Fender Play full review
Almost everyone begins to learn to play an instrument at some point in their life, and it’s usually when they’re a kid. And most people don’t stick it out for more than a few months – if that – which is undoubtedly why ebay and Gumtree are littered with unwanted acoustic guitars and electronic keyboards.
Music lessons aren’t cheap, but the alternative is to turn to the internet and peruse YouTube for some beginner’s lessons.
Fender, though has come up with a third option: a series of professional video tutorials designed for today’s learners.
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: 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 are a variety of 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 ususally between 3 and 15 minutes.
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.
More importantly, there are different courses for different music styles, so you can pick Rock, Blues, Folk, Country and Pop. And Fender has added Bass and Ukulele, so there really is something for everyone.
You don’t have to finish all five 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 recently I picked up a bass for the first time, so I 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.
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 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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