In this post I want to explore the guitar tuition “game” Rocksmith 2014 Edition, and talk about my experience with it as it relates to learning to play or improving at the guitar.

So first of all, let’s talk about what is Rocksmith?

  • It’s a game available for PS4, PS3, XBOX360, and Mac/PC. I personally have the PS4 edition. [1]
  • It costs between $40 and $60 new depending on where you look.
  • You need a real 6-string electric (or acoustic electric) guitar to play it. Use the included Real Tone Cable to plug your instrument into the console’s USB slot.
  • It’s less of a game, and more of an instructional tool. It’s not like Guitar Hero.

The game’s library has some 50 songs, spanning various genres with plenty of classics included. The way it works is that when you pick a song to learn, the notes/tabs sort of “come at you” Guitar-hero style, and as you hit the notes on your actual guitar you can see note and chord names, suggested fingerings, fret positions, etc. The emphasis changes depending on if you want to focus on soloing or playing rhythm guitar. It’s all very colorful and flashy which helps break the monotony of traditional lessons.

I know I said it’s not a game, but there are mini-games within it which attempt to teach you different guitar concepts.

The coolest feature is probably the Riff Repeater, which lets you practice certain passages over and over and over again until you nail them (or at least get close). Doing a passage over and over again is something I’ve always found difficult to do on my own – it’s too easy to get frustrated and put my guitar down or move on to some easier material – but in Rocksmith’s gamified form, it’s a much nicer process (and frankly it’s necessary to get better at playing).

Now I gotta admit, I am not a rank beginner at playing the guitar. I have been playing a 6-string guitar for a couple years, so I am decent at best (any serious player knows a couple years is nothing when it comes to guitar mastery). I think my existing level of proficiency is definitely a benefit going into Rocksmith.

And that’s probably my biggest takeaway when it comes to the question, can you learn guitar just using Rocksmith? If you’ve never touched the instrument, I would say this is NOT the best way to go about it. Not Rocksmith alone, for instance.

The game simply doesn’t cater to an absolute beginner in the way that a beginner program would on more traditional online lessons. If you don’t know anything about the guitar, Rocksmith loses a lot of its fun factor and appeal.

So, what do I suggest? To embark on your guitar learning journey, start with some online lessons first. Some good ones are Guitar Tricks, Justin Guitar, and JamPlay. [2] Guitar Tricks and JamPlay are paid, while Justin Guitar is freely available via YouTube. Do some research on which ones suits your personal taste and budget, but any of them will do at the end of the day. Go through and do their beginner learning tracks. Learn to tune up your guitar, play your first chord, chain together different chords, play along to a metronome, and maybe get to your first scale or two. Oh yeah, and build some calluses!

After that, come back to Rocksmith. Do Rocksmith and lessons at the same time, actually! In fact, I would call Rocksmith the gasoline and more traditional online guitar lessons the fire. With both going at the same time you can have some explosive results. 

The one caution I would give about Rocksmith is that there’s some latency, at least on my PS4 version. I’ve read about it [3] and unfortunately it’s a thing you have to deal with if you’ve hooked up the console to the TV with an HDMI cable. Optical cable helps the issue.