Just to preempt confusion: this blog post is about the song Love Hurts (by Incubus), as experienced through Rocksmith, it is not about any non-musical personal experience! So, if you’re a friend of mine, no need to worry: I won’t take a stand on to what extent love can be a painful experience, but I assure you, Liesl and I are doing just grand.

With that clarification out of the way: Love Hurts has turned out to be the single most interesting song for me to learn via Rocksmith. This is partly because of characteristics of the song itself, but partly because of the way its complexity gradually unfolds as the game gives you more and more notes.

On first encounter, the game presented the song to me as relatively uncomplicated, albeit in a somewhat unusual way: much more melodic than what I’m used to, with very little differentiation in that regard between the solo and the rest of the song. And yes, there are chords, but they’re sprinkled in, rather than having blocks of repeated chords.

At least that was how Rocksmith initially presented the song to me; as it threw in more notes, the number of chords (unsurprisingly) increased. But they still weren’t blocks of chords: they gave the song somewhat of a feel of two-part harmony, in fact. Which I’m used to when finger-picking other styles of music, but not when playing rock music with a pick.

And, beyond that, the specific chords were not at all what I expected. They were two note chords; but what that means most of the time in rock music is open fifths, and occasionally you’ll skip a string (muting the string in the middle) to get an octave. Here, though, the song had me skipping and muting two strings (playing either the 5th/7th or 3rd/5th frets on the A/B strings), making a major tenth.

That was interesting enough: I’ve never had to do that before. But then the game started to throw in still more notes, and the textures increased. On some of the phrases, they’d fill in the intermediate notes, turning it into a barred A chord. And sometimes the G string was left unmuted and open. (With the D string still muted.) This only happened when combined with the 3rd/5th frets (it would sound bad with the 5th/7th frets), turning the chord into C + G + E. That is, of course, just a C major chord, but it’s airier than I’m used to on the guitar, the standard way you learn to play a C major chord has those same three notes but sticks in another E (between the C and the G) and another C (between the G and the E), a much more solid sound.

This showcases a way in which guitar is different from other instruments that I’ve played: the string arrangements means that you have opportunities to sporadically change up your chords by letting open strings ring out in certain contexts. And the details of the chords matters when you do that: move your hand up or down a fret and that open string suddenly becomes dissonant. (And of course the guitar also lets you go in a completely different direction: with barre chords, you can shift up and down frets all you want!) Love Hurts in particular seems to go out of its way to pair open strings with high frets on nearby strings, and also to leave more space in the chords: as Rocksmith filled in more notes in the song, I started running into minor tenths formed by an open A plus a tenth fret on the D string.

I still can’t play the song well enough that the game gives me all the notes; I’m working at it every week, though, so I’m sure that will come. So who knows, maybe the song has more surprises in store for me? I will also say: I wasn’t at all familiar with Incubus before playing Rocksmith, but I’m (obviously) really glad I downloaded this song, and I also thought Anna Molly was great, albeit in a fashion that I’m somewhat more used to. I should probably listen to more of their stuff, though honestly I’m not sure that they’re going to turn into one of my favorite bands to listen to from the point of view of enjoying their songs as a whole; but as guitar parts their songs are great to both listen to and play while being quite instructive. And it brings out the best in Rocksmith‘s approach of gradually feeding you more and more notes.

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