JamLegend turns your keyboard into a guitar

Played <i>Guitar Hero</i> before? This is pretty much the same thing, but in your browser.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Note: this site is in private beta, although you can get an invite with the link at the bottom of the post.

In a time when most people spend eight hours a day (or more) with their fingers on a keyboard, a service called JamLegend wants you to spend a few more. It turns your average, everyday keyboard into a virtual electric guitar. Think of it as Guitar Hero, without the need for special hardware or software.

To play songs, you just hit the right note at the right time, which just like Guitar Hero or Rock Band requires holding the corresponding notes and strumming with the Enter key. The site suggests two ways to play--either a "chill" mode that looks like you're typing into an Excel spreadsheet (good for playing at work) or the "jam" style where you hold your keyboard like a guitar and use the function keys like you would frets.

The jam style takes some getting used to, but is a far more satisfying way to play, and Guitar Hero or Rock Band enthusiasts will feel right at home, although depending on your keyboard it's a little more cramped.

To play, you just hit the corresponding note at the right time. On the right it keeps track of your current score, high score, and the person who rocked it the most on that difficulty level. CNET Networks

The real power of the site is in the collection of songs and the integrated social experience that lets you play with and against your friends. Unlike the console titles that limit you to a selection of licensed music from big-name bands, the songs on JamLegend are indie. That doesn't mean they're bad though; in fact most of the songs I played would be far more fun to play than some of the B-side tracks that fill out the set list on the console games.

The service has an artist program that lets any musician get their tracks on for others to play. The team at JamLegend takes the track and adds the correct chords, complete with three different levels of difficulty that add more notes to the mix. According to founder Andrew Lee, this process takes about a week and a half to complete (per song), although it can go faster for "good tracks." In return for their music, beneath each track the musician gets links to places where users can purchase their song including iTunes, CDbaby, and MySpace. Each song is also tracked for plays and member high scores.

To play a song with others, you can either pick to duel or do a showdown, which lets you play with more than a dozen others on the same track. CNET Networks

Of course playing with yourself is only fun for so long; part of the enjoyment is challenging others. To do this you simply set up "showdowns," which can support up to 19 other people playing the song against you in real time. There's also a duel mode, where you go one-on-one.

Unlike console rhythm games, you don't actually see the other people strumming and missing notes. Instead it tracks their progress with a status bar that sits on the right of the display. You also get visual cues, like when they've surpassed you, or when you hit a big note streak. Afterward you can chat, talk smack, or start another round. There's also a rematch button that lets you jump back into another session with the same crowd--it's just brilliant.

To keep users coming back, JamLegend uses an awards system that's been ripped off the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero. You can gather more and more "groupies" by achieving certain feats, like hitting a 250-note streak, or scoring over certain point limits. There are also multiplayer achievements for beating others in competition. These points all add up to your special gamer score, which is stacked up on a leaderboard.

Eventually users will be able to play more than just guitar. Also on the roadmap are bass, drums, and a keyboard, all of which will use the same general control method. In the meantime you can find the easy through hard difficulties for guitar on all 31 tracks.

JamLegend is currently in private beta, although we've got 1,000 invites. To get yours, just go here. I've embedded a video of it in action below.

JamLegend Trailer from JamLegend on Vimeo.