Surprise! Real Keyboards, Not Keytars, in Rock Band 3

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Rock Band 3

So much for insider tips, it looks like Rock Band 3 for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii will add an actual lay-it-out-flat-and-jam-on-it mini-keyboard to its stable of increasingly realistic musical peripherals when it ships in time for the holidays. Not a standard-sized keyboard, mind you--it'll only have 25 black and white keys, where most entry-level synths start at 61--but everything else will be unscaled and MIDI-connectable, usable with or away from the game.

USA Today has the scoop straight from Alex Rigopulos, CEO of Rock Band developer Harmonix, who believes that introducing keyboards will "help feed the appetite for music for years to come."

It may also further deflect criticism from some corners that faux-instrument music games tend to "trivialize" musical performance. While the keyboard's a bit small (as keyboards go) it is fully functional, and if you want to plug it into a Mac or PC for use with stuff like Apple's Garage Band or PG Music's Band-in-a-Box, it sounds like you can using the inbuilt MIDI port.

Adding keys brings Rock Band's virtual jam tally to seven, including lead and bass guitar, drums, lead vocals, and two more singing harmony. (Time to cost out upsizing our living rooms?) It's not clear if a stand comes with the keyboard or not--I'd wager it will, since setting it on your lap sounds a little anticlimactic, though who knows. Maybe they'll ship with an optional strap so you can play it like a half-keytar standing.

How does it work? Simple. The game fires its trademark green, red, blue, yellow, and orange "notes" along a visual stream, and those colors correspond to keys on the keyboard. As the colors--sometimes single, sometimes parallel--race past a rhythm marker (the current beat) you play the correlating keys on the keyboard.

If that sounds a little too simplistic, Rock Band 3 will add an optional "pro" mode that'll let you jam with all 25 keys, shifting its onscreen note display left or right to overlay the correct keys. Harmonix wants to play up that real-world connection, calling its keyboard peripheral "a real instrument and a real device."

In the "what's to play?" column, Rock Band 3 will add tunes like "Break On Through" by The Doors and "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen (though sadly not The Muppet version). The game itself will get new guitar controllers (including an actual stringed Fender guitar for use in pro mode), better onscreen animations, and the option to change difficulty settings or join/leave a session without interrupting songs.

What I'm waiting for? Two things. The option to plug my full-sized, 88-key graded hammer action Yamaha P-120 into the game (hey, it's MIDI compatible, so...), and a chance to funk out with Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon."

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