Fender Play

The new online educational platform hopes to make learning guitar a lot less frustrating

Guitar, bass and amp manufacturer Fender wants to build lifelong relationships with their customers—and they’re working toward this by providing useful services to make sure new guitar owners don’t become “it’s-somewhere-in-the-closet-or-underneath-my-bed” owners. For example, Fender’s guitar and bass tuning app for iPhone and Android, launched in the past year, grew a loyal fanbase not only because it’s free, but also because it doesn’t require any annoying in-app purchases, and is clean and simple in its design. And, while every other available free app expected the user to already be virtuosic, Fender Tune was built to walk beginners through this vital set-up, yet also provides 20+ tunings for the pros. Today, they’ve announced the launch of Fender Play, a platform for online lessons that limits the frustrations of learning a new instrument to the bare minimum. Through this complementary educational tech, Fender hopes to change the surprising statistic of 90% of people quitting guitar in the first year—which will eventually mean more sales for them.

“What we found is that guitar instruction itself was often delaying a reward; it was too difficult to get through, it was tedious,” says Chief Digital Products Officer Ethan Kaplan on the company’s research. “While people were only sticking with physical lessons for three months, they were sticking with digital options for longer.” But what’s available online is pretty hodgepodge: tons of homemade YouTube videos and crowdsourced (and often incorrect or incomplete) guitar tabs of pop songs. So what makes people power through building up fingertip callouses and mastering the dreaded F and B chord positions? “It’s the combination of a personalized curriculum, a fast path to reward, and very quick, easy to digest pieces of content,” says Kaplan. “There’s a quick learning aspect to what we’re building—you learn a chord, you learn a chord, you learn a skill, then you learn a song. And the quickest reward, if you’ve ever played music, is the first time you play two chords, two times, and it sounds like a song.”

That’s the core of Fender Play: accurate, high-quality videos (with multi-camera angles) that break down traditional lessons into bite-sized pieces. Learning the riff to Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” only requires four minutes of your attention span, while picking up Crowded House’s entire song “Don’t Dream It’s Over” just takes about 13 minutes. “The big issue of instruction isn’t finding lessons—you could find how to play anything, pretty much. It’s finding something that’s good, finding something that’s fun, finding something that’s approachable. A lot of the instruction that you see online forces you to go through theory to get to something that’s rewarding to play,” says Kaplan. “We wanted to make it so if you know you want to play a song, you can find a song, you can find the lessons appropriate to get to that song, and you get it.” The emphasis is on the diversity of song offerings, too. Between the loose organization of rock, blues, folk, country, pop, you’ll find not only the classics like the Rolling Stones but also contemporary songs by The National, Kelly Clarkson—even “Let It Go” from Frozen.

It feels like a private lesson, without the intimidating physical presence of a skilled instructor inches away from you—and it’s surprisingly more motivating to practice when you have a lot of “rewards” to play around with. Though the overly smiling instructors and their teleprompter-read words on camera can sometimes feel like you’re watching a Gap commercial, this approach is promising for those who like taking education into their own hands, learning at their own pace, free of condescension or prejudice, too. Fender Play launches today on all platforms, with a couple hundred songs. After a 30-day free trial, it’s $20 per month (making it significantly cheaper than private lessons), and will continue to be regularly updated with new songs, lessons, genres and more.

Screenshots by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of Fender