When people find out I play guitar, they always ask “how long have you been playing for?” My usual reply is that I’ve owned a guitar since 1992, but still play it with little more flair and originality than I had acquired after six months of a school friend showing me how power chords worked. I am, in short, a piss-poor guitarist; my extensive collection of FAIL-masking stompboxen is testament to this fact.
Over the years I’ve tried an assortment of self-tuition methods, mostly involving books. Initially these were just pages of tablature and simplified explanations of theory (which at least managed to cram the shape of the blues scale into my stubborn skull), but as CDs got cheaper they’d come with demo discs, and then later with CD-ROMs – remember those? Buckets of information, waiting to be learned… but frustratingly separate. Sit with your guitar plugged in, balance book precariously on coffee table, set your metronome to the right tempo, reach over to start/stop/pause the disc, try to sync up the clicks… hey, what’s on TV? Yeah, I’m lazy – a laziness that manifests by looking for excuses not to do something. Trying to use those book-disc combos felt more complicated than the actual guitar exercises; too many things to juggle. So screw it; step on some pedals, noodle your way through the stuff you already know, convince yourself you’ve made some progress. Rinse, repeat. Eighteen years of playing. Still crap.
The underlying message here is, of course, that discipline and determination is what makes a good guitarist (though we could argue for years about whether innate gifts or talent are what makes a great one). But condensing the various tuition tools (an actual guitar player to explain and demonstrate the techniques, a looped and speed-adjustable backing track appropriate to the lesson, a metronome, some tablature and some written tips) into one convenient package removes a lot of the other obstacles to progress… and that’s precisely what GuitarMasterClass.net has going for it.
If there’s a precedent for this set-up, I’m not aware of it. The web’s full of tuition videos by all manner of people for every instrument under the sun, but some dude simply playing stuff at you isn’t necessarily helpful on its own. GuitarMasterClass.net has videos for each lesson, but the player incorporates the backing tracks and a metronome function into the same chunk of the page, with the written tutorials nestling just below. Everything in one place: sit your arse down in front of your computer with your guitar in your lap, and you’re ready to go. No books to balance, no pages to turn; no tutor stubbornly insisting you should learn [x] before he shows you [y]. Convenience in a nutshell… well, assuming you’ve got a computer and a guitar, that is.
The number of lessons available approaches 2,500, and they’re bunched together into courses of study ranging from absolute beginner bits through exotic scales, jazz arpeggios and finger independence exercises, and all the way out to hybrid picking, Phrygian soloing (no, I have no idea either) and “Viking folk metal concepts” (SRSLY). In other words, something for pretty much anyone, although the difficulty levels – which, one presumes, are decided by the tutors who actually create the tutorials – seem a little inconsistent from section to section. Or maybe I’m just irked to find myself hovering firmly around level 3 of a possible 10 as far as my own skillset is concerned…
I don’t recognise the names of any of the tutors; most of them seem to be the sort of affable and quietly excellent guitarist who’s always trying something out at your local music shop when you go in, casually playing stuff complex enough to put you off so much as touching a string while they’re in the room. Not rock stars, perhaps, but serious musicians. The lessons I’ve looked at so far seem pretty comprehensive: breaking down complex parts into chunks, playing ‘em through slowly, showing you the techniques, explaining bits of theory. Then you can fire up the backing tracks and metronome, play along at a comfortable pace, dial yourself in and – if all goes according to plan – learn that riff, scale or technique you’ve been fumbling around with for ages.
There are, of course, other sites where you can learn from people whose names appear on the front of guitarist magazines – I’ve always been a little tempted by PlayThisRiff.com, which is run by Bob Balch of Fu Manchu and features an assortment of Stateside rock and metal notables (and their droolworthy vintage gear, more often than not) – but GuitarMasterClass.net has comprehensiveness on its side, covering classical acoustic to neo-classical widdly-woo fretwank stuff and everything in between; if you’re after a more general musical education, it’s probably a better bet. Membership gives you access to all the video lessons, plus the discussion forums where you can pester the tutors for tips and boast about your gear (or lament your poor left-hand technique) to fellow students. There are even online tuition workshops available, though I think these cost extra. The site’s design and layout is fairly contemporary (though nothing spectacular), and it may take you a bit of experimenting to suss out the controls on the bells-and-whistles video player that powers the actual lessons, but once you get the feel of the place the sheer extent of the content on offer becomes apparent. Plenty of food for the hungry.
But is that all worth $29 for a month (or less, if you sign up for longer)? Well, that entirely depends on you, I suppose. I’d suggest that if you’re really determined to learn guitar properly and willing to put in the hours of finger-wrecking practice and patient repetition, then that $29 will easily give you more benefit than the hour or so you might get with a guitar teacher in meatspace for the same amount of cash. If just watching the lessons (or reading tuition books, or staring at fretboards from the front row at gigs, or just simply wishing real hard while you stare at pricey instruments) was enough to make someone a great player, then I’d be Steven “Porcupine Tree” Wilson already; however, if you’ve got the discipline I lack, GuitarMasterClass.net could well be the resource you’ve been looking for. At the end of the day, it’s determination that gets you there… but if you need fuel to feed that fire, there’s plenty of it to be had right here.
[ Full disclosure: the folks from GuitarMasterClass.net were good enough to set me up a free account so I could write this review, as you probably guessed. ]