Easy to understand instructor. Easy to follow instructions. Informative videos. Covers different strumming techniques, stringing guitar, and using a pick. Basic chord lessons only.
Missing information on how to read sheet music and charts. No chord chart reference to print out. No advanced program to complement this basic one. Bland music arrangements. Incomplete music background info.
When you or your child wants to learn to be the next great rock star, you can't do it with Guitar Hero. The guitar learning software from iPlayMusic, Beginner Guitar Lessons, is infinitely more useful than music games that may be fun, but won't teach you how to play a real instrument.
I must admit I know how to play the guitar, but I haven't played it regularly in a number of years. I remember only a few basic chords. After working with Piano Wizard, I thought it was time to get back to my main instrument.
Beginner Guitar Lessons presents learning your guitar in a more traditional learning style, than the arcade-style piano learning game in Piano Wizard. They get you playing your guitar as quickly as possible, without bogging you down with theory, scales, and reading music. I know from personal experience that once you know how to play a few songs, your own interests and desire to learn more, propels you into learning the more technical aspects of music creation.
iPlayMusic provides a Step-by-step Guide and QuickTime videos that show you the anatomy of a guitar, how to hold and tune it, plus many pages of chords and fingerings along with different music styles. Each section of the guide is matched with video, so that you can read and see exactly what you need to know. You can also export the videos to iTunes, to load onto your iPod. This is a handy feature so that you can review material on the go.
In fact, the over 7GB of data that Beginner Guitar lessons plops onto your hard drive includes .mov and .m4v iPod files. If space is an issue, you can always go into the iPlayMusic folder inside the Application Support folder and toss the over 2GB of iPod files. An included series of GarageBand compatible files supports your own variations from the Create button.
The included iPlayMusic eBook includes text to accompany the videos. They recommend you print out the 79-page guide, but I found the videos presented all the information I needed without the guide. Some learners prefer the written word, so you may want to print the guide. The key to all learning is to involve as many senses as you can, so when it doubt, print it out!
The guide also includes bare background information on each of the songs used in the program, but the blurbs are so incomplete that it's almost a waste of paper. I wonder why they included so little information on each song, when it wouldn't have taken much more effort to include a full history and the lyrics. They didn't include the song chart with words and chords due to copyright restrictions, so you can't print out the reference, which is worth the loss of half a star in the rating.
Using the Program
There's something about CEO Quincy Carroll's easy manner that makes you feel as if a teacher is in the room with you. His explanations of the parts of the guitar, how to hold it and a pick, and play the guitar are very clear. While a very young child might get bored watching some of the QuickTime movies, anyone over ten should find them informative. These lessons aren't games, or highly stylized; they're just straightforward helpful explanations.
The simple Finder-like interface in Beginner Guitar Lessons appears below the video display. The introductory basics cover different strumming techniques, finger strength exercises (totally boring to do, but very useful), individual string and chord exercises, and a number of practice drills. The Reference section includes PDF chord charts, GarageBand Tips, and restringing your guitar. The chord charts include one chord per PDF, which may be mildly useful, but I wish they had included pages of chords. I always found a chord reference handy to put in my guitar case.
Sample Chord Window
Once you master those basics, Beginner Guitar Lessons presents different rhythm techniques. I never learned these different patterns and found it informative. You can change the speed of the videos if he presents the information too fast or too slow; but the slowest speed sounds pretty funky in some songs. Rhythms presented include blues, rock, county, metal, punk, reggae, and swing. You are learning to play chords here, so don't expect to become a classical or jazz guitar expert with this program. Its goal is to teach chords and how to play a few songs. This basic knowledge is applicable to the songs you want to learn on your own.
About those songs
The songbook part of the program is also lesson driven. Most songs include different videos, including the chord lesson, a play along video track with guitar only, a play along video track with the full song and lyrics. A separate jam track lets you creatively wail on your guitar.
Full Song Track Window
There's a wide range of music, including songs played by the Beatles, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Leadbelly, Johnny Cash, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Gene Autry, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Marley, Grateful Dead, Marshall Tucker Band, Beach Boys, Kingston Trio, and The Animals. That's quite a range of artists, but I was surprised that some of the old standards most of us learn on the guitar missing, such as Greensleeves, This Land is Your Land, and other old folk classics.
The Bottom Line
Everything you need to acquire the basics of guitar playing is included in the videos, but as stated above, a basic chord chart and song charts are not included. More information on how to read charts would make the jump to other sheet music easier. As with any music program, the key is to spend many hours to learn your instrument, and Beginner Guitar Lessons is no different. If you stick through that boring repetition and work with the program at least an hour weekly, you will learn the basic guitar chords for the price of one lesson; that's a deal. For more small change, around $10, you can also download more advanced lessons from the site.