Rock Band: The Menace Of Mechanical Music?

Beatles Rock Band

I just read an article published by the BBC titled “Rock Stars Cool Over Video Games” which provides the opinions of well-known rock stars regarding the popular video game ‘Rock Band.’  The article quotes Bill Wyman – former Rolling Stones bass guitarist – as saying:

“It encourages kids not to learn, that’s the trouble. It makes less and less people dedicated to really get down and learn an instrument. I think [that] is a pity so I’m not really keen on that kind of stuff.”

I find this funny coming from a ‘revolutionary’ Rock & Roller.

In 1906, one of the most popular conductor/composers of the era, John Philip Sousa wrote an article/essay which he called “The Menace Of Mechanical Music”  In which Mr. Sousa describes the invention of recorded, or ‘canned’ music in much the same way that Mr. Wyman describes Rock Band… if not worse. Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Sousa’s article.

“Right here is the menace in machine-made music! The first rift in the lute has appeared. The cheaper of these instruments of the home are no longer being purchased as formerly, and all because the automatic music devices are usurping their places.

And what is the result? The child becomes indifferent to practice, for when music can be heard in the homes without the labor of study and close application, and without the slow process of acquiring a technique, it will be simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely, and with him a host of vocal and instrumental teachers, who will be without field or calling.

When a mother can turn on the phonograph with the same ease that she applies to the electric light, will she croon her baby to slumber with sweet lullabys, or will the infant be put to sleep by machinery?

Children are naturally imitative, and if, in their infancy, they hear only phonographs, will they not sing, if they sing at all, in imitation and finally become simply human phonographs — without soul or expression?”

Sound familiar?

Since the publication of Sousa’s article over a century ago, and the advent of the phonograph, it seems that not only did people continue to learn how to play musical instruments, but entirely new music genres like Jazz and Rock & Roll were born.  Louis Armstrong still picked up a coronet, Elvis Presley still picked up a guitar, and Bill Wyman still picked up the bass guitar and played for The Rolling Stones.

Perhaps the true lesson to be learned is from yet another famous composer, Aaron Copland who wisely said…

“To stop the flow of music would be like stopping time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”

Have no fear Bill, Rock Band is not a substitution for learning musical intruments, it is a simulation.  At the same time – like the phonograph – this popular video game may very well represent an invaluable step in the evolution of music in general.  My prediction is that Rock Band will not impede and dilute, but instead will encourage and inspire future generations of musicians, and the learning of all things musical.

-Craig Sumsky



2 Responses

  1. Very good article. I think the argument “Why don’t you learn a real instrument?” goes out the window later this year when Rock Band 3 actually teaches you how to play REAL instruments (Guitar/Bass, Drums, & Keyboard). It’s funny to see those arguing so loud on that point are still angry despite getting just what they asked for!

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