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Is Video Game Music the Death of Guitar?

Can video game music really contribute to the death of guitar?

You have to wonder how many kids (and adults) really wanna learn guitar, when the music they actually “like” is on all the games that they play?

Isn’t it all that just electronic music? It really has nothing to do with playing a “real” six string instrument, doesn’t it?

Video Game Music Genesis

As I was growing up in the early days of video games (Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong and (going even further back) Pac Man and Asteroids) the sounds you got on those games weren’t really what you would call “cutting edge”.

I mean, who could get excited about all those electronically generated “beeps’ and “boops”? Like this one from Pac Man:

Evolution

But, as the years (and decades) went by something happened: the games evolved…by a lot.

And along with them was the accompanying music.

The “beeps” and “boops” eventually graduated to expertly produced music that could sometimes rival music you hear out there in the pop music mainstream. Just check out the game Spyro (which itself isn’t really all that new), for example. The first versions are already considered a little “old” but it had Stewart Copeland (from The Police) creating and making the music on it. This was the main theme from Spyro 1:

And the music really sounds good!

Meet ’em Where They’re At

I have seen as a recent trend with many of the kids in my guitar lesson business that video game music (along with Anime – which is for another post) has been a favorite.

What I do with all new students who come in is to have them give me their “top 10” in music that they like and would really like to learn.

What I have found with most teens (and younger), is that in that list are songs from some of their favorite video games.

When this first started coming up to me a few years ago, I would roll my eyes and cringe. I would think to myself “this isn’t going to go well”. And of course I would try to steer them towards “real” music with “real” instruments.

And then, in time, they would be gone. Done with lessons.

Eventually, I realized something: why not try to meet them where THEY are at?

I mean, with older students I do just that. I would find songs that THEY like and teach them guitar by exploring some of those songs.

It was, and is, a great formula: it keeps students interested while they are learning how to play and/or get better.

But what about video game music? How do you do that when many of them have these weird intricate parts that could have been created electronically?

To be fair, many of those games do have some real rock band music that are easy to translate to guitar.

But I was finding out that many of them didn’t have that. So what do you do?

Well, the answer was really simple.

What most of those songs had was similar to all kinds of music over the decades: they still possessed some kind of melody (even Pac Man has a “melodic theme”. It could have some synth generated tones or an elaborate sampled line of some weird instrument. But there was still a melody.

So I learned the songs and taught them to my beginning students.

And something very cool happened: the lessons became fun…for the student and myself!

They got to play songs that they liked. And they were learning on the guitar.

Expanding the Palette

From there we would figure out what the chords were to the song (most were common, simple chords – perfect to beginners). We could also learn stuff like tempo, time signatures, etc.

I was learning some things too: that there is some really cool stuff in video game music.

Of course there are some songs that are not so good. But that has always been true in music (hey rock children of the 70’s: how was disco for you? Ha!).

But like the 70’s, and what is true to this day, there is good music out there to listen to.

Really good music.

And yes, you can even find them in video games!

So guitar became fun with these students. And as time progressed, the lessons did too.

Then other music crept into the repertoire. Sometimes it even included AC/DC or Guns and Roses!

And everyone still likes to learn Smoke on the Water and Iron Man. Yes, some things never change!

But, you know what? The student eventually became a more well rounded musician.

There was the video game music but also classic rock, or metal, or country, or blues that entered into the lesson repertoire.

Be Relevant

You see, it is all music. Older folks like me need to stop resisting that thought and hanging on to the “music was better in my day” line of thinking. If you keep resisting, you will be left far behind and irrelevant.

Personally, I don’t want to be irrelevant. I’ve always wanted to learn and hear what is over the horizon and new. It keeps things fresh.

Now, it doesn’t mean I always listen to that kind of music, because I don’t (I don’t even play video games).

But what it did do was give me a greater appreciation of something out there that I really didn’t know much about.

And I also get to learn what interests some of the young people that come through my door for a lesson.

You see: the teacher also becomes the student. To me, that is fun.

So, if you are someone who thinks that guitar cannot have anything to do with the music on your favorite games, think again. It’s there for the taking. YOU can play some of that stuff!

If you are someone who can’t see how it has anything to do with real music, think again. Take some time to actually listen to some of it. You might be surprised.

If you teach guitar, open your mind and expand your palette. You have potential students out there that would love to play this kind of music. Show them! You will be surprised to where it will take them, and you.

Video game music is NOT the death of guitar. It is simply part of the ever evolving music scene that our instrument can be a part of.

So go ahead, take the plunge…the water is fine!

Rock on…

Putting Some Poetry Into Your Soloing

 

Poetry

Music is poetry, poetry is music. The two go hand in hand in my view. They really are one in the same. Take limericks for example. How about this one:

 

Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran up the clock;
the clock struck one
and down he run;
hickory dickory dock

 

Or this one which spawned many dirty versions (lol). However, here is the original that was really quite tame (and clean):

 

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket

 

Say them out loud. It does have that natural, sing-song, feel to it, right? There are a number of poems of various styles that do that very thing. So it should be no surprise that music follows the same type of patterns. And more specifically for the purposes of this discussion, soloing on guitar.

All of you songwriters get this. I’m sure there is much you can educate me on! Tying together the rhythm and meaning of the lyric to song is a work of art. I do wonder, however, how many lead guitar players really get it?

 

Every Solo Tells a Story Don’t It?

 

The greatest guitar solos can tell magnificent “stories”. What’s interesting about them is that they most often can be subject to interpretation by the listener. Why? Well, there are literally no words to limit your interpretation of the song. Regarding songs that you sing to, that’s a different story. There are plenty of popular songs from my past that carry specific meaning to me that have nothing to do with the lyrical content. For me, it was the music itself that conveyed a certain meaning. For example, there are some songs that remind me of the time I was dating my wife. They were of a very happy time. Literally, the words to some of the songs have nothing to do with what was going on at the time. But, the music did! Neon Tree’s Sleeping With a Friend is one such song. Now, the lyrical content really didn’t have much to do with the relationship at the time (no, really, it didn’t!) but the mood of the song felt happy and “up” to me. At the time, I was just coming out of dealing with the down times of a separation and divorce. This song was popular when my life was changing for the better. And yeah, part of the song was true: the relationship with a friend was growing into something much bigger. 

For instrumental, and more specifically for this post, guitar solos, the responses and feelings are much the same as I described above. Think of some the great solos, especially pieces that are literally played as an instrumental for entire song. My goodness, there are so many! Some of my favorites are songs like Santana’s Europa, Joe Satriani’s Always With Me, Always With You, The Allman Brothers’ Jessica, and George Benson’s Breezin‘. No words, but can you hear and feel what is being played? I sure do. If you don’t like these, find your own and really listen to those songs. There is a communication that goes beyond words. I also believe, that each person can listen to the same song and each have their own interpretation of what that song means to them – oftentimes different from what the original artist intended!

Then there are the solos that are only part of songs. My goodness, there are also so many! What is interesting about these is how well they work within the song. They feel a part of it and not separate. Some will simply replay the melody that is sung. Most others will feel like they continue what is being sung. There are many, many, many like that. I have no space here to list them all. Go ahead and google greatest guitar solos of all time and you will get lists galore! 

In Gibson.com‘s introduction to their Top 50 list they said this: “What makes for a great guitar solo? Is it mind-melting precision or bone-chilling soul? Is it the way it can leave you slack-jawed, wondering, “How did he do that?” Or is it something that you can sing from memory, a melodic passage that weaves itself into the DNA of the song? Or are the greatest solos ever played the ones that somehow manage to do all of the above?” 

To me, it is “all of the above”.

 

Phrasing

 

I often tell my students who are interested in soloing (and are of course familiar with scales!) that when they create their own compositions, they should consider the “story” they want to tell. The results can be endless! The simplest, and most basic, way to talk about this is to go back to the poetry example and break a solo down into phrases, similar to stanzas in a poem. While I could give endless examples from all styles, let me use the beginning of Santana’s Europa to demonstrate what I mean. The opening verse can be broken down into 4, distinct phrases in much the same way that vocalist would sing a popular verse: find a melody and repeat it and try put in variations to it each time you go through a line. In Europa, each of the 4 lines starts with basically the same first 6-8 notes, then follows up with something different. In the next verse, it is done pretty much the same way but embellished even further. And then it goes from there. 

Blues licks are awesome at this kind of thing. It is primarily why I start off my solo players with the blues. The licks can be technically simple, yet allow for so much feeling that is unique to the style of music. It’s a great way to develop into a competent player: especially in the rock world. There are countless examples from some outstanding players. Here is a song from one of my favorite blues players: check out B.B. King’s opening, and subsequent guitar solo, to The Thrill is Gone. Not only does he put his heart and soul into it, but hear how he creates a theme on the guitar throughout the song. So simple, yet so awesome!

 

Jamming

 

One quick word on jamming: DO IT! Jamming is fun. The spontaneity is a blast. There might be no need to find a melody but simply express yourself where you are at in the moment. There is tremendous freedom in all of that. It is poetic art all it’s own. Not to mention, some of the best ideas for songs, melodies, solos, have come from simply jamming. Want some examples? Find live recordings from some of the great jam bands to start. I personally like the Allman Brothers as my favorite jam band but others like the Grateful Dead and Phish were/are known for that at all their live shows, it really was/is their identity. How about the Dead and Allmans in a 26 minute jam at Fillmore East in 1970? lol Or this 15 minute jam of Jessica by the Allman Brothers.

I once recall being at a party years ago that was almost entirely attended by musicians of all abilities and genres. They had a drum kit, bass amp, a couple guitar amps, and a keyboard set up for anyone who wanted to play. At one point I joined in a jam that literally lasted about an hour as I recall – I kid you not! We mostly rambled around G (major, minor, various modes, etc.), and hit all kinds of styles from rock to blues to jazz. During the jam, some would pass the baton to another person as it was going. Some brass guys even joined in then left. We literally never missed a beat! I think it was the bassist and I that sat in the whole time. Seriously, it was so much fun. And yeah, I was wiped out afterwards!

 

Find Your Voice

 

This is by no means a complete discussion! Entire books are written about this very thing. And I am by no means an expert. It is simply what I have learned over the years. You might have better insights into this topic. I would love to hear from you! As a musician, I am always learning and wanting to grow. What I simply want to encourage all you artists out there is to continually seek and develop your own voice. Make your mark in the world no matter how big or small it might be.

If you want to learn more or are in my neighborhood, you can book some lessons here or just contact me via email: tonysrockguitar@gmail.com