Why do people aspire to become guitarists? We betcha it's because it looks fun, that's why. Is it fun? Of course! Is getting there fun? Well, we hate to say it but invariably not, which is why so many people give up early on.
Enter online guitar lessons platform Yousician. It's built on the premise that practice needs to be fun if learning is going to be effective. Sadly, it also highlights the fact that successfully mastering skills along the way is not always reward enough to keep many of us engaged. Instead, we need a healthy dose of competition added to the mix, something along the lines of a videogame with lively graphics, levels to unlock and gold stars to be won.
Platform: desktop, iOS, Android
Cost: Free 7-day trial available; personal plan $11.66/£9.99 per month, billed at $139.99/£119.99 per year; family plan (up to 4 premium accounts) $17.49/£14.99 per month, billed at $209.99/£179.99 per year
Yousician is available as an app for mobiles and tablets, and as an application for laptops and desktops. It differs from the competition in that the latter needs installing on your computer, rather than running within a browser. This adds a layer of complexity to the setup but it's a one-time only exercise.
Whichever platform you choose, you'll be asked to select the primary instrument you intend to learn – piano, uke, bass and singing classes are also available – before giving an indication of your skill level.
After these initial steps, it's not entirely clear what you should do next. The top-level menu gives three options: Song, Learn and Challenges. I chose Learn, based on the logic that learning must come before songs and that challenges would be ridiculously challenging without building a little skill first. From here there are three sub-menus: missions, workouts and courses. Courses is the obvious choice, but it's almost certainly the wrong one because there's currently only two of them and both are artist-based studies.
In fact, it's Missions where beginners will spend much of their time. It's a learning pathway that starts with the real basics and ends up teaching you intermediate skills such as funk strumming techniques and picking hand muting. There are ten levels in all, but none are particularly advanced.
Each level kicks off with a video demonstration followed by half a dozen or so exercises with the odd song thrown in for good measure. The video content is produced to a good standard but would definitely benefit from multiple camera angles.
Loading up an exercise will make the animated moving fretboard/tab appear – let the fun commence! Like an endless conveyor belt of joviality, the fretboard keeps introducing new notes or chords for you to play until the exercise or song is over. Timing is indicated by a small, white bouncing ball that skips from one note/chord to the next. As it strikes, that's your cue to play.
It's loud, brash, fun and easy to dismiss as a gimmick but it works. Yousician is listening in to your playing, so miss a note or get slightly behind and it'll warn you in real time. Do well and you'll rack up a decent score and potentially stars, which you'll need to progress to the harder exercises. It may not be everyone's cuppa, but it's a fabulous tool to learn how to play in time, a skill that many advanced players lack.
Moving back up a level in the menu system, Workouts are standalone mini courses that teach you particular skills such as scales and notation. You'll also be prompted to revisit songs you didn't play so well the first time around in order to collect 'missing stars'.
Returning to the main menu, Songs is pretty self-explanatory, it reveals Yousician's well-stocked song library that features an eclectic mix of artists both contemporary and classic. Many songs are simplified, so beware if you're looking for an authentic version. Challenges are weekly competitions that pit you and your fellow Yousicians against one another for glory. Fancy yourself as the best player on Yousician? This is the place for you.
Yousician review: Conclusion
It's easy to be sniffy about Yousician, particularly if you take your playing seriously. However, for those that require practice time to be fun – and that's most beginners – it's a legitimate learning tool.