Instead of taking up a musical instrument as a constructive hobby during the pandemic or as a mid-life crisis, I decided six months ago to purchase a $50 guitar and learn to play. People spend years learning from expert teachers but considering we live in the great internet age, I figured how hard could it be to learn to play guitar on my own. If Ed Sheeran can do it, so can I, right?
I soon discovered Youtube tutorials weren’t for me. I needed to simplify things, so I turned to an App, specifically Yousician (available for Android and iOS), as it had over 10 million downloads. Firing it up for the first time, I was shown the name of each string and how to hold a guitar by a very friendly Australian man who leads all of the acoustic guitar sessions and whose face we mysteriously never see. I was impressed with how smoothly it ran on my OnePlus 10T, but those with less-than-perfect eyesight should consider using the app on one of the best tablets instead as notes can be very small.
This was more my speed. Yousician’s layout of notes is very similar to the Guitar Hero games. Different colored blocks approach telling you which string and fret to play as well as which finger to use; this was a definite selling point for me. I can’t look at my hands now without thinking of the pointer finger as yellow, the middle finger purple, the index blue, and the pinky as orange.
After using the built-in tuner and running through the fundamentals of guitaring, Yousician does lock the rest of its content behind a paywall. A monthly subscription varies on whether you spring for the Premium or Premium+ packages. If you want to learn to play popular songs (and not just Yousician’s originals) go for Premium+ for $11/£9.99/AU$16 a month. As a Premium+ member you can learn guitar, piano, ukelele, and vocals too, while Premium subscribers only get one instrument. Premium+ subscribers also get access to celebrity-led courses by the likes of Metallica and er… Jason Mraz, but these are quite short in truth.
The selection of licensed songs is pretty impressive, even if some are (very competent) cover versions. Modern hits from the likes of Twenty-One Pilots and Imagine Dragons are joined by some 00’s and 90’s classics (Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a joy) through to the glam rock of Bon Jovi and Kiss and then John Denver, the Beach Boys, and The Beatles. Some of my favorites to play include The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, Paramore’s The Only Exception, and The Cranberries' classic Linger.
Learning to play
Despite having no previous musical experience, I soon found myself learning to play songs that I could actually recognize. Lessons are typically broken down into two components, a video tutorial of a real person playing and then an exercise for you to play. In all, I would say each takes around 5 to 10 minutes. The biggest advantage of an app is that I could slow down and replay anything I struggled with and I could get an actual visual indicator that I was playing the right note (notes turn green or red). Were I sticking to YouTube or books, I could be learning completely incorrectly.
Yousician does a great job of incentivizing you to play just one more or take one more bite-sized lesson. Again, like Guitar Hero, each time you play a song or lesson you will be given a score to share to the online leaderboards and a star rating. It can be addictive pushing for a high score. Once you complete all the lessons of a certain level, your account ‘levels up’, and as sad as it sounds, I felt proud each time.
Time to go solo?
Having reached account level 5, I am now familiar with most of the fundamentals of playing guitar and some basic theory but am considering stopping my subscription. After learning about power chords, octaves, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides, I now mainly use the app to play new songs.
As a casual player who plays for half an hour to an hour most days, the lessons are getting more and more technical and challenging and have started to move at a pace. I have reached the point in my life where I can accept I am not going to be a rockstar and while I really enjoy playing, it is more as a release than a stressor.
I would definitely recommend Yousician to people with zero guitar knowledge but I think its usefulness caps out at a certain point, and that’s ok. It is a testament to the grounding that Yousician has given me that if I want to play a song now I just look up the chords on the internet. Perhaps now it is time to spread my wings and like Fleetwood Mac, go my own way.