Guitar Heroes and tin ears

Here’s what the future of music sounds like: Clackity-clackity-clack. Clack-clack. Clackclackclackclackclack.

That’s the sound of Guitar Hero, a video game that lets any nimrod pretend to be a rock star. Guitar Hero and its many evolutions and variations have taken the nation by storm.

For those of you blessed enough to be unfamiliar with Guitar Hero, here’s how it works: The player uses a “controller” shaped like an electric guitar to “play” along with a cartoon band on the video screen. The screen shows different colors for different notes. The colors match five colored buttons up in the fret area of the controller guitar. At the other end of the guitar is a little plastic lever that must be clacked up and down, as if it were the pick used by the player to pluck the strings.

See, there aren’t any actual strings. “Playing” the “guitar” is a matter of pushing the correct buttons with one hand and clacking that lever with the other, as fast as the rock song blaring from the game requires.

Guitar Hero is huge at our house. Our teen-age sons both enjoy the game, and their friends come over to our house to “jam.”

Our sons know to keep the volume turned down on the songs, especially if Crazy Dad is trying to “work,” but there’s no volume control for that clacking noise. What I get -- through closed doors, through walls -- is the merest mumble of some familiar rock song and the clackity-clack-clack-clack of teen-age frenzy. Around the clacking clock.

It reminds me of those laboratory tests where mice or chimps repeatedly push a lever to get a treat. A teen-age boy apparently will clack a lever for hours on end, even if the only treat is being able to call his best friend “loser.”

The irony at our house is that both our sons actually play musical instruments. They can read music and pick out songs by ear and all that jazz. But, for amusement, they’d rather clack away at Guitar Hero.

I’m sure it takes skill and determination to succeed at the games, but clacking that lever is not the same as playing the song on a real guitar. I fear we’re creating an entire generation of youngsters who think they’re musicians because they can play Guitar Hero.

Eye-hand coordination is not the same as musical talent. I can type fast as a fiend, but that doesn’t mean I can play the piano.

Given the speed of technological advance, how long before real guitars come with buttons and clackers rather than strings? You’ll no longer need talent to be a rock musician; all you’ll need are fingers.

Virtual music by virtual musicians, virtually all the time until parents virtually tear off their own ears. That’s the future of rock ‘n’ roll.

Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky to clack.

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