Real Guitar Games : Learn Guitar with Yousician, Rocksmith, Rock Prodigy and more!

What is the best way to learn guitar? This is undoubtedly one of the most enduring questions in the musical world. There are so many answers to the question - and if you ask any avid guitar player who is honest, they'd be hard-pressed to give you a concrete answer. Why? Because there does not seem to be one "correct" answer. In fact, some would say any method is valid if at the end of the day (actually, at least months but probably years) you can play the instrument! While it is without question that some methods of learning are better than others, there is one way of learning that has just recently been available recently thanks to technology: learning guitars though games a-la Guitar Hero! It is my personal way of learning guitar after many failed attempts in my younger years. Although I'm no Steve Vai yet, I'm really happy about my guitar abilities after having learnt on games and apps almost exclusively for three years. If you would like to know about learning guitar through "real guitar games", you've come to the right place!

Guitar games which use a real guitar as opposed to a dedicated guitar joystick such as Guitar Hero have only been available relatively recently. Some notable ones are Rocksmith, Rockband, You Rock, and my personal favorite Yousician. I will mostly be talking about Yousician because it is the game/app I utilize the most and I will also talk about Rocksmith. I am not affiliated with any of the companies that produce the games/apps in anyway.



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Rocksmith is the first real guitar game that I came to know and tried. The version that I tried was the original version and this is the game that opens my eyes to the possibilities of Guitar Hero style games that uses a real guitar. This is the game that got me excited and hooked! I came to know Rocksmith through a client of mine who runs a DJ music school and VDO game store. He happens to have a guitar and I casually said something along the line of "I wish they had Guitar Hero but with a real guitar instead". And with that, he introduced me to Rocksmith and rocked my world (pun intended).

Rocksmith is one of the first commercially successful real guitar game. It was launched by Ubisoft in 2011 for the PC, PlayStation 3, and the XBox 360. There were two packages available: one that comes with a guitar (a Les-Paul Junior) and one without. I chose the one without. Regardless of your choice, you will get a dongle which allows you to plug in any guitar provided that it has a pickup. Acoustic guitar with pre amps works as well although I'd recommend an electric guitar. As is with all games of this type, Rocksmith tries to balance being a game and a learning tool. In the case of Rocksmith, it leans more towards the game side. If you are familiar with Guitar Hero then Rocksmith probably won't feel foreign to you. You start off at easy stages with easy songs and as you clear each song, new stages with harder songs will be unlocked for you as you progress through the game. And let me tell you right now that learning through games really worked and is really fun! On the very first day, I was able to play and master "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. In fact, if my memory is correct it is the very first song of the game. As you progress further and further you also unlock guitar gears such as pedal boards and effects. Ubisoft also had more songs for you to download through DLC in case the songs that are available through the game aren't enough for you musical appetite.

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I enjoyed Rocksmith very much and it was the game that opened my eyes to the possibilities of real guitar games, but I had some problems with it. The first and the biggest problem for me was that Rocksmith doesn't use TAB system. Although at this stage of my guitar playing my guitar knowledge was limited, I did know what guitar tabs are and that they are the quasi-standard guitar notation system for the modern age. Instead of using the tab system which most guitarists are already familiar with and what many new guitarists are keen to learn, Rocksmith opted to use their own notation system which scrolls vertically instead of horizontally. I think the reason Ubisoft opted for this option was to make the game somewhat similar to Guitar Hero. It was a decision that backfired though as many people complained about this and is one of the main reasons the game was dropped by many. Another big problem was that Rocksmith has a latency issue. What this means is when you strum the guitar, it takes a while until you hear the sound you've just played. This makes for a diminished enjoyment while rocking out. It also tried too hard be a game and because of that there's a certain amount of tries you can go through and then it's game over and you had to start all over. Initially, the number of tries was a paltry 3 but a patch later introduced increased this to 30. Even so, the limited number of tries quickly became a hindrance on learning and kind of defeats the purpose. I don't know why can't they just let you keep trying a part until you get it (the way I'm sure even professional guitarists do)? Rumors have it that this is an unpatchable feature of the game. In any case, it is one of the reasons that put me off. Another thing that I found annoying about Rocksmith was how it forced to tune my guitar almost every time I start playing. I mean I know it's good to keep your guitar in tune but seriously, tuning every two minutes? That's a little over the top if you ask me. Because of all the reasons above I searched for an alternative that would have a better balance between being a game and a learning tool as well as utilize the TAB system. My search leads me to Yousician.


Whereas Rocksmith was the game that opened my eyes to the possibilities of real guitar games and got me excited, Yousician is the game that really taught me how to play the guitar. This is the game that found the balance between gaming and learning and is the one I've stuck with for over three years now. In fact, it started life as a whole different product called Guitar Bots.

Guitar Bots

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Guitar Bots was the first iteration of Yousician. It first started out as a browser-only game which ran on the Unity engine. If I remember correctly, towards the end of its life it was also available on mobile devices. When I first saw Guitar Bots I liked its aesthetics immediately. It was very cute and looked very inviting. It also had a very European feel to it (which reflects the fact that the development company known at that time as Ovelin is primarily a European company). The game utilized an interface that was based on the TAB system which was exactly what I was looking for. It also was more balanced towards being a learning tool and didn't impose things like a limited 30 "life" trials for a particular section. The practice mode allowed you to slow down the music and loop any section until you got it. It even had a "step" mode where the game will wait until you play the right note until moving on. I found it very useful in the beginning (this mode was removed from Yousician though). If I remember correctly you were also able to upload your own songs in Guitar Pro (up to . gp5) format.

One thing that people seems to complain about Guitar Bots was that it charged via subscription. There was a small window when a lifetime subscription was on the menu (it was about $299) and I really regret not going for that plan. When I signed up the price was $9.99 per month. Though it is a small price to pay, a lot of people did not like it. I personally am happy to pay the monthly fee because Guitar Bots (and later Yousician) consistently comes out with new features and improvements to the core system such as note detection accuracies. Compared to taking traditional guitar lessons, the subscription price is in fact really low. Price seems to be going up however so be quick if you want to lock in the subscription price while it is still low.

Guitar Bots wasn't without flaws though. One of the biggest problems I had was its inefficiency in detecting chords. It had no problems at all detecting single notes but when it came to chords I was deeply frustrated. I even came up with a solution of playing just the two highest strings of the chord in order to have the game recognize it, which is less than ideal. There were other technical limitations with Guitar Bots which mostly stems from the Unity system its self which the game seems to have outgrown. A lot of these problems were fixed when the new program "Yousician" was launched

Please excuse any inaccuracies I've written about Guitar Bots. This game is no longer available and I'm writing from memory


After Guitar Bots have outgrown the Unity engine, the next version of the product was the Yousician. Whereas Guitar Bots was a browser game, Yousician was a standalone program for the Windows and the Mac. There are also mobile app versions for both the Android and the iPhone I use the Windows and the Android version so I will be talking mainly about them although I suspect the Mac and the iPhone version will be very similar. The Windows version has a dedicated launcher which when launched will automatically check for any updates and apply any updates automatically. Though some people find this "launcher" business annoying, I personally love it. And there really are many updates which in turns makes the program better and better.

Aesthetically, Yousician is quite different from its predecessor, the Guitar Bots. Whereas the former was mainly a game and the graphic was more childlike, Yousican is unmistakably more serious. Although it can definitely still be classified as a game, it undoubtedly leans towards being a learning tool much more heavily than before.

The core learning module of Yousician is divided into two paths: the lead path and the rhythm path. Each path will have lessons that are more geared towards the two type of playing. You don't have to start at the very beginning though as you can take a test and the game will take you directly to your current level. It turns out I'm more of a lead player than a rhythm player, who knew! A knowledge path is also available but it is quite a late addition to the game and I haven't tried it out for my self yet.

The main gaming section retains the TAB style layout like Guitar Bots though the graphics are much more mature and all traces of being cartoony now absent. One subtle difference that I think has a big effect is instead of the timing indicator "perfect, a little early, etc" now pops up next to the notes which make them a lot easier to see. Another great addition is the ability to choose to see the notes as standard notations. What I find to have improved tremendously is the game's ability to detect chords which I'd say is around 95% accurate at the moment. I must add that about two months ago the game still had trouble detecting the D chord but since about a week ago it seems to have corrected itself. So constant code improvements must be going on under the hood which is definitely a good thing. You can go through each song in one go or go through them part by part. After finishing each part you will be rewarded with one to three stars and a score depending on how well you did and if you got all the notes right you will get three gold stars. Yousician also has a function for you to follow people which allow you to see how well you stack up against your peers.

The practice mode of Yousician is extremely helpful. You can slow the tempo way down to 25% for parts that are especially hard. You can choose to have the speed increase by 5% increments automatically as soon as you get enough notes right which I find quite useful. Chord diagrams will always show up in this mode (as opposed to only when you get many particular chords wrong in the normal game aka performance mode) which helps out tremendously if you haven't memorized some chords yet.

Yousician's Challenge mode is a weekly set of songs that allows players to play against each other. This is one of my favorite mode in Yousician since it is the place I can find fresh songs to play that are usually quite challenging and fun. Each week's song also come with a theme so it's a good way for me to try out different song genres. It's also nice to see how I stack up against other players world wide.

One of the best features of Yousician is the ability to add and create your own songs. In fact, it is for this reason that Yousician claims have transcended from being a Game and now has evolved into an open-platform of sort. In terms of adding songs, you can add Guitar Pro files (up to .gp5). With this feature, Yousician essentially allows for any song to be uploaded and with many tabs in .gp5 available all over the Internet, adding your favorite becomes quite easy. You may need to purchase a copy of Guitar Pro though as some tabs will only be available as . gpx and you will need to convert it to .gp5. You can also browse through songs uploaded by other players. This is the feature that really sets Yousician apart from other real guitar games that are restricted by a finite amount of additional DLC songs. A feature has recently been added that allows you to add songs from Youtube and the system will automatically create chords for you that fits the song. Although my experience using it has shown that the system is far from perfect but I'm sure it'll continually improve.

Some of the newest features that have just been launched recently include a new home screen. In this new mode, you can quickly choose the time you have available for the session which is divided into 10, 20 and 30 minutes. Once a time frame is chosen, an appropriate personalized course will be created for you. I've given this course a few tries, particularly the 10 minutes session ones and have found it to be quite enjoyable and a great way to get in a quick practice. An in-app amp has also been added recently although it's pretty rudimentary and still has latency issues.

Please note that Yousician has moved beyond just the guitar and you can also use it for piano, bass, and ukulele but I haven't tried any other instruments yet. Lastly, although Yousician is a subscription based product, you can try it for free! And if you like like it, buy a subscription to lock in the price, it seems to be going up.

Tips for Yousician

To use Yousician, you need to get your self your own Audio Interface. I personally use the Behringer Guitar Link UCG102 If you happen to also use the same model on Windows then I have some tips for you. First of all, do not use the driver that comes with the product: Guitar Bots didn't recognize it (although Yousician might) and it will also lock out all other audio ports. Instead, download ASIO4ALL and install it (don't plug in the Guitar Link before this). Once ASIO4ALL has been installed, plug in the Guitar Link and windows should recognize it as "USB Audio Interface" or something similar which will work seamlessly with Yousician. You may have to play around in the recording settings in control panel to get the best results.

Another tip has to do with Guitar Amps Modeling softwares. For a long time, Yousician didn't come with any internal amps and you have to use some other software. I have tried a few and there are two that works for my set up (Windows 7 and later 10 with Behringer Guitar Link). The two programs are Guitar Rig Pro 5 and Bias FX (I use the standalone version). To use Guitar Rig, use Wasapi Shared Mode and in Bias FX use Windows Audio mode. These two programs will let you hear your guitar in style and play the game at the same time.

There are a few more real guitar learning games on the market and I will introduce a few here. I haven't had much personal experience with these though.

Rock Prodigy

Rock prodigy is more of a guitar learning software than a game. After I tried Rocksmith and begin looking for an alternative due to limitations explained earlier, Rock Prodigy was one of the options I looked. At that time, it was only available on iOS devices (actually I just did a quick check and even now 3 - 4 years on, it's still only available on iOS devices). It looked to be quite promising and has garnered some good reviews. So if you have an iOS device, it's definitely worth checking out. The thing that stopped me from adopting it was the price which starts at $49. It's really not that expensive but the $9.99 per month of Guitar Bots which seemed like a safer bet for me.


Tabrider is another iOS app that lets you play through songs a-la Guitar Hero. Unlike Rock Prodigy, it's free! Tabrider lets you upload your tab in Guitar Pro format and to do so you have to go to their website and upload the file. I've given it a try and the process was really simple. Tabrider was able to recognize my acoustic guitar pretty well. I felt that it was quite bare-bone though and the fact that you won't get backing tracks takes the fun out of it somewhat. But if you are looking for a free real guitar game option, give Tabrider a try.

So.. Does it work?

The big question a lot of people have with real guitar games is whether or not it really works and whether you can really learn guitar with it. The answer is an astounding yes! You will learn to play guitar through tabs. It really is a new way to learn guitar. Even for advanced player, it brings a social element to your guitar practice section with the challenge modes. Nonetheless, these games/apps won't be replacing guitar instructors any time though. One thing that these program doesn't do so well is the theory part of playing. And you won't be learning to improvise either. It still is one awesome way to learn though.


As you can see learning guitar through real guitar games is probably the newest way to learning guitar and one of the most exciting! Thanks to technology, this method of learning is now possible and literally just a few clicks away. So if you are looking to learn guitar, give these games a try!

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