As previously threatened, I tried out the drums in Rock Band today. And they’re fun! But mysterious.

It turns out that skill in playing plastic instruments does transfer, at least to some extent: I started on Medium, and I was passing the songs fine. For the first few songs, my leg hurt like crazy; then one of the pre-song splash screens told me that I could keep my foot down pretty much the whole time, only raising it to play the pedal, and after that, my leg felt a lot better.

What was disconcerting, and remains disconcerting, is that I’m missing a lot of notes, and I can’t tell why. Of course, sometimes I can tell why: I’m playing the wrong thing! But sometimes it seems to my brain and ears that I’m playing the right thing (I was going to say “playing the right notes”, but that’s not correct – pads? Hmm, I guess I’ll stick with notes) and I’ll still lose my streak. Some of that is probably simple user error, but I think there’s something more subtle going on in some circumstances: if I fall out of a streak partway on the seventh iteration of a repetitive sequence, then clearly my hands and feet are capable of getting it right, so if it sounds right to my ears, what’s going on? In fact, I caught a few situations where I fell out of a streak immediately after hitting the last note in a star sequence: clearly I got all the notes right, since I got star power credit for the sequence, and I hadn’t played any notes since the end of the sequence, so how could I have lost my streak?

My best guess is that I’m occasionally double-tapping somehow, especially with my left hand; I’ll need to experiment with more forceful strokes or less forceful strokes or a looser grip or a tighter grip or something until I figure out what’s going on. It was fairly frustrating: I went through the first 15 songs in the morning, and they generally felt quite easy, yet my longest streak was 63 notes, and on half the songs I didn’t even reach a 4x multiplier once. (I never got 5 stars; I think I only even got 4 stars on one of those songs.)

I did better in the afternoon: I had streaks over 100 notes several times, and had several songs where I hit 4x multipliers repeatedly. Still no 5 stars, though, and still more 3 stars than 4. Ironically, I frequently had an easier time getting good streaks going on the harder songs; in fact, I did my best on the next-to-last song. (Is it Run to the Hills? I can’t remember.) I did my worst on my old nemesis, Green Grass, despite its only being tier 6 on drums; it’s just really long and had a few sequences where my foot and left hand accidentally got synced up instead of being on opposite notes.

A very different feel musically than playing guitar: a lot more repetition, no solos. Which was reflected in the way star power works: you can’t turn on overdrive at arbitrary points (though you do have frequent opportunities), and in fact I found it a bit annoying to hold off on using it, but that’s fine because there aren’t as many hard sections where you need lots of stored-up overdrive to rescue yourself. (Or if there were, I didn’t notice them on Medium.) Interesting to see the way the notes and rhythms were varied, especially on the harder songs; I should clearly pay more attention to the drum parts when listening to music.

Lots of fun; I certainly wasn’t expecting to play through all the songs in a single day, but it’s quite addictive. (I skipped the bonus tracks, but I did do Still Alive.) I even tried the first five songs on Hard; quite doable, but I imagine I will run into trouble on the later songs at that difficulty level, and my foot definitely needs training. (I imagine my hands will need training as well on the later songs, as the notes come faster, though that wasn’t an issue on Medium.) Fortunately, I saved a link to this Game | Life article which gives some useful tips; I’ll have to study it. And maybe I’ll hold off on Expert until I’ve switched over to Rock Band 2, so I can take advantage of its improved drum training modes?

But I’m holding off on RB2 for the time being: my experiences today have confirmed my idea that I want to spend more time exploring what the original has to offer before moving on to the sequel. (Though I imagine that guitar will continue to be my primary instrument.) I’m not done with drums yet, I haven’t tried vocals, and I suppose I should even try the bass. And there’s some DLC I want to try out, too, though that could conceivably wait until after I’ve seen what RB2 has to offer.

What a game Rock Band is. “Game” isn’t even the right word: what a platform, what a medium. It seems entirely likely that I’ll still be regularly playing it or one of its successors a year from now; I wouldn’t be surprised if I were doing so a decade from now.

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