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This is not the first digital tool Fender has introduced for playing guitar (others include Riffstation, which displays chord tabs for your favorite songs, and a guitar tuner app), but it is the first they’ve designed specifically for introductory-level players.
Fender Play is a video-centric learning platform that eschews traditional theory-based lessons in favor of instructor-guided videos. When a user signs up, they will answer a variety of questions about the musical styles and instruments they prefer, which will then generate a customized curriculum. Fender Play’s song-based method of learning will teach core technique, but alongside visual lessons with instructors showing you how to play your favorite songs. The goal is not to trudge though theory and basics, but pick it up while an instructor teaches you a Foo Fighters or Stone Temple Pilots tune. Fender says this micro-learning method will keep beginners engaged, and allow them to master chords and riffs in minutes.
Fender’s wave of digital apps and other compliments to its instrument lineup began in 2015, when the company hired well-known music tech leader Ethan Kaplan as chief digital products officer. At the time, CEO Andy Mooney told TechCrunch there would be a conscious shift to use technology in order to mitigate “the journey from being a beginner to intermediate to being an advanced player.”
Sales of electric guitars have dropped in the past decade, from about 1.5 million annually to around 1 million, and of those who decide to learn the instrument, about 90 percent give up in the first year. While all this can be attributed in part to the current dearth of guitar in popular music, another, perhaps more important reason is that learning guitar is simply different from learning other instruments. A study published by University of California Press in 2012 found that reading music is harder for guitar players because any given note on a guitar can be played on different strings. Because of this, they say “guitarists are faster to recognize chords from familiar viewpoints, like when they are watching themselves or another guitarist play a chord.” Fender’s approach falls in line with these findings, and is also supported by the educational advisors who helped build Fender Play’s curriculum.
It’s fair to note that while Fender Play is not the first to utilize this method — other services, like Guitar Tricks and JamPlay offer a similar education style — it’s, well, got the cachet of being by Fender, and the platform and videos are also decidedly more splashy and modern-looking. And you might’ve forgotten, but Apple’s GarageBand on the Mac has some built-in instrument lessons, too.
Fender Play is available in the US, UK, and Canada.