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:
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.
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!
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