Music and Gaming TLT Symposium

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The session I chaired was the music and gaming session "Blurring the Lines: Gaming as Preparation for Real Life," with Ann Clements, Tom Cody, Eric McKee from the School of Music. I admit I was motivated by the chance to see a demo of Guitar Hero, but the session actually touched on a lot of themes of NextGen issues, community building, authentic learning, and of course games.

The initial motivation was an observation that not music is (not always) learned in music class or band camp, but through Guitar Hero, DJing, remixing and playing with MIDI music. How can music educators capture the motivation of Guitar Hero and put it in the classroom?

The first part was an explanation of Guitar Hero. Although it looks like a toy guitar with colored buttons, Cody explained that the way it set up chords, melody and rhythm was very accurate. He was able to use the Guitar Hero notation on a music staff as is.

When you're in guitar hero though, I thought the visualization of a stream of incoming commands actually showed the structure of the rhythm and cords in some ways better than traditional notation. Already I could see that Guitar Hero would help you with (reading) traditional music (scores). I think it could help with basic fingering or other kinesthetic skills depending on the instrument. One student reported that Drum Kit did help with learning to play "real" percussion.

Guitar Hero was presented to a set of preservice music teachers, many of whom had succeeded in traditional music education. Interestingly, they were very skeptical of the value of Guitar Hero, but fortunately playing is believing.

In fact, many students reported that they felt Guitar Hero (as well as the Rock Band suite with multiple instruments) was a good tool for teaching improvisation. Not only can you "play" a band, but you can pre-program other instruments and improvise on the real instrument. In addition, Rock Band has a "studio" portion in which you can program custom tracks and play with melody, chords, rhythm and so forth for each instrument. You can experiment with different effects relatively quickly.

A final benefit was how the game changed the course dynamics. In the beginning, the atmosphere was very formal with students feeling competitive, but the band atmosphere of the game allowed the students to take charge and develop a "jam session" groove valued by many musicians.

As with all technology, there were kinks including dialup speeds for uploading modules. But this is one gaming technology that really shows how learning can be fun and educational.

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