Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Rocksmith 2014: 18 Month Report – Leveling Up

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2015

RS2_1024x768Eighteen months ago, I bought Rocksmith 2014 and committed to play it at least a few minutes every day for at least a year. They advertised it as the “fastest way to learn guitar,” and it proved to be a tremendous improvement over some similar attempts to use a video game to teach guitar. For the most part, I stuck with it, minus the occasional lapse due to schedule or trips (the longest was almost two weeks while I was in Japan). I wrote about my experiences and an evaluation of the game. I wrote about it after sixty days, six months, and one year. I also wrote what I thought were some useful tips for getting the most out of it, which I think mostly still stand.

My initial year-long commitment has long ended, but I’m still at it. Why? Because it’s still a lot of fun, I’m still getting better, and I still want to become competent on the guitar. Unsurprisingly, not much has changed (other than my skill level) over the last six months.

Changes to the Game

Rocksmith 2014 hasn’t changed much over the last six months, other than having releases on the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, and of course the new songs. The former has brought some new blood to the game. The latter – well, hey, the new songs are the lifeblood of the game. At this point I think the majority of the players are the hardcore who are serious about learning the guitar, and every week there are arguments over why our favorite songs aren’t on Rocksmith yet.

Some of my favorite new DLC packs of the last six months (or so) have been the Jimi Hendrix mega-pack (12 songs!), Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, a second Foo Fighters pack, The Cars, Thin Lizzy (most for “The Boys are Back in Town”), The Killers, a “Power Ballad” pack for Valentine’s Day that included some awesome 80s songs about love and loss (Boston’s “Amanda,” Extreme’s “More Than Words,” etc.), a “Classic Riff Singles” collection of classic rock with unforgettable riffs (“Cherry Pie” by Warrant, “Renegade” by Styx, “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead, “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio, and “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” by Rick Derringer), and most recently a Blues Pack featuring classic blues songs by Eddie King, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Winter, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Obviously, I have a bias towards classic rock (and blues).



I think after 18 months I’m still as aware of the game’s limitations as ever, but I work around it. It’s a pretty amazing tool, as a combination of digital songbook (with its own notation), automated exercises / practice sessions with some neat tools to evaluate yourself, a digital tone emulator for the electric guitar, and a virtual jam session ‘simulator’. And some training videos with exercises. But in the end – that’s all it is. It might help you recognize that you are doing something wrong (or it might not), but it may not be able to help you identify exactly what you are doing wrong. It makes practice a lot more fun, but practice is still practice, and there is some practicing that the game can’t help you with. Often it is  still best to seek out instruction, be it formal, a skilled friend, or a handy YouTube video.

One problem I’ve discovered is that it’s tough to bring new players into the game to play in multiplayer. I’ve tried it a few times, and it’s always an obstacle – especially with experienced guitarists. Getting used to Rocksmith‘s notation has its own learning curve, especially if they’ve never played something like Guitar Hero. We’ve been able to pull it off just by having them play a song they already know, which is usually pretty close to the theoretically note-perfect transcription on the screen, but it can get kind of frustrating. Session Mode doesn’t have that problem so much, but otherwise multiplayer is really only for other experienced Rocksmith players.

My Improvement

I heard once that it takes about 3000 hours of (decent) practice to get reasonably competent at the guitar. I think I’ve put in as much time the last 18 months as I previously did… oh, my entire life, or so. Which means I’m still only about a quarter of the way there. I still have a long way to go, especially averaging only about 45-ish minutes per day on the game (and maybe another hour or so per week outside of the game). At this rate… well, maybe by the end of the decade I can actually be pretty good at it. 🙂 But in real life, it’s not like you wake up one morning and are rewarded with a “LEVEL UP!” sign over your head and instantly make a major improvement from your accumulated experience. These things come slowly, by degrees, and can be hard to measure.

BlackParadeN1_640One nice thing about Rocksmith is that you can measure it. In fact, as frustrated as I feel because I’ve been at a plateau forever, one way I can measure my improvement is to go back to a song that I haven’t practiced in a few weeks – particularly one I’d gotten “stuck” on – and on the first or second playthrough, raise my accuracy and mastery scores. Or my “Score Attack” score or leaderboard placement. And let me tell you, it’s really cool to actually place somewhere in the top ten on the leaderboards. Fortunately there are enough less-popular songs (and less-popular parts, like bass and rhythm) that there’s usually room somewhere once you’ve gotten pretty decent at a song.

Six months ago, I switched over from primarily practicing rhythm guitar to lead. Lead is by far the more popular choice, but I considered rhythm to be more essential in general practice and a solid foundation skill. But it was finally time to start learning how to bust out those blistering solos. There are still some songs that are far more fun or challenging in their rhythm parts than lead, and I still prefer to play rhythm. Some example: Hey, Ho (The Lumineers); Welcome to the Black Parade (My Chemical Romance); Crazy On You (Heart); Pinball Hero (The Who), and Blaze of Glory (Bon Jovi).

I also picked up a 5-string bass guitar and have been playing some bass. Not too much, because it’s requiring the development of some brand-new calluses on my right hand. Adjusting to bass (especially adapting to the five-string when the notation is only for four-string) is a little challenging, but on the average it’s easier than lead or rhythm guitar. Note that I say, “on the average.” In the case of something like Duran Duran’s music, the bass is more exciting than the regular guitar parts.

Anyway – yeah. Plateaus. Plateaus suck. I imagine that without the game, right now I’d be having a really tough time staying motivated. I’m still learning a few new things here and there (both in the game and outside the game), but it’s still a point of just sticking with my established daily habit and the occasional sugar rush of new downloads to try out. But some things stand out:

  1. HungryLTWolf_FC100% Accuracy: This is really, really hard – especially when Rocksmith 2014 isn’t 100% dependable. It’s more likely to give you a false positive than a false negative, but due to various factors it still feels like every once in a while the game will register a “miss” when I’m pretty sure I nailed it. So with a longer song with a lot of notes, getting a flawless performance might take a measure of luck. That’s not my end-goal, but I generally figure if I can nail over 99%, I’m solid. But it really feels great to hit 100%.
  2. Memorizing songs: It’s funny how the end-goal of Rocksmith 2014 is to make you not play Rocksmith 2014, but that’s how it ought to be. But the point of maximum mastery (or playing on score attack on “Master”) is to play along with a song without any help from the game. I’ve been working towards that with a few songs, although it’s easy to forget if I don’t practice the song for a few days.
  3. Fret-Hand Muting: Over the last six months, I’ve worked on developing fret-hand muting (both for percussive “chucking” and to damp out unused strings to prevent accidental notes). Rocksmith isn’t very good at detecting when you’ve done it wrong, but it’s pretty clear to the ear. This is something I’ve had to go outside the game a bit more for help.
  4. Bend Accuracy: Over the last two months, I’ve started to get a better feel for bend accuracy. I’m still not very good at either, but I’ve been able to see some major progress. The game has some issues with this (possibly due to a slight lag that I hardly notice anymore, but it’s still there), but at least it has some good exercises to help you practice.

There are a lot of things where trying to do things the “Rocksmith way” can be an impediment. For one thing, playing along with songs can be noisy and hard to hear when you are making a mistake (especially if Rocksmith lets you get away with it). It can also encourage you to play sloppy but fast to keep up (even inside the riff repeater). Sometimes it’s best to unplug (or load up a “clean” tone and play in the main menu, or in session mode with just a metronome) and listen to yourself and practice a specific technique or just a part of the riff or transition without the game.

Once I’ve got that down, I go back to the game. It may not make a big difference to my overall score, but since my goal is to “play guitar” rather than “beat the game,” I’m happier about it.

At this point, I see no reason to stop what I’m doing. It’s fun, and it’s working, and I’m getting closer to a goal I’ve had for a long time. So why not?

Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Ian Tyrrell said,

    I picked up RS2014 after hearing you rave about it, and have been playing every day for at least 15 mins. I also have a 5-string bass, and I *wish* the game would show you the note names, rather than (or as well as) the fret numbers – then it would be much easier to move to the 5 strings.

    Some times you *REALLY* need the drop D (I’m looking in your direction Velvet Revolver…), but others you can fake out the tuning for and it’s even easier using the low B for some songs (Sweet Mountain River is fantastic with the low string)!

    One suggestion for dealing with the noisy songs issue is to tweak the sound levels, so bring everything else down a little, but max out your instrument. It’s especially useful in those songs where your chosen instrument is usually kept pretty low in the mix.


  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Sometimes I change the mixer, but not always. Sometimes it really depends on the song. The weird thing is that if I record myself (via FRAPS or something), I can totally hear myself and all the mistakes I’ve made, but I have a tough time hearing myself *while* I am playing.

  • David Carlton said,

    I love reading your Rocksmith 2014 posts! And yeah, the mixer settings are something I go back and forth on – sometimes I want to hear the guitar from the track so I have a good model to follow, whereas sometimes I want to hear myself so all my problems are exposed. (And I’m too lazy too fiddle with the settings much…)

    One thing that made a big difference with that for me recently is switching to earphones instead of external speakers: that put the sound right there, and meant that the amped version of the sound was much more present than the sound of the guitar as an acoustic instrument. So I could hear what was going on a lot better and I also almost immediately switched to using maybe half of the force that I had been when plucking.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Huh – I should probably try that. That might help. Thanks for the tip!