Now this is how you learn!
So last year, it was all about Masterclass for me- where we signed up to a year’s subscription in the attempts to learn some new skills. But what I found, was the classes were targeted at an advance learner ( which unfortunately I was not for any of the topics which we sat through)- therefore I didn’t think I really learnt anything after 12 months. So as my year’s subscription came to an end on 11 December, that evening I signed up to Fender Play, a second attempt at learning/mastery of a new skill!
The funny thing was that I didn’t know anything about Fender Play until days before my Masterclass subscription was going to expire when I sat through a Youtube advert which caught my attention (I usually skip them as soon as I can). And it immediately intrigued me, as I was already inclined to the online learning style of short videos as we had just experienced a years of Masterclass, and the past year I’d also been trying to master the art of bass guitar playing- but have hit a skill wall and have been seeking methods in how I could take my playing to the next level! So, this seemed serendipitous.
And within 10 minutes I had the Fender Play app downloaded to my phone, and by that evening I was sitting through my first lesson. For those who aren’t familiar with Fender Play, it is both a web-site and app, developed and offered by the musical instrument maker Fender as an accompanying tool to help beginner players learn how to play a guitar.
From a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense for Fender, as people buy guitars but if they never learn how to play it properly soon they will give up and the guitar is banished to a basement or attic (or sold cheaply on reverb). And that means that’s another potential repeat customer lost to Fender. But if people are taken through lessons, they get better, love it so much so they play more, and then they’re more likely to buy a second or third Fender etc. So, it makes sense for everyone for Fender to provide this product.
The app is designed to teach players how to play Electric guitar, Acoustic guitar, Bass guitar and Ukulele guitar- so you simply elect your instrument, your preferred genre of music, and your current level of guitar proficiency. **Note: more genres are available for the more popular instruments, compared to the limited options for Bass and Ukulele. And once those options have been made the corresponding level and lessons are presented to you in your ‘Journey tab’.
The lessons are short 5 minute videos, delivered by a team of young musicians. They all follow the same teaching structure, so although you may have 5 different instructors in a Level, you know exactly what to expect from each lesson. For me, I was super curious to see if I could independently use the app and if I could follow the lessons on my own- as I’m blind. And I’m pleased to say that the Fender Play App is completely accessible, as in my Apple Voiceover was able to navigate, read all of the apps content, and activate all features. And the lesson instructors are using both visual and audible modes to convey their instructions. As in, they painstakingly verbalise all of their instructions several times and always verbally explain what they’re doing as well as show it visually- so it covers off most people’s learning styles. Which is fantastic for me!
The lessons are delivered as first an instructional video, then followed by a second session of self-learning- so you can practice what you’ve learnt in your own time, as many times as you like. And when you’re done, just check the lesson as completed, and move on to the next lesson.
In-between acquiring new skills, there are lessons where you’re taught little riffs or extracts of popular songs, so you can apply what you’ve learnt by playing a well known song which is the main reason why people are picking up the guitar so they can play famous riffs. And the options to practice and to test yourself is pretty cool as well, like there is a feedback mode where you can record your own playing and you’re given a score in how accurate and in rhythm you’re in. So that makes it a bit more fun and gamifies the learning experience.
And in addition to the learning modules, there is a library of hundreds (maybe thousand’s)of popular songs that you can learn/master- taught by real instructors who use the same teaching methods as what you’re now familiar with from the lessons. This is a great contrast to just tablature apps, as with Fender it actually feels like you’re being taught, rather than just learning/fumbling around on your own. But I guess this might be a pro or a con, depending on your learning style and preference.
And there is also a section of skills, so perhaps if you don’t want to follow a structured lesson plan, but just want to explore or pick-up a particular new skill or two. You can get in there and cherry pick what you want to master. And there are other features like ‘cord challenge’, a game to improve your fretboard finger dexterity, while there are some articles which can probably be better described as long-form adverts for Fender….
But if this all sounds too good to be true, oh yeah, I forgot to mention the price. You have 2 options, you can either pay per month or select the annual subscription. We elected the annual, as you’re meant to save 2 months of fees, have access to an ongoing 10% discount off any future Fender purchase, and when you first sign-up the annual subscription gives you a 14 day free trial (compared to 7 days for the monthly option). It works out to around $220 Aussie dollars for the year, so not cheap but not too bad if you compare it to actual lessons with a proper teacher. But the question would be, are you getting as much from the virtual teachers, compared if you actually got formal face-to-face lessons?
Well, to be honest I think if I had completed an entire ‘Level’ with a real teacher, I’d probably be progressing onto more advanced things by now. So, as I’ve mentioned I’ve been learning bass for a year now, never took any lessons, but I’ve learned on the fly. As in I pick a song which I want to play proficiently and my wife teaches me which notes I need to know, and then for the next days I keep playing with the song recording off Spotify, and I eventually learn the song. But do I have my technique locked down? No. Do I know any musical theory which sets the foundation? No. Have I developed some bad habits? Heck yeah! And have I missed some fundamentals along the way? Of course. So, after completing Level 1 in Fender Play for Bass guitar, I’ve now filled in all of those gaps. And there were just under 20 lessons to complete in Level 1. Which for me, it took slightly less than a week to complete, as I’m on holidays and I’m a bit obsessive and compulsive that way. But for other people who are busy with work and maybe kids as well, getting through Level 1 might take weeks, or perhaps even a month or two! So after all that time, how far would you have expected to progress?
So after an entire Level (and there are 6 levels), I think I haven’t really learnt all that much, if compared to maybe having 3 half hour lessons with a real teacher face-to-face. So, in that respects, a virtual learning mode is probably not as effective as the conventional method. And by the tail end of Level 1, I was expecting to be learning more difficult things by that stage, but it was still super basic. And now that I’m a third of the way through Level 2, it’s still pretty basic stuff. So, where Masterclass was targeted at a too advanced audience, perhaps Fender Play is targeted at a too beginner audience. But admittedly their attempting to teach you everything you need to know, assuming that you have next to no prior experience with guitar nor with music theory.
But I think this is just one of a few reviews I’m going to make on the topic of Fender Play, I’ll blog again once I’m further into the Levels, perhaps I’m too quick to judge.
But in the end, the lessons are easy to follow, totally accessible, pretty simple- so it motivates you to do more and more as you’re quickly mastering the techniques, and its all at your own pace so you work it around your own busy schedule and at your learning pace. So, for these reasons, I’m sticking with it (although I’m within my free trial period and can pull-out at any time).
Is it worth the price? I think it is, if after a year you’ve mastered a new skill and you’re playing songs which you previously couldn’t imagine yourself ever being able to! Then $220 a year is chump change!
Would we keep it beyond the year? Now that’s an interesting question. As I’m on pace to complete the entire Bass course in a matter of weeks. But if you have the instrument and the interest, then you can try your hand at Electric, Acoustic, and Ukulele- so that might take you more than a year to get through. And there’s the library of songs which might keep you coming back for more, after you’ve finished all the lessons. But yeah, let’s see after a while if the Fender Play app is something which we’d keep for ever and ever.
For more information about the Fender Play app, click HERE to visit their web-site. Play on guys! Play on!