Whether you want to learn guitar from scratch, or improve on some basic skills and knowledge there are lots of options these days. You can go down the traditional route of finding a tutor and paying for one-on-one lessons or you can head to YouTube and watch some videos.
However, there’s a middle ground. Fender’s Play app combines videos from professional tutors with tab music and – a recent addition – feedback on your playing.
For a reasonable annual or monthly fee, you can use the app as much or as little as you want. And you can pick courses from acoustic, electric, bass and ukulele.
Within acoustic and electric, you have a choice of rock, blues, pop, country, folk and – a new addition – R&B / Soul – and there’s rock and funk for bass.
Fender Play: How it works
There are a few reasons why Fender Play is better than all the free tuition videos you’ll find on YouTube. First, the videos have excellent production values. They’re shot from multiple angles with close-ups of what each hand is doing, so you can easily see how and where to place your fingers. These are often shown split screen so you can see both at once, with an over-the-shoulder view of the left hand that makes the positioning even clearer.
There is a variety of professional instructors, but each video is structured the same way and they all have the same look and feel. They were created with input from real music schools, and lessons range from the absolute basics of how to hold a guitar and pluck strings through to playing riffs from popular songs and playing along with backing tracks.
Everything is broken up into bite-sized chunks so you can dip in and out, skip over lessons or practice sessions as you like. You can see how long each section of a course will take to complete, and it’s usually between 3 and 15 minutes.
Each course is split up in to various levels and within each are a good few real-world songs to learn.
The interface is so well structured that you can see your overall progress through a certain course, as well as which lessons you’ve completed and which you haven’t.
You don’t have to finish all levels of a course before ducking out and trying a different one, and if you find the early lessons are too basic for you, you can jump straight to a higher level and find something that challenges you.
I’ve played guitar- acoustic and electric – for years, but wanted to learn bass for the first time and was keen to see how well Fender Play would work for me as someone who isn’t a complete novice, but is new to this type of guitar.
The first few lessons proved more useful than expected, pointing out the proper way to pluck strings and the best places (using a Fender P bass of course) to rest your arm and fingers.
Learning proper technique is fundamental to being able to progress to more complex techniques later on, and I could already see where I was going wrong and correct those mistakes. Obviously, you have to self-assess as unlike a real teacher, a video cannot highlight where you’re getting it wrong.
You can choose to view the video full screen, but it’s also possible to view chord diagrams and tab notation in sync when the video is smaller.
In the guitar courses – but not bass – there’s a new feedback mode, which is in beta. Once you’ve learned to play a song using the tutorial videos, you can use the feedback mode (where it’s available) to record your playing and get feedback on areas where you need to improve.
Initially, you’ll see a score screen with a breakdown of length, pitch and rhythm. But if you close that you’ll see a line which shows how accurate your playing was, and points out the places where your pitch or timing was out.
Songs and riffs
Fender understands that the motivation for many people is not to learn to read music or play scales and know exactly which note or chord you’re playing. It’s much more about being able to you’re your favourite songs and riffs.
And woven into every level of each course are popular songs. You might start the course learning a particular picking or muting technique as well as some notes or chords: they’re usually designed to help you play a song or riff at the end.
Practice makes perfect
Many of the lessons reinforce the importance of practice, and allow you to practice along with the tutor. In one bass lesson arc, for example, you learn a couple of different ways to play the 12-bar blues in two different keys.
A couple of new courses just added include how to play slap bass and walking bass. You can see what’s available on Fender’s website.
It’s all done in a manner that isn’t annoying or exhausting and you’re free to stop and move to the next part when you feel ready.
If you don’t want to disturb others while you practice, check out our roundup of the best headphones.
Fender Play: Price & availability
To access them, you can start with a free 14-day trial. If you like it you can subscribe on a monthly basis which costs £9.99 / US$9.99, or annually for £89.99 / $89.99 (plus you get 10% off Fender gear all year too). These prices are a lot cheaper than one-on-one guitar lessons from a real tutor.
The app is available on iPhone, iPad, Android and in your web browser on a laptop or PC. You can sign up on Fender’s website.
Fender Play offers a no-pressure way to learn to play the guitar – and bass or ukulele – as you want to learn it. It doesn’t force you to learn stuff you’re not interested in and offers plenty of popular songs and riffs to learn, either on their own or as part of a course.
It’s a fantastic, structured way of learning that should work for most people.
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