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Hands-on: Rock Band 3's keyboard peripheral

3:00 PM on 08.17.2010 // Ben Perlee

Ever since Harmonix announced the keyboard for Rock Band 3, fans have been begging to get their hands on the new instrument. And for good reason -- Rock Band's music has been compensating for the lack of keyboard support with really weird guitar tracks that don't quite make much sense for the music. Having a keyboard solves this problem and opens up whole new possibilities for the types of music that we can see, hear, and play.

Having played the keyboard instrument for a good hour, I can say it plays... exactly how you would expect. However, there are some caveats to the experience, and coupled with Harmonix's new training mode, there's more going on with the instrument than meets the eye.

Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games
To be released: October 26, 2010

Playing normal, non-Pro keys is a pretty simple affair. With only five keys to worry about, the game can get hard, but it's nothing that anyone with experience playing Rock Band should have trouble with. Colored indicators fall down the highway, you hit the key. Ta-da, simple as that. It's a fun addition to the game, and even without Pro mode, it's an enthralling take on Rock Band. An odd side effect of the keyboard is that it supports guitar and bass tracks, so if you want to play them with the keyboard, go right ahead. The reverse also remains true, as any keyboard part is playable with the guitar controller.

However, things get much more complicated once Pro Keys mode is selected. Expanded past the five initial keys, Pro Keys will use the entire keyboard, sliding back and forth to indicate which octave will be in use. Keys will come down in certain areas of the playing space of the keyboard, but when it's time to jump or drop an octave, the game indicates which direction the player should go. It works really well and is a thoughtful approach to fitting a full keyboard on the screen. It's also very difficult, so expect to practice a lot in order to get any good.

You can also just work your way through the Trainer. Offering training for every instrument, the Trainer is an in-depth tutorial that teaches both the academic and technical sides of playing an instrument. While players won't be able to sight-read music by the time they complete this mode, they will be better prepared for some of the harder songs with each instrument. Harmonix will also be offering supplementary information on music on its official website, and hopefully anyone who can complete a Pro mode with an instrument will be ready to take on the real deal.

One of the best features about the Trainer is that it's offered developers and musicians at Harmonix to create their own music for this mode. Considering many of the developers at Harmonix are musicians, this is a pretty cool way to get peek into the lives of the developers, and see what sort of music influences them. The best part about this is that the music is built to assist the teaching, so we as gamers can avoid some of the crappy music forced upon students in traditional music lessons.

The keyboard itself is a nice little device. It's not going to win any awards in the looks department, but it'll get the job done. For those with their own MIDI keyboards, I would recommend getting the Rock Band 3 MIDI Pro-Adapter. This little device will convert any MIDI keyboard into a controller compatible with the game.

Over all, between the keyboard, the Pro modes, and the Trainer, Harmonix has more than enough for a brand new, kick-ass music game. Clearly a lot of time and effort goes into making these games, and all of these extra features indicate that gamers will have a lot to invest into when Rock Band 3 launches later this year.

Ben Perlee,
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