Have you ever listened to that awesome rift in November rain and thought, "I'd like to be able to do that"? Well, so have I. With all the "working from home" going around just now, it seemed like a perfect time to start. I went the usual route and tried to follow a YouTube video and quickly found that I did not have the guitar know-how to fully understand these videos. In true millennial fashion, I Googled the best way to resolve my skill problem. Looking through the top results on Google, it seemed that quite a few sites took a one-track, step-by-step approach to teaching the guitar. One particular website stood out: JamPlay. JamPlay promised in-depth, modular lessons. On the beginner's lesson page, I could pick between acoustic guitar, electric guitar, or bass. For each category, there was up to 12 instructors with long and short lesson plans and durations. Given the option between being railroaded to play nursery rhymes or a Black Sabbath-style riff by lesson 2, I think JamPlay was the clear choice here.
First impression of JamPlay
After registering to JamPlay and a quick browse through introduction videos by the various instructors, I found our Black-Sabbath instructor. Browsing through the user comments, you can tell that it is going to be a good set of lessons. For the most part, the instructors have to be concise to deliver each lesson within 5 to 10 minutes, meaning that generally each lesson is delivered at a steady and exciting pace. In 4 minutes, I learned what frets are and how to press them so that a clean sound is produced. In another 4 minutes, I was practicing something that sounded almost like music! How about that! The lessons have a clear progression pattern within the video and syllabus that will guide you from knowing nothing to playing a tune in minutes and days. Looking at my syllabus for example where there were 44 lessons, I got the feeling that if I kept up with it, I would know how to be playing competently in a month. To achieve this, while some instructors provide bite-sized lessons, others will spend up to half an hour coaching you though essential and supplementary guitar skills. They are able to provide this steady teaching as the lessons are edited well and easy to follow. Where necessary, the instructors were careful to maintain large and clear views of their finger, the guitar neck, and the strummy bit, from multiple angles. Want to see what your fingers and guitar should look like? They have you covered. Do you look cool from the front? No need to get a mirror, just pause the video.
Speaking of which, the videos are highly responsive between low resolution and 4K with no buffering time, so that you could flick between lessons as you go. Of course, your mileage with this experience may vary depending on your ISP. There isn't much to be said about the sound. The base-y, stereo goodness included is a must for learning music. As you practice your current lesson, you may find yourself wondering what your playing would sound like with the backing track alone. Well, it seems some instructors do not provide a backing-only track, so that's a small minus. They do provide the next best thing, that is the track with them playing along. While the two are not quite the same, most other guitar lesson sources will not even provide you with the whole backing track, so there is that. The most convenient part about all this is that you do not need to constantly rewind a 10-minute video to find a 1-minute part to practice to, since that part has already been cut out into a replay-able section.
Speaking of comments, the comments and other sections can be accessed through an intuitive and simple bar of buttons during your lessons. The introduction lesson proves a good time to explore these sections. The "about" section clearly outlines the run-down of the current lesson. To the far right, you can explore the entire upcoming syllabus. You can also purchase and download these lessons if you wish to watch these videos in a cabin far out in the woods without internet access.
There are three interactive tabs, one for taking notes which will help you jog your memory should you need to re-watch the associated lesson, and another for asking questions you may have. Instructors and fellow students can read and reply to these questions. With a Reddit-style up- and down-vote system, the most relevant answers are easy to spot. Musical notation, tabs, and other files are provided in the supplemental files section. If you do not know what they are, tabs are basically a representation of the guitar fingerboard on paper, and which fret one should be pressing on there. Tabs provide a very accessible means to starting guitar education without learning musical notation.
The video player itself is quite standard but comes with the same voting system to recommend videos. One can also reduce playback speed which should make finger positions easier to follow. Finally, right next to the video player, a lesson progress bar has been placed so you can quickly pick up where you left off should you get distracted. We will cover the quality of the video and contents in the following section.
Finally, you can switch between light mode and dark mode for the lesson, a function many will appreciate after staring at a monitor for hours on end.
All in all, the user interface is intuitive and shows many thoughtful little augmentations to improve your learning experience. I did not find myself wanting for anything on the UI during a lesson.
Now that you have settled into a few lessons and are pretty happy with your progress, perhaps you are looking for a community of guitarists to share a passion with. Or, perhaps you are taking a break from your lessons and want to see what else everyone else is doing. JamPlay's vibrant community of instructors frequently host open-ended livestreams for Q&A and general hanging out. If learning together with other people is your jam, you could even find individuals at your level to compare notes with using the community feature. These features are easily accessible from any page outside of your lesson. At time of writing (1845 GMT), there were approximately 50 people on the JamPlay chat suggesting that any burning questions you may have can be answered quickly.
Not a beginner? Don't "fret"!
Some of you may have months or years on my guitar experience and you may be looking for something else. Perhaps you do not wish to slog through all the beginner lessons to get to a particular technique or style of playing. Wherever you are at with your guitar journey, JamPlay has you covered thanks to their lessons phased lesson structure. The phases and their associated functions are as follows:
- Phase One: Beginner level lessons
- Phase Two: Browsing lessons by genres and skill level
- Phase Three: Learning specific songs
- Phase Four: Song writing
Looking at this line-up, you could assume that all the in-depth instructing occurs at the phase one, and that phases three and four are relatively superficial. To the contrary, from Toxicity by System of a Down to Pachelbel's Canon in D to the Beatles, the phase three lessons instruct you from multiple angles for each part of the song. Comparing the samples illustrated here, we can clearly see a difference in editing quality. This will be inevitable given differences between instructors. However, each lesson will still be a complete education of the song, and what I mean is that the lessons frequently instruct you on playing the melody, harmony, and power chords on both acoustic and electric guitars. As such, even minimally edited lessons on JamPlay average a higher quality than content available from YouTube and consequently can educate students to a higher level.
Phase two is a very useful filter system to get you directly to beginner lessons for style you enjoy, so that again you will not have to slog through nursery rhymes.
How does JamPlay hold up against other guitar lesson options?
Some people may be more hesitant to sign up for an online course (or cohort of courses) compared to a face-to-face lesson. Given the option now, I have many reasons to recommend the former. Generally, you and I have a 9 to 5 commitment, meaning that your guitar lessons will be scheduled in the evenings or on the weekends. If like me you are preparing food in the evenings, a good time to pick up the guitar would be when waiting for kettles and pots to boil, and then take a break and carry on in the next intermittent leisure. Scheduling a face-to-face means that either you or the instructor has to travel and dedicate undivided attention for an hour or two. The major pro to having a face-to-face is having an instructor that can immediately respond to your mistakes and questions. With a little self-honesty, you can address the former yourself, and JamPlay's community features covers the latter. Post a burning question or a video of yourself before you head to bed and you will have feedback in the morning. Finally, why pick one instructor's brains for information when you could harness the knowledge of multiple professionals? This argument can be used select JamPlay over other online guitar education sources as well, since a quick Google shows that no one is running a JamPlay-style service. That is to say, other sites include a directory for matching guitar students to teachers in a local area, as well as sites where individuals offer lessons for donations, similar to a YouTube/Patreon combo.
Having learned the violin and piano in the traditional manner, I would whole-heartedly recommend a structured contactless guitar course such as JamPlay. Again, your mileage with this may vary depending on how much prior music knowledge you have.
Pricing and trial
Pricing for JamPlay subscription is at $19.95 per month or $9.99 per month at a one-year subscription, with the option to "go pro". Most people would probably sign up for a $20 trial month to get a feel for the service. The first month payment, with access to the multiple instructors and incredibly flexible lesson schemes, is priced similarly to a one- or two-hour face-to-face lesson. Comparing value for knowledge, this online guitar learning system is clearly superior. A good and bad point in this pricing structure is that a large proportion of the prospective students may only be interested in learning the guitar for 6 months. The pricing structure means that a 6-month subscription will cost the same as an annual subscription. Relatively speaking, the 6-month subscription is less value for money but going for a 12-month subscription may push some students to carry on even after their interest in guitar wanes.<>At the time of writing this review, JamPlay was also holding a one-month free trial. If you time it right, you could even be in and out in a month for free! If you fall outside this trial period, no problem. JamPlay offers a 30-day money back satisfaction guarantee for the first month only, which basically functions as a free month trial for the morally flexible.
Conclusions and verdict
In conclusion, JamPlay is an expansive and complete repository for guitar education at a highly competitive price. I have almost nothing negative to say about the service. After this quarantine is over, my girlfriend will be in for a "treat" as I serenade her with Enter Sandman. Your partner can be too!