Why play a plastic guitar when you can have a real one?

Opinion: Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman reckons that games like Rock Band stop young people from practising real musical instruments – and he’s right.

While kids can get instant gratification from grabbing a plastic Strat and fondly imagine they’re really playing, they’re missing out on the genuine enjoyment that learning to play a real instrument will bring them over the rest of their lives.

The trend toward instant gratification with no effort at all could well mean we run out of real musicians when old fogeys like Wyman and myself finally kick the bucket.

Wyman was speaking at the recording of a charity single at the Abbey Road studios in London and told the BBC: “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.”

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason says that games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are “interesting new developments, but [it] irritates me having watched my kids do it – if they spent as much time practising the guitar as learning how to press the buttons they’d be damn good by now.”

Wyman and Mason were speaking ahead of the launch of The Beatles: Rock Band game which features songs from the Beatles’ back catalog. The game allows players to strum along with The Beatles at The Cavern Club and Shea Stadium.

Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of Harmonix Music Systems, the outfit behind Rock Band, refuted the musicians’ claims, saying: “Most people try to learn an instrument at some point in their lives, and almost all of them quit after a few months or a year or two.

“This, I think, is because the earliest years of learning an instrument are the least gratifying. When people play Rock Band, however, they very quickly get a glimpse of the rewards that lie on the other side of the wall. We’re constantly hearing from fans who were inspired by Rock Band to start studying a real instrument.”

Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but let me add my ten cents to the debate.

I’ve been playing guitar for more than 40 years and I guess I’d count as competent. This isn’t through any hard work and determined practice, but because I’ve been doing it for so damned long that I’ve accidentally become reasonably good. If I’d practiced hard back in the 1960s, I’d be rich and famous by now and you wouldn’t have to read the junk I turn out on TG Daily.

But I didn’t, I’m not and you do. Sorry about that.

What I do have, however, is a passionate love for music, musical instruments and guitars in particular, which is my excuse for owning nine of them. They’re not terribly exotic – the most expensive costing around $1,500 – but I love them all dearly.

They all play and sound different and if you were to ask any guitarist which one they’d rescue if the house was on fire they’d look at you as if you were asking them which of their kids to save.

Playing a real musical instrument is better than sex. It lasts longer and you don’t have to phone for a cab afterwards.

Playing along on a plastic guitar with a computer game is nothing compared with the magical moments when, either playing with a real band, or just noodling away on your own, you accidentally get a few bars absolutely right. It’s impossible to describe how good this feels.

The nearest I can come to it is how it feels when you throw a motorcycle into a corner and you come out of it with a grin from ear to ear because you know that no one could have taken a better line.

Yeah, I know that’s not terribly helpful to non-guitarists or bikers, but that’s the point – if you don’t try it for real, you’ll never experience the true magic of playing real music. And consider this: for the price of a games console and a copy of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you could buy a halfway decent guitar.

Don’t buy a $50 POS, get the most expensive one you can afford – it will sound better and be easier to play.

And even if you give up after a few weeks, you’ll be able to sell it for almost what you paid for it. Or just keep it because it’s so damn pretty.

Yes, your fingers might hurt a bit. If you’re really trying, they’ll bleed. But take it from me, it really is worth persevering. The rewards are fantastic.

For God’s sake at least try to do something real before you die.