Review: Guitar World Lick Of The Day for iOS

Guitar World Magazine and Agile Partners launch a new and pretty straight forward iOS app today called Guitar World Lick Of The Day. As the name suggests, the app delivers a new guitar “lick”, in the form of a video lesson, every day through a monthly subscription service. The app itself is free and comes pre-populated with several free licks so you can try it out first. You can get the app at the iTunes store by clicking this link.

Here is the feature list straight from the developer website:

  • High quality videos of Guitar World’s award-winning instructors and guitar celebrities, such as Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani, Gus G., and Phil Collen, demonstrating licks in a wide range of styles: Rock, Metal, Blues, Bluegrass, Classical, Jazz and more
  • Timeless celebrity videos from the Guitar World Vault
  • Standard and tab music notation for each lick that scroll in sync with videos on iPad
  • Practice mode with settings that control music notation tempo, looping, audio synthesis, a metronome and more — a great way for guitar players of all skill levels to practice each lick
  • Dynamic fretboard that shows finger positions synchronized with the music notation (lefties can invert the fretboard)
  • Performance notes written by Guitar World’s instructors
  • “Star” your favorite licks to find them later easily, and sort licks by genre and difficulty
  • Download licks to any iOS-based device that you own — iPad, iPhone, iPod touch

Who knows how many online guitar lesson sites and videos exist out there? Hundreds? I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of the infrastructure for online guitar lessons but I do know that there are many, many options. Just typing “guitar lessons” in the search box at YouTube will bring up a zillion results. My cursory research indicates there are some fairly good ones and some fairly bad ones and at first I thought this app might be like some of those online music tutorials that, while competent, are either too diluted or too deep. However, Lick of the Day has two major benefits over the usual online lesson fare:

  1. The lessons are bite-sized and centered around a single “lick” so it’s easy for players, especially beginners, to focus. Also, the lessons delve  into  music theory discussions only as deeply as necessary  to communicate the concept behind the “lick”. I think keeping it simple and focused makes sense for this kind of lesson format, where there is no real student/instructor dialogue like there would be in a traditional live lesson.
  2. The execution of their multi-media teaching approach (synchronized video, notation and fret patterns) is solid, clear and uncluttered. At least on the iPad version, these dynamic screen elements work nicely together on screen without ever overwhelming the viewer. The iPhone version works just about as well except you don’t watch the video, fretboard and notation elements simultaneously. You instead watch them individually (because of smaller screen size).

The major benefit of this approach is that it accommodates many different learning styles at the same time. There is the video portion for analyzing hand position, movement and for hearing instructor comments during a lesson. There is the scrolling notation section that is synchronized with the video and displays in either standard music notation or tablature. There is a small text commentary section, and last but certainly not least there is the fretboard section which visually shows finger positions and is also synchronized with the video and notation. This last and most interesting feature is powered by Agile Partners’ Tab Toolkit engine. I found it very useful when paired with the video because while I can (in theory) read notation I am pretty much a slacker and prefer to just bludgeon my way through.

This app also lets you toggle between video and practice modes. Practice mode disables the video lesson, but keeps the fretboard and tab/notation on screen while offering controls to alter the speed of each riff so it is easier to learn.

Here is a quick video demo of the service:

Imagine if this teaching concept were expanded to include whole songs or albums? Teenage bedroom guitar gods all over the world would have a completely different way to learn songs outside of standard lessons or the “play…rewind…play…rewind…play…rewind” methods of yore.

The bottom line is that this multi-method approach to teaching guitar is quite inclusive and will reach sight-readers and slackers alike.

It’s a free app and the initial download comes with 5 free “licks”. In order to get more,  you choose from a couple of different subscription options. The basic monthly package is $4.99 per month, which breaks down to about $0.16 a lesson – not bad at all really. There are additional subscription packages that offer price breaks – 3 months for $12.99 and 6 months for $19.99. The subscription also works across multiple devices, so you can use it on your iPad and your iPhone without needing to pay twice.

After trying it out, I give this app a thumbs up because it does what is says. It’s a multi-method approach to teaching simple, short guitar lessons in clear and helpful ways. I also think it is priced right. If it were $15 per month or more for a subscription, I would say save that money and put it toward real lessons. But $4.99 a month is a low risk entry point for something with as high a production value as this app which has: uncompressed videos on white sweeps, stereo sound, multiple camera angles and the Tab Toolkit options. I’d say it’s a good deal.

I don’t want to imply that this app is a substitute for good, proper, live lessons if you are looking for a holistic overview of music theory and technique. What I am saying is that this app is an innovative option for learning bite-size guitar licks to add to your arsenal of riffs.