Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Closer Look at Rocksmith 2014 Session Mode - Hidden Tools

Based on some feedback from loyal readers of my Rocksmith blog, I sat up until stupid hours last night digging deeper into Session Mode (and also knocking out a few missions).

Now, it's true that this info actually does appear in the RS2014 user "manual," but as I've pointed out before the "manual" is buried deep in the Tools menu (Tools/Options/Manual/Game Controls and then - finally - Session Mode). And, once you get down to that 5th layer of menus, there's still no explanatory text. Good basic info, but not very comprehensive. Also not very accessible. The secret squirrel tips I'm about to reveal also haven't been part of any of my missions so far. But, that's one reason I keep writing this blog - to fill in the gaps.

There's More to Session Mode than Meets the Eye - Literally

Readers skydvr and kg both play RS on the PC platform, but they turned me onto some tips that also work on the XBox. I checked. (It's a safe bet that RS2014 works pretty much the same way on PlayStation, too.)

One of my chief complaints with Session Mode was that I could only see the scale at one position on the virtual guitar neck. Well, it turns out you can ZOOM OUT and see the ENTIRE guitar neck with the whole scale pattern! Awesome. So, how do you do this?

Not sure how this goes on the PC version, but on the XBox you get a very brief glance at how to zoom when you begin your Session. Everything you need to know is shown right there across the very bottom of the display - for about one second or less.

The D-pad is the Key - Two Handy Tools for Session Mode

The only way that I found to redisplay the info at the bottom of the Session display is to toggle the D-pad on my XBox controller. Doing this brings up a couple of very handy Session Mode tools:

Tempo Control at your Fingertips
Zoom In/Zoom Out.

By toggling your D-pad left or right, you can instantly change the Session Tempo without backing all the way out to the Session Mode Menu and restarting your session. Good to know, right? Especially since changing tempo is a Mission requirement. (I got a Level 4 Venue unlock when I completed this Mission.)

Even better than that -  by toggling the D-pad DOWN you can zoom out from the guitar neck on the Session Mode display to show the ENTIRE scale pattern. (Toggling UP zooms back in.)  This gives you a whole bunch more notes to mess around with during Session Mode play. I tried it and - while I still suck at improvising - I enjoyed trying a lot more with more than 12 notes to play with. Plus, seeing the Big Picture is very helpful.

A Little Improv' Guidance (VERY Little) for Session Mode Playing

Once I discovered that I could see the scale pattern on the entire neck, my interest in Session Mode increased a LOT. I had a couple of pending Session Mode Missions anyway, so I spent a few minutes in Session Mode changing Tempo (the hard way and then the easy way). Then my next mission started talking about changing the ROOT and I got sucked in.

The Scale defines the pattern shown on the guitar neck in Session Mode. For a particular type of scale - say, Minor Pentatonics for example - the pattern is the same no matter what Root you use. An A Minor Pentatonic scale pattern is exactly the same as the D Minor Pentatonic scale pattern. The only difference is where you start the pattern on the neck - or where the scale is "rooted." My next Session Mode Mission required me to play more minutes of Session Mode AND try three different scale ROOTS. You change the Root on the main Session Mode Menu.

When you're playing in Session Mode, you'll notice that not all of the notes in your pattern are lit up. Some are hollow while some are filled. And they change. This can be a little confusing. It looks like the scale is changing right before your eyes! It's not. What is actually changing? The Root. The scale  pattern is just shifting up and down on the neck. It's not changing. It's just shifting around. It's much, much easier to see this if you zoom out and look at the whole guitar neck instead of just 4-5 frets.

Learning (i.e. memorizing) the Scale patterns is starting to look like a VERY important first step to this improvising mess. Except for guitar players (and drummers), I think just about every music student starts out learning scales. (Even drummers learn rudiments, which are similar building blocks.) Only guitar players seem to ignore this very basic step when learning to play. It may be boring, but it's clearly essential to playing lead. Also handy to know when playing rhythm. Or bass.

So, how do you know where - or when - to shift the pattern to a different Root? The Root is sort of tied to the chord progression of a song (more on this in a separate post which will probably be way over my own head). Most songs have at least 3-4 different chords. When you improvise in a song, you move your scale pattern to different roots depending on the chord progression.

Here's the thing. You can switch Roots within a Scale. You can also switch Scales within a song. (To further complicate things, you can change "keys". . . ). But, before you try all that, you'll want to have a VERY solid grip on all the scale patterns you plan to use. So, start memorizing those scales/patterns!

More on Missions - How to See Your Pending Missions

After messing around in Session Mode and completing a couple of those Missions (and also unlocking a pair of skins for the Marshall Plexi amp), I decided to suck it up and knock out the Tone Designer Missions once and for all. Thanks to another tip from you guys, I now know where to go to see what Missions are pending.

To see what Missions await, you can just follow the guitar picks. . . OR, you can go to your My Path menu (press the < Back button on the XBox controller). I had initially assumed that the My Path menu was only for switching instruments - lead, rhythm or bass. And, it mostly is. But, when you go to the My Path menu, there's a box in the upper right-hand corner that shows your next three missions.

Since Missions tend to pop up and go away very quickly on the Main Menu, this is a very handy tip. Now you can see your Mission list any time you want (and they won't be replaced on the screen by a list of the latest DLC offerings.)

Turns out I only had two Tone Designer missions left! Finally. Done with that nonsense.

Other things you can do in the My Path Menu are look at any rewards you've earned in RS. You can also Change the imaginary inlays on your imaginary guitar here. Of course, before you can change your inlays, you have to earn some inlays - which I haven't done yet. 

Mastery or Mastery - Which is Which?

I should have just called it quits when I got the Tone Designer crap out of my hair, but my next Mission was to get 3 songs up to 50% Mastery - which sounded too easy but turned out to be a little challenging and also very confusing.

I already have several songs up to between 80 - 101%. So, am meant to get three MORE songs up to 50% mastery? Or what? That was my guess. So, I pulled up a new song that I figured I could get up to 50% mastery pretty fast. Except I'm not really clear on what "mastery" means any more.

I chose Every Step You Take by the Police - which is sort of simple but a little tricky to get the hang of. At least for me. I ran through the song five times, getting it up to 37.2% overall with a high NS of 54 and a high accuracy of 85%. I Riff Repeater-ed the chorus up to 84%. Then I played through the whole song 4 more times finally reaching 50.6%/18/80. That's over 50%. But, here's the thing. . .

On my 3d and 8th play throughs, in addition to the big overall percentage (50.6%), NS and accuracy scores, I also got a separate "Mastery" percentage. It appeared under the other scores and was labelled "Mastery." If that's the "Mastery" score, what is the other percentage - the 50.6% overall score that appeared at the top of the display? And why doesn't the Mastery score only appear once in a while? No idea. All I know is the last "Mastery" score I got was only 44%. It was after 2:00 AM. Too late to try for another 6%.

Just to end the night on a slightly more positive note, I ran through God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen a couple of times. It's amazing to me how badly I can screw up a song that I memorized over a year ago and re-memorized just a week or two ago! I stumbled all over the solo and made a couple of other mistakes that I just can't explain. Still, I managed to bump my "overall percentage" (whatever that means) up to 105.1% with a 103 NS and 95% accuracy. On my first run through, I got a 98% Mastery. By now, I should be up to 100% or better. . .

UPlay Menu - An Irritating Quality

Before I could hang it up for the night, I checked the UPlay link from the Main Menu just to see if the 60-day Challenge was up and running yet. The entire UPlay site was down. But, I did remember why I don't like clicking on the UPlay link - it takes you all the way out of Rocksmith. When you get done not looking at stuff that isn't on UPlay, you have to restart RS from the very beginning.

60-day Challenge data is available to view on the Internet. But, lately I keep getting booted out of XBox Live, so I don't have all the hour credits I deserve. Not Rocksmith's/Ubi's fault - this one is on MS.


  1. For the record, I've never been a very good improviser myself, and I found myself playing some pretty great stuff the second I started session mode.

    1. Sounds like you've got "the ear" for it. Wish I did. Maybe Session Mode will help me improve my improv'. I might get to where I can play tolerable stuff. But, like I said, I think I lack the genetic make-up to play "great stuff."

  2. Also, what makes you think guitar players don't learn scales? They do. Usually pretty much right away. They're even a big part of Rocksmith, as they had a guitarcade game in Rocksmith and two in 2014. And if you know your chords, you know your scales. The fact that scale patters are the same up and down the fretboard is pretty common knowledge (again, if you know how chords move up and down...) too, although since Rocksmith is mostly for beginners some readers might find that info useful.

    1. Dave - I was over-generalizing when I said that guitar players tend to ignore scales. It wasn't intended to be a slam - just an observation. But, I stand by it.

      Most guitar players I know are self-taught. They practice songs, not scales. One of the very best guitarists I know personally can't even read music - let alone say, "I'm going to run through a B-flat minor scale a few times. . . " and then do it. He knows the patterns on the neck because he knows what sounds right and can play amazing stuff right off the top of his head, but as far as I know he never just sat down and practiced scales in any formal way.

      I'm sure this has a lot to do with how accessible the guitar is. I mean, think about it - even my fairly small town has a Guitar Center and at least two other local guitar shops. Plus several pawn shops with whole walls of guitars. No drum shops and only one music store where you could buy a horn. Even Target and Wal-Mart sell what passes for "guitars." And, there are tabs and chord charts available for free all over the Internet. Anybody can go out and buy a guitar and be strumming chords on their own within a matter of hours. Or, they can get a copy of Rocksmith and literally be playing through whole songs in an evening. . . So, I suppose it's natural that thousands of people just buy a guitar and pick it up on their own without ever learning their first scale. When they start playing Rocksmith, they might not even know what a "scale" is. Yep - RS has facilities to learn scales and I'm sure almost all of us have played Scale Runner a bit, but I suspect a lot of RS players never really delve into how scales really work or how they're related to chords or improvising.

      Most definitely the info was geared toward beginners. Keep in mind, I'm a drummer - not a guitarist. I am familiar with moving chords - barre chords, especially - up and down the neck, but I still don't have a firm grasp on the relationship between chords and scales/keys. And that's after two college semesters of music theory and years (decades, literally) of playing (at) guitar! It just won't sink it for me. I figure if I don't get it, there must be others out there who find it a little confusing. . .

      This blog is partly just a way for me to try to muddle through it all and express my frustrations. Believe me, if you understand this stuff I WELCOME your (or anyone else's) input!

    2. I think maybe I'm thinking along the lines of people who want to write song eventually, in which case you kinda have to know scales/arpeggios/etc. Might also be a generational thing. But most of my friends are self-taught, too, and they all know their scales.

      I'm primarily a drummer myself, but I've played enough instruments over the years to know some basic theory. My main purpose in commenting was to offer a different perspective from your article before this one, where it sounded like you didn't get much out of session mode upon first playing it. I was always a bad improviser on piano, but it really clicked for me right away when I started playing session mode. It's maybe partially the fact that Rocksmith suggesting what to play combined with my limited previous musical knowledge and it just clicked. I just didn't want people to get scared away from Session Mode because they thought there was a big learning curve.

      I've had been reading this blog since I first started Rocksmith over a year ago, but there was a while when you didn't post and then I didn't realize you were posting again until just the other day. Keep it up!

    3. Dave - Funny, I used to tinker around on a piano and could improvise some really nice-sounding stuff (at least it sounded good to me. . . ) .But, for me, piano is easier. The notes are all just laid out right in front of me in a straight line. And, for any given note, there's only ONE place on the keyboard to play it!

      Didn't mean to scare anybody off of Session Mode. Like I said, it's an awesome tool and an amazing bit of software design.

      I laid off of posting (and playing RS) for most of the summer. Was just really busy going to baseball games and softball tournaments. My son made All-Stars so his season was extended a little, and my daughter played travel ball which started up as soon as school ball finished. So, I was running pretty constantly. But, I did drag the cheap Ibanez acoustic around to a lot of ballparks and hotel pools. (Got a great deal on a low-end but very playable acoustic early last year, so that's my "travel" guitar. If it gets scratched it won't hurt quite as much.)

  3. Last thing: I share your confusion about the new Master Mode.

    1. the difference between the two Mastery scores is the Main % is total knowledge (and ability to play) you have of the entire song. The other Mastery that it shows you is how much of the song you can play without seeing the notes (mastery mode).

  4. Nice write up, I just discovered Session Mode and really diggin' it. Uplay is a totaly waste imo, On my PC it's always "cancel/cancel/accept" ...

    1. Thanks for reading! Always enjoy getting comments. Contrary to how it might have sounded in this or other posts, I think Session Mode is totally incredible - I just suck at it, so I really don't enjoy it as much as I might if I had a better feel for improvising.

      I finally got my XBox Live connection issue resolved so I checked in on UPlay again last night after playing pretty often over the last several days. It still says that I'm only 7 days into my 60-day Challenge. Some of the other data (high Guitarcade score, etc) seem to be correct, but clearly whatever it is that's supposed to keep track of how much we play isn't working quite right. But, I did go ahead and redeem some of my U-points for the downloadable song. However, I noticed that I have absolutely no idea what song I got. . . so, I tend to agree that UPlay is a wasted effort at this point.