Can Guitar Hero teach you to play guitar? The simple answer, believe it or not, is no. Guitar Hero is fun for almost anyone, as there is a range of difficulty levels that will appeal to beginners all the way up to hardcore Guitar Hero players. However, there are enough differences between Guitar Hero’s plastic instruments and a real guitar that Guitar Hero ends up being an ineffective method of teaching you how to play guitar. Hopefully you’re not too surprised.
The Guitar Hero controllers are all modeled after various electric guitar brands and styles like Les Paul. The controllers have a click bar that simulates both strumming and picking on a real guitar, while five colored fret buttons on the plastic neck allow for different simulated chord positions and notes. The only main similarity between the Guitar Hero controller and a real guitar is the fact that the controller is guitar-shaped; otherwise, it is drastically simplified compared to a real guitar. This isn’t a big shock, or even necessarily a bad thing, since it makes it easy to pick up and play the video game, but if you’re hoping to transition smoothly from plastic instrument to electric guitar, think again.
The music theory behind the placement of the frets is a little problematic too, in that it really only can handle a small range of notes before wrapping around to the first fret (the green notes) again, even though they are technically higher in pitch. It makes sense if it these notes are being played a higher string, but the strings of a real guitar aren’t really translated into Guitar Hero. To put it simply, you won’t gain a solid understanding of the mechanics of a guitar from Guitar Hero. Even if you are good at the real guitar before you pick up Guitar Hero, you might not fully understand how the game tries to simulate the real guitar. For example, in a real power chord, the fifth note and the higher-octave root note share the same fret but occupy different strings, while in Guitar Hero, some power chords are three-note chords across four frets. This doesn’t seem to correlate.
Where Guitar Hero can teach you to play guitar is in keeping up with the game’s many songs. When you are first playing Guitar Hero and see those scrolling notes, you are probably more focused on which colored buttons you’re holding down and trying to strum in time with the notes on screen as they hit the strike line. As you improve, though, you’ll start to get more comfortable with changing chords quickly and really focus on the rhythm of the song. While Guitar Hero can hardly be considered a good teacher for learning how to play real guitar, it can be a great way to train your ear to learn rhythms and maintain a steady strumming pattern, especially on the bass parts. Any decent guitar player needs these skills.
Finally, Guitar Hero is all about a love of good rock music, and if anything the game has increased young people’s interest in learning the real guitar. After all, once you’ve become an expert in Guitar Hero, you start to wonder what you could be doing on a real guitar if you put the same time into it. Of course, it’s all about the time put in vs. the output. You can start succeeding at Guitar Hero pretty quickly and play your favorite songs, but perfecting the real songs on a real guitar might take months or even years.
In the end, Guitar Hero is still very entertaining and a great way to enjoy your favorite songs. While some of the aspects of playing Guitar Hero can translate to learning how to play real guitar, don’t pick up Guitar Hero thinking it can serve as a stepping stone to being a good guitar player. For that, you’ll want to go out and get yourself a real guitar.