For the purposes of this review, TrueFire granted us full access to their online lessons platform.
In the last couple of years people have turned to guitar playing – and online lesson platforms like TrueFire – in their droves, as a way to cope with the upheaval that recent events have wrought. Apparently, new players are getting younger, and more women are taking up the guitar, too, which is just fantastic.
Cost: Monthly streaming subscription $29 per month or $249 per year (downloads, one-to-one lessons and other premium content incur additional costs). Free trial available
If you're one of those thousands of new players, you've probably been wondering how best to master your new six-string BFF. Maybe you're not really new to the guitar but have returned to it after a hiatus and are pondering where – quite literally – to pick up again. Or perhaps you've never lost interest in playing the guitar but you fancy improving some existing skills or exploring some new genres and playing styles.
The obvious option – and one we'd heartily recommend – is to find yourself a local guitar teacher. But this approach doesn't work for everyone. Rates vary, but you're probably looking at investing around $55/£40 per week or fortnight, which just isn't feasible for some people.
You could go old-school and find your way by slowly playing along to famous recordings – it can be painful but it’s actually an excellent way to learn.
The advantages of learning with one of these sites are that they're relatively cheap (or free), they’re comprehensive and they’re available 24/7. The disadvantage can be that they're remote, both physically and emotionally – but more about that later.
TrueFire lessons: Save 30% with code GWTF30
TrueFire includes 50,000 video lessons taught by industry-leading teachers, Grammy Award-winning artists and world-class touring musicians. And in case that wasn't good enough, you can save 30% off an All-Access subscription and all courses with the exclusive code GWTF30.
Firing up TrueFire
TrueFire is truly massive. Almost 52,000 instructional videos await, taught by hundreds of instructors, including big names such as Joe Bonamassa, Greg Koch, Tommy Emmanuel, Robben Ford, Matt Schofield, Larry Carlton, Steve Vai and Ariel Posen. It has associated apps and blogs, a huge Facebook presence, jam tracks, one-to-one lessons – the feature set is just huge.
Essentially, though, if we sweep the extras aside for a moment, it's all about delivering high-quality courses to guitar players of all levels for a subscription of $29 per month or $249 per year. It’s possible to forgo a subscription and buy individual courses but, unless your needs are very specific, this isn't cost-effective. A 14-day free trial is available, and we recommend you take advantage of this before parting with your hard-earned cash.
Log on to a competitor site – Fender Play, for example – and you'll be greeted by a prominent banner welcoming you to learn how to play the guitar with them. The implication is that you're a beginner about to embark on (no pun intended) a set course.
TrueFire feels different. There's little in the way of 'start here' signposting, and it doesn't make any assumptions about who you are, why you're here or what you need to learn. Instead, you're presented with a plethora of content – mostly courses – to watch.
Frankly, on the first visit this is a little disconcerting, and certainly rather overwhelming. Yet on subsequent visits, as you become better acquainted with the site, the approach begins to make sense. TrueFire isn’t exclusively for beginners, so it doesn't pander to them. Yes, there's more than enough beginner content here, but there's also a heck of a lot for intermediate and expert players, too.
That said, TrueFire's Learning Paths are probably a good place to start for most players, regardless of their expertise. They provide a welcome structure for students wanting to learn blues, jazz, rock, acoustic, country or bass, which probably encompasses most of us.
Each path consists of five levels – beginner, late beginner, intermediate, late intermediate and advanced – and you can jump in at the point that suits you best. A level comprises between four and ten courses, each of which typically features 30 or more video lessons. Imagine you’re a beginner aspiring to reach advanced level – that's a lot of content. But we haven't even scratched the surface!
As you’d expect, beginner lessons start off with very basic skills, such as how to hold your guitar. However, reassuringly, the advanced stuff really is pretty full-on. For example, the advanced jazz level has Larry Carlton teaching his approach to soloing.
As you work through the levels – which will obviously take some time – TrueFire will suggest optional supplementary courses for you to consider. This provides the opportunity to study some of the techniques touched on in the pathways in greater depth. For example, a supplementary course recommended on the rock pathway is Robbie Calvo's 52-lesson Double Stop Chops, which is doubtless essential if you want to master those Hendrix-style double stops.
You don't have to enroll in a Learning Path if you don't want to. Instead, you can explore the thousands of freestyle courses on offer. These are grouped under section headings such as Classical, Flamenco, Licks You Must Know and Practice Sessions.
Alternatively, you can just do a good ol' search for a course or lesson. For example, typing 'blues' into the search bar reveals 392 courses and 21,767 lessons.
Fender Play, JustinGuitar and many of TrueFire's other competitors have established significant song libraries that’ll enable you to learn your favorite Stones track or maybe something by John Mayer. Curiously, TrueFire doesn't have much of a song library – in fact, there are fewer than two-dozen tunes. However, the few songs it does have, it's really gone to town on, with full lead and rhythm parts, plus an easy guitar version.
TrueFire has dubbed this approach its Song Learning System, and it’s aimed at teaching accurate guitar parts, preparing students for live performance and emphasizing key learnings to advance students' overall skills. Apparently, songs need to meet strict criteria before they're selected for the Song Learning System, hence the paucity of material. We can't help thinking there should be more.
The vast majority of content on TrueFire will be included in your subscription, including regular lessons, courses, songs and Learning Paths. However, some content does carry an additional charge, including various flavors of jam tracks and premium channels, which are self-produced instructional videos from a variety of teachers – including some very well-known names.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, private lessons also carry an additional charge. To be clear, these are not live lessons in real time; instead, you choose an instructor and upload a video for them to assess. A reasonable amount of time later, the instructor will respond with feedback and a follow-up personalized video lesson. You can opt for either a one-off or a series of lessons, which appear to be priced at between $40 and $150 per session, depending on the skill or notoriety of the teacher! The current roster includes about 40 teachers, from Berklee professors to funk bass players such as FreekBass.
We believe this feature has the potential to bridge the yawning gap that lies between the impersonal virtual tuition that most online platforms offer, and live tuition from a real teacher who can provide knowledgeable feedback and encouragement.
Watch and learn
Many of us watch instructional guitar videos on YouTube and other well-known educational platforms from time to time. If we're lucky, we might see close-up shots of the left hand and fretboard, but often these videos are little more than a guy or a girl playing their guitar in front of the camera.
TrueFire goes that bit further. Lessons feature multiple camera angles that let you clearly see both the left hand and the right hand, along with a zoomed-out view. In addition, TrueFire has teamed up with Soundslice to bring synced notation and animated fretboard diagrams to its lessons. We can’t stress how useful this feature is.
Soundslice enables you to see both standard notation and tablature synced to the teacher's playing. You can slow the video down, or loop it, and it’ll remain synced. Or you can jump to a particular section just by clicking on the relevant notes in the notation. Frankly, seeing tabs in sync is only marginally useful, but if you know even a smattering of standard notation, you'll find Soundslice a godsend during the first few playthroughs. It reveals so much information about the piece of music you're trying to learn.
The animated fretboard works well for exposing accurate finger placement, too, particularly for awkward chords. So often, a teacher will have one or two fingers obscuring the rest, which, if you're like us, usually results in endless video rewinds and replays.
TrueFire review: Conclusion
Most online guitar tuition platforms focus on teaching beginners how to play the guitar. TrueFire covers that ground too, but it also exists to help intermediate and advanced students master their instruments. Whatever your level, you could spend a lifetime, perhaps two, learning all that TrueFire has to offer.