I still remember when I started seriously playing the guitar. I was in seventh grade. At that time, we were given a choice of band, chorus, or guitar. But you had to pick one. Well, by then I had already determined that I was done with the clarinet, so I would not be joining the band. And I had no illusions about my ability to sing (I was always the kid in my fourth grade concert who stood in the back lip syncing). So, it was off to guitar for me, and I was pretty excited about it. I mean, what seventh grader didn’t have visions of Eddie Van Halen dancing in front of his fingers…The second fortuitous event that happened was Dr. Jones, who taught guitar to my seventh (and eighth) grade class. I only had him for two years, but he really instilled a lasting love of the instrument in me. I have played the guitar off and on ever since (sometimes much more off than on). But every time I pick it up again, I wonder why I ever stopped. It is a great way to relax, and impress your friends. The problem is that every time I pick it up, I also realize how much I have forgotten. I have to relearn chords, remember how to tune it, and even think about which string is which. I can’t afford the time or money involved with private lessons, which means teaching myself from books and sheet music, which can be difficult. Learning guitar is much easier when you can mimic a more experienced player, and see how their fingers move across the strings. That is pretty tough to do with a book. Well, now there is another way…and potentially a better way, ivideosongs.com. This new website offers your own private lessons of your favorite songs, right there on your computer screen. Let’s take a closer look.
Navigating the web site: Before we get into the actual lessons, it is worth taking a look at the website itself. I was really impressed by how well designed the website appeared. The main portion highlights some of the many celebrity instructors ivideosongs has lined up for this project. Of course, this is probably the best part of the whole project. Not only will you receive a step-by-step lesson of the entire song, but many of the lessons also include commentary and even instruction from the artists themselves, or others associated with the band such as Beatles co-producer Giles Martin (below). More on this in a bit.
From this main page, you can then scroll through the library of tutorials and songs. These are broken into several sections with a graphic highlighting tutorials, upcoming releases, and new releases, and fan favorites. On the left is your entryway to the main portion of the video library, divided by category and subdivided by difficulty and instrument (in addition to guitar, the site also offers instructional videos for piano and drums). The nice thing is that you can find your way to any song with only one or two clicks off of this main page. The layout is extremely easy to follow.
Heck, there is even a company blog, where you can learn all of the upcoming news and information about the site.
Library/Media: The most important commodity iVideo Songs has to offer is not the website itself, but the content you will find there. Namely, the library of songs. Probably the most impressive feature of the library is the fact that every song offered by ivideosongs is officially licensed from the artist. This means you can use it in any manner you see fit, again and again, without worrying about DRM or other annoyances. It also means that you are not dealing with an uninformed cover. The instructors at ivideosongs have access to all of the original material, allowing them to make the most complete and authentic lesson possible.
Because of this access, in addition to their stable of in-house instructors, they are also able to include many of the original artists in the videos. As such, you will see many artist appear on the videos as instructors, or providing commentary. So, when you download a Beatles song, for example, you will receive a free behind the scenes look at the band and the song from none other than Giles Martin, some of famed Beatles producer George Martin and an acclaimed co-producer of the Beatles songs himself, or John Oates of the infamous ’80s duo Hall and Oates (above).
In addition to the growing catalog of songs — which already includes some of the world’s most highly acclaimed musicians — ivideosongs has also prepared a series of tutorials. These tutorials are perfect for the beginner, or someone like me who “useta” play the guitar. They will show you how to play many of the basic chords and techniques (and yes, in the picture above, there are eight pages of free tutorials available.)
Overall, I was extremely impressed by the content which is already available. The tutorials are a fantastic introduction to the guitar (or drums, piano, and base, but mostly guitar.) No matter how many books you read, there is simply no substitute for live instruction. And no guitar teacher I have ever worked with has been able to rewind and show me again…and again…and again until I was ready to move on to the next lesson. I suggest you beginners start with these free tutorials until you are comfortable and familiar with the instrument. Then, start checking out the song catalog. Unlike a lot of places, their catalog is not filled with songs you have never heard of. They also are not going to try to sell you on the old standby lessons like Three Blind Mice or Happy Birthday (though the song I learned how to play guitar with, Proud Mary, is included.) Instead, ivideosongs focuses on the bands you already love and the songs you want to play.
Viewing Downloading Content: Once you have finished scanning the library, it is time to start watching videos. Just add the songs you wish to purchase to your cart and hit download. Watch out though, these are some fairly long videos and can be up to 500 megabites in size. This means some significant download times. So, get ready to hit download and walk away for a while. Both tutorials and songs also have a preview option which allows you to view a portion of the video online. This is a great way to determine whether the song or tutorial will be right for you. The nice thing, however, is that the songs are divided into chapters or sections, so you can jump right to the section of the song you want to practice.
The biggest problem, however, was that all of the videos are downloaded in the .mov format, which is used by Apple Quicktime and iPods. As long as you use Quicktime or an iPod, then you should have no problems. You can even transfer the videos directly to your iPod to study guitar on the go. This is going to be a problem, however, if you do not subscribe to the Steve Jobs school of computing. I tried, with no success, to convert the videos to a format which I could use with Windows Media Player, and also on my non-iPod mobile devices. As such, it would be nice if these videos were offered in several different formats so that you could download the one which would work best for you. Finally, although the appropriate section of chords and tabulature is included before each section of video, I would like to have these in a format I could print and take with me when I play. This would really facilitate those times when I am ready to take off and try a section on my own, but may not have that section quite memorized yet.
Results: I was extremely impressed by the quality of these videos. During the instruction, they focus quite a bit on the fingering, and I thought the instructors did a fantastic job of showing you how to finger or play each chord, while also explaining what they were doing. This is much easier to follow than chord tabulature in sheet music, which rarely can adequately show you the correct strumming pattern. These videos are much more like having your own private guitar tutor, which you can drag out and consult any time you need to. I was similarly impressed by the quality of the tutorials. These short lessons, which cover everything from the basic chords to advanced skills like finger picking, are all offered for free. I have enjoyed playing guitar for most of my life. It has been years since I have had time to take private lessons, however, and I spend a lot of time reading books and tabulature, teaching myself the chords and strumming patterns. Doing this, however, I always feel like I am missing something in my experience. The private tutorials and song instructions offered by ivideosongs have really given me back this element which I felt I needed in order to further develop my guitar playing. And plus, who doesn’t want to play guitar right alongside John Oates, and pretend you are a rock and roll star. That is just plain fun.
What I Liked: Extremely well made instructional videos. Great commentary. I love the use of the actual artists.
What Needs Improvement: I hope to see the library of songs grow significantly. Printable chord notations and tabulature would be great. Downloads are huge. Videos should be available in multiple formats.
Price: Tutorials are free. Songs cost $4.99 each (which can be significantly cheaper than buying sheet music or tabulature).