If you regularly play Rock Band, congratulations. You likely have better music perception skills than the average non-gamer. It’s not that surprising, considering that Rock Band requires you to match your guitar, bass, drums, or voice to on-screen musicians. But what is surprising: In some cases, music-game players could have comparable music perception skills to actual musicians.
In the paper “How Musical Are Music Video Game Players,” researchers studied three groups of volunteers: non-musician non-gamers; trained musicians with no gaming experience; and gamers with no musical training. Volunteers were asked to play Rock Band’s guitar at different difficulties, then given a music perception test, which measured each group’s ability to determine tuning, tempo, melody, and accent.
Dr. Amanda Pasinski, an adjunct professor at University of Nevada Las Vegas and Nevada State College, conducted the study along with her colleagues Dr. Erin Hannon and Dr. Joel Snyder and broke the four tests down for me:
The tuning test involves “hear[ing] the difference in a C major cord if one of the notes is slightly mistuned.” The tempo test compares two pieces of music, and listeners had to determine “whether or not the comparison is a little bit faster, slower, or the same.” During the melody test, each group had to “listen to a standard or comparison melody and see if the comparison had any notes that were different.” And as for the accent test, each group had to “listen to a series of beats, [to determine if] one or more of them were a little bit louder or softer.”
The results? Musicians and gamers scored about the same as each other in tuning. The musicians “won” the tempo and melody tests, but they weren’t statistically different from either the gamers or the control group. As for the accent test, the gamers, the musicians, and the control group performed about the same.
Let’s get some perspective here: These musicians have at least six years of training, and sixty percent of them play more than one instrument. The fact that gamers can challenge them in a game about music is kinda freakin’ awesome.
Of course, this is only one study, and you can’t just make a blanket statement, “Playing Rock Band gives you the power to challenge Steve Vai to a guitar duel and win.” But this could genuinely mean, as the paper’s abstract tells us, that musical video games “could potentially enhance music perception skills in individuals across a broad spectrum of society who are otherwise unable to invest the time and/or money required to learn a musical instrument.”
In other words, it’s worthy of study… but not by Dr. Pasinski. She’ll be helping Dr. Snyder on his next experiment, which will involve “training people to play Rock Band and see if that that training itself can cause differences in their music perception skills.”
The next people they may want to train is the group Rush. They only scored a paltry 31 percent in Rock Band… for their own song, “Tom Sawyer.”
Featured image credit: Harmonix Music Systems, Inc.