Learning to play guitar can be a daunting task. First you need a guitar and you can order one online and have it delivered. From the moment you pick up the instrument, you realize there’s a lot more than meets the eye. The path from plugging in for the first time to playing your favorite songs is a challenging one. From the various chord forms and the numerous techniques to the simple fact of timing your left and right hand, everything seems alien. Thankfully, many learning tools exist.
I started playing guitar by exploring various budding Internet platforms and quickly got a teacher to work with one on one. Nowadays, in addition to many books, YouTube and dedicated websites offer countless hours of instruction. With so many options, we still see people abandoning the pursuit, the amount of work required eclipsing their initial enthusiasm.
Fender set out to alleviate this problem by creating a modern platform they call Fender Play that addresses the beginner’s interests, all the while touching on all the important skills a novice needs to work on. By offering bite-sized lessons and cleverly simplified explanations and arrangements, the guitar maker strikes a perfect balance between progression and the fun in learning music. No small feat. Let’s take a look at how this was achieved.
Slick and Motivating Interface
When you first launch the app (either from your smart phone or your web browser), you are greeted by a choice of several paths. Right away, you are directed to the genre you enjoy, be that rock, pop, country, blues or folk. All of these are available on the electric and acoustic variety of guitar, so you can choose whatever genre suits you no matter the style of instrument you play.
The teaching is comprised of short videos given by different guitar teachers. These guitarists have noticeable experience and cover every detail in an efficient manner. The lessons are broken up into short sessions ranging from one to five minutes. This format is perfect for any kind of schedule, letting you learn something new in mere minutes and letting you decide how long you can invest in a single sitting.
Each path starts off with the basic skills you need as an axeman and quickly shows you the ropes. Before you know it, you’re playing simple riffs from a vast catalog of material of your chosen style, gradually implementing techniques appropriate to your level. While the lessons are broken up into short videos, the path themselves have multiple levels. Each one of these explores various techniques, chords, riffs and songs and always follows a nice pace. The more you advance in levels, the more complex and useful the skills you discover become.
When you feel like checking out something different and want to veer off your path, the platform offers you the opportunity to work on over 300 songs. You can browse these by style or artist and a difficulty rating will let you judge how hard it will be to master. Also, famous riffs such as “Carry on Wayward Son”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Satisfaction” are broken down, without dissecting the rest of the songs. This is a great way to stay motivated and interested in the instrument, playing the material that inspired many guitarists to start out. Additionally, videos discussing theory, tone, exercises and techniques are available as stand-alone videos to help you hone your skills and explore other aspects not emphasised in your chosen path.
In Fender Play, an excellent balance is struck between absorbing songs and working on techniques. While many beginners tend to get discouraged by the steep learning curve of working on their favourite tunes, the material present here is somewhat simplified to be more accessible, yet still sounds like the original. The more you progress, the more involved and challenging the information gets.
The repertoire is pulled from multiple decades ranging from the 30s to today. The variety of artists is quite interesting. From legendary blues artists such as Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King to the rock and roll sounds of Foo Fighters, CCR and the Rolling Stones, everything is included. Contemporary artists such as John Legend, The Decemberists and Foster the People are well represented also.
If guitar isn’t enough, there’s a whole section (and path) dedicated to ukulele. You’ll receive proper training on how to handle the instrument and will get to choose from dozens of songs to enjoy and build your repertoire. Being a relatively new platform, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fender expand its educational material to other instruments such as bass, classical guitar and mandolin.
Streamlined Learning Experience
Whether you are browsing on your computer or mobile, the whole experience is simple, efficient and user-friendly. No matter which device you are using, everything syncs in your profile and stays up to date on your progress. On the landscape position on my iPhone, videos were clear and easy to follow. On the PC, you have access to even more helpful material and offers the most comfortable learning environment. A handy 10 second rewind button is very useful to listen to instructions and musical passages multiple times.
The videos themselves are of high quality, reflecting the company’s attention to detail. Directions, although rather expedient, are clear and well recorded. I think most beginning students will have to use strong self-control with that 10 second rewind button to fully understand what is being said in a lot of cases. Camera angles are good and the music is often repeated from a great over the shoulder view, which really helps to visualize how to play whatever it is you are learning.
On the PC version, you get additional information for the lesson. For example, if you are learning a melody or a chord progression, you will find tablature for the music and chord diagrams. If you scroll down, the video follows you in a reduced window, allowing you to watch the teacher while reviewing the information simultaneously. This isn’t the case for the mobile version, although you can find important information in the lesson’s window.
Furthermore, the platform offers additional lessons to what you are learning so you can deepen your knowledge anytime and discover something new. This is also a good way of getting over hard spots, where a different approach and context can help make new concepts clearer.
For a more hands-on look at the app, check out my video review. I’ve also recorded song examples of songs I haven’t played in years or actually learned through the app.
It’s hard to find anything bad to say about this platform. Although the instruction can be a bit rushed at times, if you take your time and pause after anything new and confusing, it’s quite possible to get to a good level of playing by going through a path (or several of them). With high quality videos and a bite-sized approach, I think Fender hit a home run with Fender Play, especially with the speed of things in this day and age. When you factor in the personalized approach through your favorite genre, a rotating group of great teachers and a very large repertoire of songs to explore, the low monthly subscription price starts to look like a steal. Although a good teacher is hard to beat for music instruction, Fender Play makes an awesome starting point or even a great complimentary tool to private lessons. You owe it to yourself to try the free 30 day trial. Happy shedding!
Check out the selection of Fender products on Best Buy’s website.