Relearning the Beatles

October 18, 2009

This week I came home to discover a huge box from Amazon waiting for me on my porch. When Daniel got home I opened it to discover the new Beatles RockBand inside. Inside were a faux Hofner Beatle bass guitar, four drum pads with a bass drum kick pedal, and a USB microphone on a stand. Hmm, no guitars for John or George, nor more mikes. I guess they want people to share the microphone like Paul and George used to.

As someone who can play almost every Beatles song on the guitar or the piano, I was skeptical at best that this would be a rewarding experience. Sure, I’m as happy as I was when the film “Across the Universe” came out a few years back and converted millions of teenage girls into Beatles fans, but this device promised to actually get people to play and sing — not just listen on their iPod.

We unpacked the box, put in batteries, Daniel put together the drums, and I strapped on the bass, offering to sing and play bass for “Twist and Shout.” The more I thought about it, I cut back to just bass until I knew what I was doing. A video introduction started to get us psyched to start playing. Then the song started. Had I had a regular bass, I would have started and matched the music perfectly, but what the hell were these colored images streaming at me?? Oh! Those are notes, and they are color coded, and when they move past this line I’m supposed to do something. Totally flustered I tried to figure it out. The neck of my guitar has five colored thingees where the frets are, and they correspond to the colored bars coming at me on the screen. They didn’t correspond to high or low chords, or tonic, subdominant, and dominant, they just meant CHORD CHANGES: PLAY! So I gave up my years of notational experience and went with the flow, playing a red plastic button when the red bar went across the line on the screen, and ditto with the yellow, green and blue bars. I was starting to get it.

Daniel, who had previous experience with RockBand, was flailing away on the drums like a pro. I felt like an idiot. It reminded me of that moment when the original members of Kiss tried to play their own songs using RockBand without much success while Gene Simmons’ son was the pro.
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Eventually, I started to figure it out. My brain made the switch to a new notational reality and “got it.” My refined sense of harmony took a backseat to the plastic five color keys on the neck of my Beatle bass and I had to just get over it.

Daniel then encouraged me to sing a song, which I did pretty well. One gets ranked by the number of correct notes one sings. Later on we performed “I Am the Walrus.” I have to say I was very proud to have a husband who earned a 99 percentile in the HARD mode singing that song. Wow!

We will probably add another guitar or two, assuming our friends decide this is a fun social thing to do. The makers of the program were smart in only releasing 50 songs so far; more will be added as time goes on, like software upgrades. I like the social aspect of this trend–not so far from sitting around the piano in the late 19th century singing parlor songs after dinner. Except we are singing, er, screaming: SHAKE IT SHAKE IT UP BABY NOW, SHAKE IT UP BABY, TWIST AND SHOUT!

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