This week’s Rocksmith DLC was a collection of classical music arranged for guitars / bass / drums; I wasn’t sure what I’d think about it in advance, but I gave it a try yesterday and it was a lot of fun! I was worried that it would be over the top, trying to turn classical music into rock; but Ride of the Valkyries was the only piece that went particularly far in that direction and, honestly, I can’t blame them for that particular choice.

So the arrangements turned out to be pleasant to listen to; and, musically, they were interestingly different from the norm for songs in that game. A lot of the game’s music consists of chords and ostentatious guitar solos; I don’t particularly like the latter, and while I like the former fine, sometimes I want a change of pace. In contrast, the songs in this pack were a mixture of much less ostentatious melodic bits (except, of course, for Ride of the Valkyries) and arpeggiated sections that changed chords fairly frequently. So: the songs were fun to play, and I’ll probably keep on working on them.

The one exception was the Little Fugue. The arrangement was fine (or at least fine-ish, there were a few rock touches that I didn’t appreciate), but the performance was super heavy and plodding. But, in its weird way, that actually ended up being good for me, too: I know what I want that piece to sound like, and it wasn’t going to sound that way unless I went out of my way to make it so. So that gave me something to strive for that other songs in the pack didn’t.

Or, indeed, that other songs in the game don’t. Because this points at something I hadn’t really realized about Rocksmith: just how little I’d been working on my approach to songs. I try to make my playing sound good, not just get the notes right, but basically all the other songs available to me already sound good: they’re chosen because they’re great songs in their iconic performances! So the lead guitar track in the song is going to be great to listen to; and that in turn covers up a lot of flaws in my performance. Whereas the versions in this pack are arrangements of songs that have been recorded thousands of other times, and where this arrangement, just by the nature of the instrumentation, is not going to sound particularly canonical. That leaves a lot more room for me to think about the arrangements, and whether I want to play like that; sometimes the answer is yes (the arrangement of Rondo Alla Turca is charming, albeit with a way too straightforward beat), and sometimes the answer is no.

This also reinforces something I’d been aware of for a while: it’s time for me to significantly dial back on playing random songs the game throws at me, and to get back to focusing on improving a handful of songs. Playing random songs helped me a lot for years, but I’ve long since reached the limits of the game’s current recommendation engine (which really is not very good, I hope they focus on that for the next iteration). And even if the engine were better, it’s still time for me to focus on musicality more: it’s time for me to try to do a good job playing real songs instead of a so-so job playing stripped down versions of songs.

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