Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The axe-woman cometh!

Recently I wrote about how transitioning can consume and take over your life to the point where you exclude other interests in your life. One of those interests that I dropped whilst transitioning was the learning and playing of the guitar. Perhaps a little history might be in order.

Way, way, way back in my childhood, possible younger than 10, I did try to learn then. It was incredibly difficult and I struggled to grasp the concept of the instrument. I only had a full sized acoustic and some very boring tutorial books that seemed to start easily and then jump to seriously harder stuff really quickly. I had enough problems with life, bullying and hidden gender issues were always with me and adding another attractant for the bullies made me turn off this very quickly.

I have tried playing drums in the past, I have quite a natural ear for rhythm and percussion and would dearly love to pursue this as a musical interest. However, they are not a choice for when you live in close proximity to other people so this will not likely happen. 

I have always enjoyed my music, my preference is for rock (most forms), prog rock, heavy metal and other sub genres of these types. About 8 or 9 years ago, I saw an advert on the TV for a game for consoles and PC called Guitar Hero. It was rock based and after some research I found you had to buy a guitar shaped controller that had a set of buttons on the neck and a strum bar. I was intrigued and did a little more research on the Internet. I found a YouTube video of two people playing Black Sabbath's Iron Man and suddenly I had to have this game.

I remember going into town and picking it up from Argos. I plugged it in to my PS3 and I was hooked instantly. The guitar itself consisted of 5 coloured buttons and a strum bar. I spent hours playing that game and got quite good at it. It had various difficulties ranging from easy, medium, hard and expert. I ended by being able to play many tracks on expert but found the most enjoyment by playing on hard. This mode used all the buttons and often combined most of them into it's own form of chords. I actually became quite good at this and was ranked in the top 15 on the PS3 leader-board for the world at one point.

This eventually led to thoughts of whether this was actually teaching me anything. I seriously wondered whether I could progress to a real guitar from this. I was under no illusions that it would be a simple challenge. Guitar Hero had 5 buttons and a strum bar. A stratocaster style guitar has at least 21 frets with 6 strings that each represent a strum bar. The equates to 126 buttons compared to Guitar Hero's paltry 5!

I bought a decent set-up consisting of a guitar, multi effects pedal and practice amp. I bought some books and set about trying to learn. I struggled, it was seriously tough going but eventually I was starting to get somewhere. I think the overriding problem with it all was that it was seriously boring and had none of the enjoyment that Guitar Hero had.

It was all dashed one morning when at work, I managed to smash the end of my left little finger off. I was taken to hospital and after several hours of messing around with it, they announced that I had to admitted and operated on. I was told I was going to lose a part of the finger.

This knocked the wind right out of my sails and the guitar gathered dust for quite some time. I played Guitar Hero for quite a while but I got bored of that. Eventually, I sold the guitar and equipment. I also grew out of Guitar hero and sold all that gear too. My transitioning was also a massive factor in this loss of interest as I couldn't devote my energies to anything else whilst doing that.

Guitar Hero died a death anyway and for five years there have been no new releases until a couple of months ago it was announced they were reviving the series. A new controller was going to be developed with an different layout and an extra button. Memories of the hours I had spent playing that game were brought back to me and I was interested.

In the time that Guitar Hero has been away, another program has been developed and marketed under the name Rocksmith. This is less of a game and more of an educational tool. It uses a similar way of playing to Guitar Hero but uses a traditional guitar to play it. It can recognise the notes you play and tell if you have matched them up to what is needed.

So I considered this option. My transitioning was over, my finger has become less sensitive over time and the thought of trying to learn guitar again was intriguing me. I costed it up, Guitar Hero with new controlled was probably going to be £70 and a cheap Strat and Rocksmith was going to be £100. I had some money from my birthday so I decided on the second option.

That was four weeks ago and I can report some definite success. I am surprised at how quickly the basics came back to me. Even after all these years, I was plucking successfully very quickly. Rocksmith is very intuitive in how it teaches you and above all else, it is very fun and enjoyable. There are a couple of tracks where I am over 50% of the way to mastering them. There are of course a couple where I am under 3%!

There is much talk around as to whether Rocksmith does teach you to play. It includes a whole mass of lessons alongside the music and I have been through some of these. I am of the mind it does teach, but in a much different way. You are not going to learn to read music as the notation is guitar tab, but that is fine. I can read music to a point but have always found tab much easier to get along with. The lessons are quite good and have varying levels for each type of lessons. Also as you are playing, whenever there is a chord to strum, it gives you the name of the chord so slowly you gather this information in your memory. 

Above all it is fun and sure beats the old days of trying to educate myself with books and tabs from the Internet. You can see improvement every day you play it as well as finding a challenge in trying to better your progress from the time before. Above all else, it seems much easier now than before. My mind feels so much clearer and absorbent and I wonder whether I have ever been in such a position in my entire life?

My axe and me!

Tuning! Easy with this program.

Shredding away. See if anyone can guess the track I am playing. Use the comments for your guesses.

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