Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rocksmith Song Review: Under Cover of Darkness

A Challenging Song to Learn

This song came up as the last song on my most recent event (Event 48) setlist with a minimum qualifying score (MQS) of 68,500. After several attempts, I let RS reduce the MQS to something within reach - 53,487, and I finally qualified the song for Event 48 after some intense work in Riff Repeater. 

On my unscientific "hardness" scale, Under Cover of Darkness ranks as "Hard" with a 2.4. By the calculation I used to rank songs, this one is one of the hardest songs on RS. I'm sure there are harder songs, but I'm willing to bet that even experienced guitar players would find this song at least somewhat challenging.

This song has been really tricky for me to learn - and I'm nowhere close to mastering it. For starters, the tempo is moderately quick. I'd say it bops along in the range of 118 beats per minute in cut time, which is just a touch under two beats per second - BUT it feels and plays like 4 beats per second or 240 bpm. Not blazing fast, but very quick considering the number of notes and the fact that you're covering almost the entire neck of the guitar - from the 2d fret to the 19th fret.

These RS song reviews aren't about whether I like a song, but obviously it's easier to practice a song that you like. This song is not my favorite, but it's not bad. (Unlike, Unnatural Selection which I never liked and is about 15 minutes long. . . ) Under Cover of Darkness is a good challenge, fun to play and not bad for a new era pop song.


Riff - Verse - Verse - Chorus - Post-Chorus /
Riff - Verse - Chorus - Post-Chorus /
Solo - Solo - Chorus - Post-Chorus /
Riff (partial).

Basically, the same thing three times and end with part of the riff. The first time through you do the verse twice. The third time through you have a solo in place of the Riff and Verse. Pretty straightforward.


The riff on this song is more like a little solo than a riff. Solos are not my strong suit, but it's not too hard. Fortunately, it repeats partially at the end without any changes, so once you learn the riff you know at least three phrases of the song. It jumps from Bm and C#m chords on the 11th and 12th frets to single notes around the 15-19th frets which is a quick change at this tempo. There's also a handful of double-stops thrown in. The C#m chord change and jump from double-stops to the C#m is the hardest part for me.


The verse is catchy and fun to play, but it's FAST. It's basically a little riff that you play in three different positions on the neck. The first position (around the 7th fret) is pretty easy to master. After that, you need some pretty good finger stretch - or you'll be doing some serious hopping from fret to fret with your left hand. The third position is particularly challenging since you're jumping (quickly) from the 2d to the 6th fret. Only 4 frets, but it's up by the nut where the frets are furthest apart.


The chorus on this song is not as hard as Rocksmith makes it look. It's really just two little 3-string chords - a B and an E that you strum-pick.

When you first play the song, the RSNH (Rocksmith Note Highway) just shows single notes, but when you level up to a certain point the Dynamic Leveling throws these double-stops at you. That really threw me off. Relax. It's not as bad as it looks!

Just realize that you're strumming the 2d and 3d strings and picking the 1st string of these two chords:

Solo - Finally, A Break!

Ironically, the solo on this song is the only part I've mastered so far! There's not a lot to it. It took me a few runs through Riff Repeater to nail it, but it's easier than the other phrases. It's all single notes with one little slide part on the 1st string. Other than the slide, there's no fancy technique required. Just play the notes.

Strategy for Learning

Accelerator mode in Riff Repeater has been the key to learning this song for me. Trying to level up by playing through the whole song was out of the question and using the Leveler was no help. The only way I've been able to make any progress on this song is by using Accelerator and forcing the mastery to 100%. Then I just work each complete phrase - fully leveled - at a comfortable tempo in Accelerator until I can play it at full speed. When I make some progress in Accelerator, I play through the song again. Rinse and repeat.

Like I said, the solo is the only phrase I've mastered so far. But, I definitely believe this is a song where the dynamic leveling in RS does not help you learn the song. You've got to see ALL the notes and just grind through them slowly until you learn each phrase and then put them all together in Rehearsal mode.

This is what has worked for me. I'm open to any other tips or suggestions! As always, feel free to comment.

Update - 4/10

Last night I worked the Riff, Verse and Chorus in Accelerator. 60x for the Riff and 30x each for the verse and chorus. Then I played through the song and scored a 61,500+. My all time high score on this one. So far. That's well above my MQS for this event so I'm considering just playing the event and coming back to this one later. Or, should I continue working it at least until I get the Real Tone?

Friday, April 5, 2013

More Rocksmith Weirdness - Slither Solos and Under Cover of Darkness

I'm busily qualifying songs for my next event (#48). The vast majority of songs I see these days have MQS (min. qualifying scores) of 90k. For this event, 4 out of the 6 songs have MQS of 90k. Slither has an MQS for this event of 88,000. Under Cover of Darkness is still down in the 68,800 range.

I am definitely finding it easier and less frustrating to go with the Events route. I may not see a song for a while after I play it in an event, but the next time it comes up it seems pretty easy to qualify for the next event. Generally it takes me about 3 events to get songs up to the 90k level. This is MUCH easier for me than my original approach when I refused to play any event until I had all the songs up to 70k. Songs with solos are still my weak spot and Slither is a perfect example.

Slither and Problems with Solo Phrases (Software Problems)

Last night I qualified Slither with some effort. I played it twice and got up to 77,848. This is down a bit from my previous high score of 85,373, but I haven't played this song but just two times since Event 23, six months ago. I scored roughly 77k and 85k on this song just messing around back in January and February, and I'm sure that drove up my MQS for this event.

After refreshing my memory, I had every phrase maxed except the 3 solos but was still quite a ways from my MQS, so I had to hit the Riff Repeater to bump up my solos. This is where things got weird.

I ran through Solo 1 18 times and got it from 40% mastery to 61%. Good enough for now. Then I hammered on Solo 3, improving from 61 to 90% mastery in 30 tries. I didn't touch Solo 2 - it's still down around 40% but I figured I'd done enough to make MQS and qualify this song for Event 48. I played through the whole song and scored 91,941. But, it was a wild ride.

When I got to the solo phrases, ALL THREE solo phrases were leveled up to 90%! WTF? I had only leveled Solo 1 up to 61% and I hadn't even touched Solo 2. But, apparently leveling up one solo phrase leveled up ALL three solo phrases to 90%. And they are NOTHING close to the same! I could half-way hang with Solo 1, but Solo 2 totally blew me away. There were notes all over the place! Not sure what the deal is there but clearly there's a bug in Riff Repeater on this song.

If you ever work on the solos for Slither, beware. You might want to START with Solo 2.

Under Cover of Darkness - Kicking my Butt for the Time Being

Under Cover of Darkness is another song on my Event 48 setlist. This one is surprisingly difficult. Here's my history with this song:

Title Under Cover of Darkness - Combo
Artist The Strokes
Play Count 14
Date Score % Streak Notes
9/29/2012 36576     Event 11 Encore
10/10/2012 38038 72 39 Event 23 MQS = 55,400
10/10/2012 40088 78 43 2
10/10/2012 47331 86 44 3
10/10/2012 50248 89 72 4
10/10/2012 50467 82 50 5 - Reduce MQS = 50,567
10/10/2012 53131 86 72 Qualified 6x
10/12/2012 45999 75 32 Rehearse for Event
10/12/2012 47553 76 36 Rehearse for Event
10/12/2012 50859 78 36 Rehearse for Event
10/12/2012 52644     Event 23 Performance
4/1/2013 39019 54 30 Event 47 - Q = 68,500
4/2/2013 45163 68 49 RR: Intro 100% spd @ 40% Mastery
        RR: Verse 58 - 65% <10x
4/4/2013 44884 68 37 RR: intro/riff 46 to 59%
(this is what my rehearsal notes look like - I write all this down every time I play through a song and then transcribe it all into an Excel spreadsheet which calculates high scores, tracks play count, etc.)

First time I ever played this song was as an encore for Event 11, last September. I got over 36k. Then it showed up on the Event 23 setlist with an MQS of 55,400, which I couldn't make. After 5 attempts, I let RS lower my MQS to 50,567 and then turned right around and got my highest score on the song - 53,131. After that, my scores dipped. I did alright with it on Event 23, but I didn't see this song again for almost 6 months. It's now on my Event 48 setlist with an MQS of 68,500 and I'm not even close. I'm still well below the previous event score.

The main riff is not all that hard but it's more like a miniature solo than a "riff" the way I think of riffs. The chorus is more like a riff, and it's a pretty cool little riff that sounds great. But, it's a similar pattern played at three positions on the neck and the 2d and 3d positions require a pretty good finger stretch - or a lot of shifting. Plus, the tempo for this song is QUICK (like 160 - 180 beats per minute) so you've got to be ON it. Then there's a phrase or two which is really easy to play at lower levels of mastery but once you level up a bit they become pretty busy, too.

I worked on the riff and chorus in RR a little last night and made some progress, but this one is gonna take some effort for me to get right.

Hanging in There

Even though I'm wrestlng with the solos in Slither and Under Cover of Darkness is just generally kicking my butt right now, I'm not discouraged. A year ago there is no way I would have believed that I'd be playing what I can play now with very little effort at all. I've also been doing some non-RS playing. In another year, I might actually be a half-way decent guitar player!