Back at the beginning of May, I wrote a piece about the positive impacts of music as an educational tool in the classroom. As school is winding down, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how influential music has been in my life. In most of these cases, what I learned from music came from moments outside of school.
Whether it’s singing karaoke, rocking out with a guitar, or pounding away on a cow bell, playing music can be a powerful experience. It can spark emotion, foster creativity, increase student engagement, and even make you smarter!
However, there is truly a magical quality to playing music when it is done with others. While playing music involves instruments and developing some fundamental skills, even novices can reap the benefits of finding ways to harmonize and create together.
The Power of Musical Journeys
Growing up in a musical family, I’ve always had access musical instruments and the encouragement to learn to play them. I spent hours in my room practicing for my clarinet lessons, noodling around on keyboards, and teaching myself guitar. While these efforts were personally rewarding, they pale in comparison to the experiences I’ve had playing music with others.
I look back fondly at memories of singing with my family, playing gigs with my high school cover band, performing in a pit orchestra, and learning how to jam in college apartment basements. These experiences hold such special meaning because they produced music that no single one of the participants could have done on their own. In each case, what we made together was so much more than the sum of the parts; beyond the music, we connected.
That being said, some of my favorite musical memories stem from a series of nights spent with friends who did not possess a lick of musical talent. In spite of that deficit, we still found a way to share in the power of music together. The experiences were on par with any other I can recall.
Regardless of your family’s musical skills, you can use the music-playing experience to collaborate, create, and form meaningful bonds together, too!
A Music Playing Experience for the Masses
While I would consider myself a musical person, my friends certainly are not. Despite that limitation, we rose to the heights of super-stardom together as one of the most epic bands my living room has ever seen.
This dream was made possible thanks to the video game Rock Band and its cadre of plastic instrument controllers. The genius of the game is that it makes playing music easy.
To play, each player has a scrolling runway filled with colored bars corresponding to the colored buttons on their instrument. The buttons need to be pressed in rhythm to build up the score and keep the song going. If a player misses enough notes, the song abruptly ends and the players are left to restart the song or pick a new one.
Since the difficulty can be dialed up or down depending upon a particular player’s ability, you can create a band that includes a variety of skill levels. Newer versions even include a “no fail” mode to help limit the frustration caused by mistakes.
Editions of the game can be found for all sorts of video game platforms, new and old. The instruments are still fairly easy to track down online or at your local second-hand shop. The third incarnation of the game even supports more realistic guitar, keyboard, and drum controllers; playing the game can actually lead to learning skills that translate to the real instruments.
The Plastic “Oh No!” Band
For my friends and I, it started innocently enough; one of my buddies got a copy of the game and its accompanying plastic guitars, drum kit, and microphone. We sat around making our virtual rock star personas and flipped through the game’s robust track list to try out some songs.
When the game began, we would get as far as we could, playing the “notes” on the screen as they flew by. The goal was to see if we could make it through each song without losing a band member. Initially it was little different than any other video game experience we had had together; we played to have something to do while we hung out.
But then everything changed. We started learning how to play music together. Our drummer got better at keeping time which made it easier for the instrumentalists to get in sync. The guitar fingering patterns became second nature as we developed our muscle memory. In between our play sessions, each of us focused on learning the melodies and lyrics to different songs to help ensure our vocals were on point.
Before long, we were deftly changing our plastic band’s lineup song by song to ensure we had the right musicians tackling the parts that were the best match for their respective skills. It got to the point where nearly every night we would text each other after work with a simple question: “Get the band together?”
The game progressed, our virtual band tackled more challenging songs, and we started playing larger and larger virtual stadiums. The whole experience came together one night as we hit the screaming crescendo of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It was a song we had played dozens of times before, but this was different; this was for our induction into the HALL OF FAME!
So there we were, blowing the doors off of my suburban condo like it was Wembley Stadium. I must admit there’s something inherently silly about a bunch of 20-somethings playing with toy instruments all belting out their best Roger Daltrey in unison. But just like any legendary rock concert experience -Woodstock, Glastonbury, Live Aid – you just had to be there.
All kidding aside, playing music together had created a moment unlike any other we had experienced in the tenure of our friendships. In order to be successful we had to learn together, we had to listen to each other, and we had to find ways to support one another. What relationship wouldn’t benefit from improvement in those three areas?
The Family Band Side Project
Since that fateful night, I’ve purchased the Rock Band set for my parents and have had similar experiences rocking out at family get-togethers. It starts out with some insecurity as people get used to the game, but before long, the musical magic sets in. Members start listening to each other and working together to recreate some of the greatest rock songs of all time. Playing a few songs “just to try it out” quickly turns to marathon sessions and actual physical exhaustion (rocking, it turns out, is an amazing workout!).
There is a humongous catalog of music spanning a variety of decades and genres that can be purchased to add to the games. This means there is something for nearly every musical taste. In our family, Rock Band became a way to share songs across the generation gap and create yet another layer of connections.
We’re not alone; Rock Band has become a family affair in a lot of households. It doesn’t seem to matter if players have experience with video games or playing music; the allure of taking to the stage and becoming a rock-star is infectious.
If you are looking for a way to spend some quality family time, a game disc and a couple plastic instruments might spark a whole new way to connect. Share your Rock Band stories in the comments below or on social media!