What is it?
There’s a statistic knocking around which says 90% of people who take up the guitar give up within the first year of playing. If you’re Fender, one of the biggest brands in the guitar world, this is clearly bad for business. To combat this challenge, and encourage people to stick with the instrument, Fender launched a comprehensive suite of online lessons, called Fender Play. And, it’s safe to say, it hasn’t gone into it half-heartedly. Launched in 2017, Fender Play is an online portal containing video lessons, tutorials, personalised progression paths and much more. But is it any good?
We’ve all, over the past year or so, found ourselves with more time on our hands. Throughout various lockdowns, furlough periods and quarantine, many have used this time to pick up the instrument they’d always promised themselves they’d learn. Fender enjoyed its best year on record, commercially, but recognises the challenge is keeping people hooked once they’ve got the basics down.
Sure, there are thousands of hours’ worth of lessons and tutorials available for free on sites like YouTube, but without a guiding thread it can be a bit overwhelming. By tailoring a lesson plan to the individual learner’s preferred play-style and goals, and keeping things interesting with, for example, lessons on specific songs, Fender Play offers the learner a curated experience through those first tricky steps. Let’s take a look in more detail.
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Performance and verdict
To us, one of the major benefits of Fender Play is the way in which it holds your hand through the learning process. Upon launching the application, which runs in your web browser, for the first time, you’re invited to choose the instrument you want to learn (from a choice of guitar, bass or ukulele), and the style of music you prefer. With these two choices made, a suitable path is created. From here, you’ll see a curated list of lessons, videos and other resources laid out for you.
Lessons come in a few different formats, ranging from simple stuff like how to hold the instrument and explanations of the terminology used, through to play-along sections where the teacher guides you, step-by-step, through what you should be doing. These sessions are complemented by on-screen tablature which follows along with what’s happening in the lesson, while multiple camera angles give you the best chance to see what’s going on in closer detail. It’s all implemented flawlessly; while pre-recorded video tutorials will never take the place of face-to-face learning, Fender has at least made sure to add in as much as is possible using the medium. We never came away from a session wishing they’d shown something differently, or that something was lacking.
It’s worth giving credit to the actual tutors themselves here. A scan through YouTube will show there are countless different personalities and teaching styles. A good teacher will communicate their lesson effectively, with a good grasp on the level the player will be at and an understanding of the questions they would typically be asked. The tutors employed on Fender Play are friendly, warm and knowledgeable, and we never felt patronised. Check out the example below.
Complete an exercise and you can mark it as done, and progress to the next one. All of the content is unlocked, however, so if you spy a lesson further down the path which looks interesting, you’re not forced to complete the preceding ones first. You can also mark lessons as favourites which is useful, for example, if there’s a specific skill or lick you want to refer back to in the future. Another nice touch comes in the ‘Skill’s tab on the left-hand side. Click here and you’ll be taken to a sub-section of the site which drills down on useful tips on executing specific techniques.
As anyone who’s played a while will know, constantly practicing scales and chord changes can become mind-numbingly dull, so it’s good that each path breaks things up with actual songs from some big-name artists like Ed Sheeran, David Bowie and Billie Eilish.
Overall, Fender Play is a comprehensive, intuitive tool that will undoubtedly help beginners. Is it worth the cost, currently at $/£9.99 per month or $/£89.99 per year (although Fender regular offers discounts throughout the year)? For us, yes, especially when you think face-to-face lessons are likely to be off the agenda for a little while longer. The structured approach works well, ensuring you’ll progress at a solid pace which never feels too stretched. More advanced players will likely find the lessons don’t challenge them too much, but then that’s not the audience. Fender Play was designed to get non-players playing, and we think it’s got all the necessary tools to do just that.
The web says
Bside Talks Guitar
- Instruments covered: Guitar, bass ukulele
- Genres: Rock, blues, folk, country, pop, funk
- Platforms: Desktop, iPhone, iPad, Android
- Cost: $/£9.99 per month or $/£89.99 per year (trial periods available)
- Find out more: Fender Play