For the purposes of this review, Simply Guitar granted us full access to their online lessons platform.
Trust us, playing the guitar is the most rewarding, most enjoyable and most satisfying pastime ever. Period. Until it's not. When the tips of your fingers are throbbing with pain, you just can't 'get' that riff despite attempting it a gazillion times and every other note is buzzing like a wayward chainsaw, almost any other activity holds greater appeal.
Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: In-App costs from $/£9.99 per month/$119.99/£109.99 per year for Premium Membership
Download: Simply Guitar
Heck, at this point, even finishing last night’s dishes seems attractive if it means never having to pick up that accursed six string again. And the aptly named F chord? Let's not even go there…
Sadly, this is how many people make the return journey from being fledging guitarists to, well, just people again. And how awesome instruments become unloved ornaments.
Learning to play guitar is tough but we make it harder for ourselves by trying to run before we can walk, often falling at the first hurdle and refusing to get up again. In short, we stop because it's no longer fun.
If this woeful tale of failure sounds all too familiar to you, fear not, the team behind the Simply Guitar app have got your back. Fresh from cutting their teeth bringing joy to novice pianists with their highly successful Simply Piano app, they're now focusing their attention on helping newbie guitarists with this online guitar lessons platform.
Available on both iOS and Android platforms, the app is unashamedly aimed at beginners. It's grabbed our attention because it listens in to your playing and, based on what it hears, suggests learning pathways and song pairings that will challenge you but won't be completely beyond your capabilities.
I believe that the Simply Guitar team are onto something here. Most people give up learning how to play the guitar because they become disheartened by trying to play a song or piece that's too difficult for them. Conversely, playing the simple stuff isn't that gratifying either, which is equally as frustrating.
Simply Guitar overcomes these soul-destroying practice pitfalls by offering up pieces you will be able to play. Once you've mastered them it will reward you by suggesting more complex content – a 'carrot and stick at it' approach, if you like.
If this seems a bit restrictive, don't worry. Once you've completed the first couple of courses you're free to go off-piste and attempt any song you like, but Simply Guitar will warn you if it thinks a piece is going to be too tricky for you.
Simply Guitar review: Playing along
Fire up Simply Guitar for the first time and it'll ask you all manner of questions in order to formulate the most beneficial learning path for you. These questions range from 'do you own a guitar?' to whether you're learning specifically to perform at someone's birthday or anniversary, but essentially it's trying to assess where your playing's at right now, and where you want it to be in the future.
Assuming you have little to no playing experience you'll be prompted to view some guitar basics videos, which will show you the best way to hold your instrument, which strings are what and how to play an Em chord. Before long you're launched off on your guitar playing adventure proper, sailing along one of two paths – Lead or Chords.
Choose Lead if you want to focus on your favorite riffs and solo lines, or Chords if you're more into strumming along with a singer. If this sounds a bit simplistic, well it is – after all, it's not called Simply Guitar for nothing – but rest assured that the two paths frequently cross and you'll be encouraged to learn both eventually.
Start either and you'll be presented with a string of video tutorials that feature an animated fretboard/tab strip to play along with. As you move through an exercise the app will listen to your playing to ensure you're hitting all the correct notes. Fluff one and you'll get away with it but mess up a few and the tab will rewind to the beginning of the offending phrase. You'll have to play it again successfully before you can continue on to the next exercise or suggested song from the extensive song library.
The experience of fighting to unlock the next level is very reminiscent of playing a video game. It's a very engaging process, which provides you with both useful feedback and the incentive to keep coming back for more. Even simple (read tedious) exercises raise the adrenaline levels a touch – it's fun!
Eventually, you'll move beyond the Basic levels, through to Essentials, Intermediate, Master and Legend. There's plenty here for the beginner and, at the time of writing, more course content is planned, including a fingerpicking module. Who knows, perhaps we'll even see proper intermediate and expert content in the future.
Simply Guitar review: Contemporary learning
Simply Guitar has a very bold, graphic aesthetic that's bravely contemporary and doesn't pander to any gender identity. Just a few years back, guitar tuition tools of any kind, from books to DVDs, would have had a distinctly male bias, but fortunately times are changing and we're seeing many more people across the entire gender spectrum taking up the guitar. Clearly this isn't lost on Simply Guitar's development team, which is a good thing.
I also suspect that if Simply Guitar had been launched a decade ago its song library would have been, well, predictably blues/rock orientated. You know the, ahem, score – Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Green, Santana…
True, many of these names are present, just as they should be, but they're joined by Bruno Mars, Adele, Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and many more artists with universal appeal. Clearly, the team behind Simply Guitar has worked hard to make sure that there's something for everyone here.
Not all of it is to my taste, but that's irrelevant. What's important is that Simply Guitar is accessible enough to attract a broad range of talent and engaging enough to help that talent develop.
Simply Guitar review: Conclusion
According to Fender, 90% of guitarists give up within the first year, mostly due to lack of engagement. Simply Guitar injects fun back into practice time and makes the promise of becoming a guitarist more accessible and attainable. That said, intermediates and above may want to look elsewhere.
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