appreciate that appropriate ethics that have to be taken on in order to deal with power of any kind, including the possible powers to corrupt and addict.)



From: Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com>
To: iaep <iaep at lists.sugarlabs.org>
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2009 10:33:30 PM
Subject: [IAEP] Real music learning in The Beatles: Rock Band

Alan Kay has complained loudly about Guitar Hero and other music games
that pretend to let you play guitar, where the "guitar" controller has
only five buttons for notes, instead of six strings crossing more than
20 frets. It doesn't transfer into real music performance.

The claim is now being made that this is not the case for some parts
of newer games. The following interview excerpt discusses singing
harmony. I have found that the drum part of Rock Band is a little bit
like actual drumming, although there aren't enough tom-toms, and no
cowbell or temple blocks or any of that other stuff. The plastic drum
pads don't have the bounce of a snare drum head, so it's hard to do a
drum roll. The "guitar" and "bass" controllers remain toys. It would
be technically possible to use real MIDI instruments in a game, but


A new feature that will be on The Beatles: Rock Band is the ability to
do 3 part harmonies in the song. Can you elaborate on this a little

Alex: For the singing game play in our previous games, we’ve always
focused on a single singer singing a single part, but harmonies are
such a critical aspect of The Beatles music that this was an area we
felt we had to innovate in this game. So one of the new significant
game play features of The Beatles game is harmony singing – players
will be able to plug in up to three microphones, and the visual
interface – in addition to displaying the main melody line – will also
display the harmony lines as well. So if there are two or three of
you, any of you can pick up the extra microphone and play the harmony

Most people are not musicians or trained singers and they can’t sing
harmony. They really don’t know how to do it, so when they start
singing a particular Beatles tune for the first time and two or three
people are trying to do the extra harmony parts, it’s just horrendous.
They’re out of tune and they’re just missing the parts completely, and
it’s a mess. But it’s a video game and they keep trying and trying,
and after about 45 minutes of working on a particular song, these
people who couldn’t sing harmony to save their lives, are suddenly
nailing the harmony parts of these Beatles songs.

It’s really gratifying watching that come together, and it’s really
gratifying to imagine that 6 to 9 months from now there’s going to be
millions of people out in the world who couldn’t sing harmony, who are
all of a sudden coming together around this music.

Edward Mokurai (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) Cherlin
Silent Thunder is my name, and Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, the Truth my destination.
IAEP -- It's An Education Project (not a laptop project!)
IAEP at lists.sugarlabs.org

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