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Rock Band was pretty revolutionary when it came out, because it expanded on Guitar Hero‘s concept and added a full ensemble. Imagine that – here you have a game that people find unfathomably fun, and Rock Band just added a whole new level of enjoyment! So much in fact, that Guitar Hero was quick to follow with its own full-band rythem title, Guitar Hero: World Tour. However, despite the mass of enjoyment they’ve provided to countless households, there’s something very strange about both of these games – for an open stance drummer, Rock Band and Guitar Hero are harder to play than real drumsets.

Before I explain why, let’s compare a real drumset to the three drum peripherals that exist. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that the drum peripherals are stupid simply because they aren’t exactly like a real drumset; this is mostly so that we can establish some vocabulary.

Exhibit #1: Somebody’s real drumset:


Here, I’ve named all the drums for you. To put them in perspective: drum beats are made primarily using the hi-hat, snare drum, and bass drum. Sometimes, the ride cymbal is used in place of the hi-hat. If you’re playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’re spending about 90% of your time on those drums.

Here’s a bit of a drum lesson:

  • The photo above is a picture of a right-handed drumset. In a left-handed drumset, the position of all drums would be mirrored, i.e the Hi-Hat would be on the far right.
  • The standard way to play a drumset is to cross your hands. In other words, on the above drumset, a drummer would use hit right hand to play the hi-hat, and his left to play the snare drum. When going across to the right side of the drumset, he would uncross his hands. The same is true for a left-handed drummer, but inverted (so they would use their left hand to play the Hi-Hat).

Now, here’s the weird thing: I play in an open stance, left-handed style on a right-handed set. In other words, I set up my drumset just like the one above, but I don’t cross my right hand over. Instead, I leave my arms ‘open’, playing the hi-hat with my left hand and the snare drum with my right. This is much less common, but some drummers do it, and studio drummers usually know how to play crossed or open.

An open stance drummer like myself is ostracized by the drum peripherals of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games.  Why? Let’s take a look at…

Exhibit #2, the Rock Band drumset:

Drum reference for a right-handed setup.

Drum reference for a right-handed setup.

The function emulated by each drum pad is listed on the pic above, in order from most common to least common function. As you probably know if you play Rock Band or Guitar Hero with the above peripheral, most pads are dynamic, i.e their function can change in the middle of a song.

The biggest problem with this is that the drum that emulated the hi-hat is on the opposite side of the one which emulates the snare drum. So, it’s very unnatural for an open stance drummer to play right-handed. Certainly, one could switch it to left-handed, but there are two reasons why that still doesn’t fix it:

  1. Principles – if I wanted to play on a left-handed set, I would do that instead of playing a right-handed set in open stance.
  2. If I wanted a realistic “left-handed set” experience, the Hi-Hat should still be on the far end of the set, so the same problem still exists.

Now, onto…

Exhibit #3: The Guitar Hero peripheral:

I'm just kidding about the bass pedal. It actually releases toxic nerve gas.

I'm just kidding about the bass pedal. It actually releases toxic nerve gas.

As with the previous exhibit, each pad’s function is listed from most common to least common. This peripheral has dynamic cymbals, but the bottom pads are almost completely static in their function. Something important to note: it’s hard to tell by the picture, the cymbal pads are farther inside than the red and green pads. So, from left to right, it would be: red, yellow, blue, orange, and green.

The problem with this one is the same: the cymbal pad which emulates the hi-hat is on the wrong side of the snare pad. So, even if one weren’t arguing on principal, it’s still a less-authentic experience. Admittedly, though, it’s more bearable than the Rock Band peripheral for an open stance drummer, because one doesn’t have to cross their arms nearly as much in order to play.

Finally, we reach…

Exhibit 4: Rock Band 2 peripheral with the cymbal pack:

This is actually a special limited edition drumset for Rock Band 2, but it's set up the same way as normal RB2 drums with the cymbal pack.

This is actually a special limited edition drumset for Rock Band 2, but it's set up the same way as normal RB2 drums with the cymbal pack.

This is almost perfect. The far left cymbal corresponds with the yellow pad, the middle cymbal corresponds with the green, and the far right corresponds with the blue. This almost perfectly emulates a normal drumset, excepting rare cases in Rock Band where the hi-hat is played on two different pads (there’s a logical reason for this, but it has a boring, unnecessary explanation, so let’s skip it).

The problem here is completely different from the first two peripherals: Those cymbal add-ons for the Rock Band 2 set is thirty dollars. I’m essentially paying thirty dollars to switch the place of the yellow and red pads. It’s nice that there was effort put into making a more realistic set, but the solution is much simpler!

Speaking of which, here’s some brief thoughts on the solutions:

For the Rock Band peripheral, allow the option to change the function of the hi-hat and snare pads. This will take a little bit of extra programming, because during the drum fills, the snare will still need to be on the far left. But, I have a hard time believing it’s impossible.

For the Guitar Hero drumset, there’s not much that can be done. The only solution I can think of is to add a third cymbal on the far left, but given the way the drums are emulated, I think that’s unlikely. There’s no need for a solution to the Rock Band 2 set, other than “I don’t want to have to pay thirty extra dollars for my solution.”

To conclude, I’m already well-aware that it’s completely possible to play on a Rock Band /Guitar Hero set just fine. I also know that real drummers already do, and that professional rock band drummers were consulted in the making of the Guitar Hero set. Hell, for all I’ve written about it, I can play them just fine.

That’s not the problem; this is an issue of options. Video games are so far evolved from where they were in their beginning. Yet, there’s still two really important options that gamers are denied with alarming frequency: skippable movie cutscenes and configurable controls. I don’t need a real drumset to play a rhythm game, nor do I really want one; I just want my options.  Ironically, “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones has never been in either game. I’m just putting that out there.

  1. It’s nice to hear a comprehensive opinion from someone who can play real instruments :D

  2. avatar bacon

    theres a lefty mode that my friend uses if you haven’t noticed already. he plays open stance on a righty kit and hasn’t complained about it

  3. avatar Does not want to share name

    I agree but do you know that these days we have so many options to choose from i remember when it was just pull it out of the box put it in and play but today you have to set up all the settings and ya i like that but its just to much work

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  5. thinking of buying it really awesome thanks for your great review.
    PC Gaming

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    do not know anything yet

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  8. This remembered me the old times, 20 years ago, the corner room of Raf garage, full of the cram of drums… And full of smoke…

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