Yamaha TRBX605 Bass
FENDER TURNS ITS ATTENTION TO GUITAR EDUCATION WITH BITE-SIZE LESSONS AIMED AT HELPING BEGINNER GUITARISTS BECOME LIFELONG PLAYERS. WORDS BY PETER HODGSON.
One of the biggest challenges facing the guitar industry is retention: how do we encourage people to not only buy guitars, but become lifelong players? Fender’s research has shown that for every 100 people who buy a guitar for the first time, only 10 of them tend to stick with it beyond the first year. Obviously, a guitar company has a vested interest in converting more of those players into lifetime customers, but there’s more to it than that – and from talking to some of the people behind FenderPlay, it really seems that there’s something more personal at play here: Fender wants more people to make more music on more guitars, because music is awesome, and we all benefit from it.
OFF TO SCHOOL
So that’s where FenderPlay comes in. It’s an educational platform designed to give new guitarists those ‘little wins’ that keep you engaged with the instrument, especially through those difficult first few months when you’re struggling with holding the pick, fretting a note without it sounding like a muffled buzzing nightmare, moving from one note to another, forming a cleansounding chord, playing a riff, playing a song…
The service is available on the Fender website as well as on iOS and Android, and the curriculum was developed in consultation with a panel of educational advisors from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
Concepts are taught through bitesized video lessons using songs from popular artists such as U2, Green Day, The Rolling Stones and Foo Fighters. Before you even sign up for an account, Fender gives you a trio of sample lessons: Guitar101, which describes the parts of the guitar and the string names; PlaySomeNotes, which tells new players what frets are and how to fret a note; and PlayARiff, which will have you playing a good chunk of Green Day’s “When I Come Around” after two minutes.
Lessons are divided into categories of Basics, Chords, Exercises, Glossary, Techniques, Theory and Tone. The lessons are shot in 4K quality with multiple cameras, and employing production elements like splits creens and overtheshoulder angles to really give viewers a sense of what’s going on. Chord diagrams appear onscreen, and a handy rating system lets you know how easy or difficult a piece might be before you dive in.
You can sign up to try FenderPlay for a 30day free trial right there on the website, and membership cards are being included with Squier guitar kits. There’s also a ukulele section, and Fender will add bass lessons soon.
TEACH ME THE WAYS OF THE FORCE
As someone who taught the guitar for many years, I really appreciate how FenderPlay takes concepts and breaks them down into simple chunks. It’s a technique that a good teacher will use to help you to lock down a concept, but it’s also something that a bad teacher might gloss over.
You really want to get those very fine basics down in the early stages of your playing life, otherwise they can hinder your progress later. So what’s particularly great about these microlessons is that you can replay them as many times as you need to, working at your pace rather than a teacher’s.
There’s a great ‘Got 5 Minutes? Learn a Riff!’ part of the song section, which includes everything from traditional songs and Christmas carols to oldies to recent pop hits, with plenty of classic rock thrown in.
Special mention should go to the Tone lessons, which use Fender gear to explain what various effects are. Whereas this could easily have been glossed over and used to shift some Fender product, Play goes much deeper than just a mere description and a sales pitch. For instance, the lesson on Delay tells you not just what delay is, but also how to distinguish between digital and analog delay, and how to use delay either as an ambient or a rhythmic effect. It immediately and effectively introduces new guitarists to some of the really fun gear-based nuance and detail that we all eventually start obsessing over, but it also places it in the context of actually making music.
Another handy feature is the Courses module, which takes you through skills like learning specific keys and scales, chord types, time signatures, phrasing, strumming patterns, reading tablature… Some of this stuff might seem like it belongs under the (equally excellent) Theory module, but by putting them into a course-based format, the student is easily led through the concept instead of being overwhelmed by the dreaded ’T’ word.
THE BOTTOM LINE
FenderPlay really nails the fundamentals of playing the guitar, and it keeps the practice fun instead of being daunting. You can learn at your own pace and with songs that are in the context of what you want to learn.
It’s still a good idea to have lessons with a real live human teacher if you can – they can help guide your playing in a more interactive way, which is especially helpful if you ever feel like you’ve hit a brick wall – but FenderPlay is an invaluable tool for showing new players just how easy it can be to achieve things on the guitar, and how rewarding it will be to stick with it for a lifetime.