"Drums are hard."
That was the verdict from my boyfriend after a raucous night playing Rock Band 4 with a group of friends. He's a guitarist, in both the physical and digital realms, and to him, Rock Band 4's drums are an anomaly. The rhythms are somehow tricky and repetitive at the same time; landing the bass pedal takes nearly perfect timing; it's a big rig that requires big motions; and the entire instrument takes a ridiculous amount of coordination. This is why my boyfriend doesn't enjoy playing the drums in Rock Band 4 -- and it's precisely why I love it.
Gallery: Rock Band 4 | 24 Photos
Gallery: Rock Band 4 | 24 Photos
Drums are the best instrument in Rock Band 4. Hands-down, straight-up and sideways. To start with, drums are the most "real" instrument in the game, in the sense that banging on those rubber pads may actually help you play the drums in real life. It's not an ideal teacher, but the heart of the instrument lies in hand-foot coordination and keeping a steady rhythm, which are the exact traits that Rock Band 4 emphasizes. The game isn't going to teach you proper technique, but it drills in important foundations and even makes them fun to learn. Besides, playing the drums for an hour is a great upper-arm and lower-leg workout (provided you swap the bass pedal between your right and left sides).
The same real-life transference doesn't apply to guitar -- this isn't Rocksmith, after all -- although Rock Band 4's lead and bass tracks do provide a lineup of accessible finger exercises. As for the microphone, let's be honest: Singing in Rock Band has always been fun, but a cat in heat would probably score the same as Christina Aguilera in most difficulty settings. Rock Band 4 proudly carries on this tradition.
To be fair, I'm probably predisposed to preferring drums. Before settling on the saxophone, I took a year of drums in elementary school and I've never quite satisfied that persistent itch to pick up a pair of sticks again. I'm also a former high school marching band section leader (tenor sax, represent), and the drums' bass-pedal coordination requirements are a wonderful throwback to my first marching lessons, reminding me how to separate foot from fingers.
There are other, less practical reasons the drums truly rule in Rock Band 4. While landing a complicated streak on guitar is satisfying, it can't quite compare to pounding out a perfect rhythm on the drums. You not only see your success on the screen, but also hear it directly on the instrument, right in front of you in the physical world. This is what makes players feel like real rock stars -- not pressing buttons on the neck of a stringless, silent guitar or screeching into a microphone, but banging out a solid, consistent rhythm on a living-room drum set. That's musical magic.
Even my drum-averse boyfriend agrees on this front. As he puts it, "It's fun to hit things." And it's true, being encouraged to smack something with a pair of sticks is incredibly gratifying; plus it plays into the "real-life rock star" element of the game. However, that satisfying smacking sound comes with one potential downside.
We recently moved into a condo that shares a hallway with seven other units, containing everything from young families to retirees who seem to constantly have delicious food in the oven, and I'm a tad paranoid about the sounds that escape our door. I don't want to be the noisy neighbor or the reason someone's daughter can't get to sleep on a school night. I'm acutely aware of every single tap that my sticks make on the hard rubber drumheads. So far, we haven't received any complaints (fingers crossed). Either way, my sense of fun always wins out: I'm aware and I'm paranoid of the noise, but I'm not going to stop playing. I'm a rock star, damn it.
Let's be clear here: I'm not saying that the drums are the best part of Rock Band 4. They're simply the best instrument. The best part of Rock Band 4 is hanging out with a bunch of friends as they embarrass themselves at the helm of toy instruments. It's the laughter when someone on vocals gets a solo and they break down in nervous giggles and weird yodeling (and still end up with a perfect score). It's pretending to be a rock star on tour in a band composed of your closest buddies, though ideally with less gas station food (but perhaps just as much booze).
Besides, I'm glad that not everyone agrees with my preference. This way, I don't have to fight my boyfriend for the drumsticks.