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Preview: The Beatles: Rock Band (Vocal Trainer)

8:20 AM on 07.21.2009 // Samit Sarkar

Vocal harmonies are something that many gamers have wanted to see in Rock Band since the franchise’s inception. So what better place is there to introduce the feature than in a game with the music of The Beatles? After all, most Beatles songs have multiple vocal parts, and the harmonies are always fun to sing.

But The Beatles were a group of extraordinarily talented musicians; it’s not like their harmonies are mere major thirds. In fact, they can get pretty damn tricky -- especially their later stuff, much of which features intricately layered vocal parts. So to help vocalists get their bearings, Harmonix has included a Vocal Trainer mode in The Beatles: Rock Band. I saw a demo of the setup yesterday at MTV headquarters in New York’s Times Square; follow me to the jump for the details.


The Beatles: Rock Band (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games
To be released: September 9, 2009

Practice makes perfect, as they say, and if you want to five-star The Beatles’ songs, you’ll need to check out the Vocal Trainer in The Beatles: Rock Band. Ideally, to learn specific parts, you’d be able to isolate them -- but since The Beatles’ masters have all the vocals in one track, splitting up the stems wasn’t possible. That is, you can’t play back the Beatles’ individual vocal parts. Harmonix’s solution -- and a rather elegant one, at that -- was to overlay a “guide pitch” (in the form of the dulcet tones of a flute) on the vocals. You choose which one of the parts (lead, harmony 1, harmony 2) you want to be “highlighted” with the tone.

In other words, you’ll hear all the vocals at once, but you’ll be able to single out the part you want to learn, thanks to the superimposed guide pitch. The mode also allows you to turn on or off the lyrics for each of the vocal parts. This is very useful for songs that feature multiple parts with different lyrics, such as “I’ve Got A Feeling.” You can even choose to dim the other vocal parts, which helps to concentrate on a single line. And all of these settings can be changed on the fly, while practicing a song, so if you’re particularly musically inclined, you can try to tackle more than one part at once!


Harmonix’s John “Not A Pudgeasaurus” Drake took me through the demo, using “Paperback Writer” -- one of the 15 tracks that were announced today -- as the song he wanted to learn. It has relatively complicated three-part harmony (if you’re unfamiliar with it, have a listen). Drake set the guide pitch to the first harmony (the brown line), since the lead vocals are so well known. After a quick four-count, the vocals came in, and clear as a bell, I heard the flute overlay that pointed out the harmony line. For the second verse, he switched the guide pitch to the lead part with a quick trigger press, and instantly, we were singing along with Paul McCartney.

To make your life easier, Harmonix has included some other smart options. You can sort the game’s 45-song track list by the amount of vocal parts in the song, so if you’ve got two friends around, you can take on all the three-part harmony songs. And if you want to focus on a specific part of a song, you can do that, too -- just like in the instrument practice mode in Rock Band 2, songs are broken up into sections.


Later on, I sung “Paperback Writer” myself in Quickplay, switching between the lead and the brown harmony line, which I had just learned a half hour earlier! My 100% score was proof positive: the Vocal Trainer in The Beatles: Rock Band does a fantastic job of teaching you vocal parts, and I expect that gamers will be coming back to it again and again to improve their scores.

Samit Sarkar,
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