The Real(er) Deal: Rock Band 3
Rick Peckham, Guitar Department Assistant Chair at Berklee, has played guitar for 44 years. He was called on early this year to help noted Cambridge video game developer Harmonix Music Systems develop its latest creation: Rock Band 3, and a sweet new Fender Mustang Pro controller with some significant improvements — namely, six buttons on 17 frets (102 buttons versus the original 5) plus six nylon strings that make playing the game more like the real thing than ever before.
Boston Daily: The most important question first: What’s your favorite Rock Band song to thrash to?
Rick Peckham: Let’s see. [Chicago’s] “25 or 6 to 4” is fun. [Ozzy Osbourne’s] “Crazy Train” is my favorite one though. I’ve been trying to play it on the expert level. I couldn’t play it before this — the game taught me that song! I gotta get [Jimi Hendrix’s] “Crosstown Traffic,” I gotta nail that one. I don’t have a keyboard yet but I want to get one and play [Queen’s] “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What I love is that Harmonix wants to involve some real musical knowledge — they’ve always represented a genuine musical spirit. So it’s been great to see this happen — it’s one of the fun things about being a musician in 2010.
BD: What was your involvement with making Rock Band 3?
RP: Harmonix showed me the new prototype guitar and I was really impressed with it. They asked if I’d be interested in acting as a consultant and every Wednesday I went into the Central Square offices to see what they came up with. They’re intensely creative people, just crackling bright. It was amazing to see the differences from one week to the next. They would ask me what I thought as far as the chord symbols for the game, what sort of nomenclature to use — they used my Berklee Rock Guitar Chord Dictionary as a reference.
BD: What sort of input were you giving them week to week?
RP: I was the theoretical conscience of the guitar part of the game. They didn’t want to be teaching stuff that was wrong or teaching bad habits, [so I was there to] to let them know if something was off. I really lobbied for and worked with them in getting chord symbols that made sense. For me as a parent, and as a musician that sees people pour hours into video games, it becomes a question of what’s the return on investment for that time.
BD: Yeah, you might as well be learning something. Do you think video games can ultimately teach people to play instruments?
RP: Well I think as a teacher the number one thing you need to have is the interest of the student — if you can capture the student’s interest everything else will follow. [Rock Band] is the embodiment of making a tool that will bring you through the dark days of not even touching a guitar to playing chords and melodies. The rules ruin it for a lot of people; what you’re supposed to know and do before having fun with an instrument really gets in the way. With this approach they’re just working on turning people on to music performance. And at Berklee, that’s what we’re trying to do too. Our philosophy is strikingly similar.
BD: Do you think someone who has never touched a guitar could play this version of Rock Band for a few weeks, and then have some success playing a real guitar?
RP: That’s a good question. This is the first time that I can see that day coming.
Are you Rock Band’s next Eddie van Halen? Or Satriani or Hendrix or Page? Hit up ImprovBoston’s Rock Band competitions every third Thursday of the month.
40 Prospect St., Cambridge, 617-576-1253, improvboston.com.