What could the future of learning guitar look like?
The year is 2031. Technology has changed the way we learn, create and perform music…
The digital world has already conquered several facets of our everyday lives — not to mention education — partly because of the pandemic, but also for ease of use and management of learning assets.
So, in this blog post, we thought it would be fun to speculate how technological advancements might change the way we learn guitar in the future. Big companies are already dipping their toes in with things like app-based learning, but what are the areas of learning guitar that could be improved with a bit of tech? Particularly in the embryonic phases of guitar tuition, perhaps there are ways of speeding up the learning process and getting new guitarists to a more advanced level, quicker. Are there downsides to technology too?
These are the ideas that we came up with, but let us know in the comments if you have any other lightbulb moments to share!
Performance: Live Gig Simulator
Performing in front of other people can be the biggest fear for many guitarists, or any musicians for that matter. In the real world, the only way to become more comfortable in these high pressure situations is to do it more often — it’s essentially exposure therapy.
But what if there was a stepping stone before doing that? Even playing to friends and family can be daunting, so how could you prepare for that?
Imagine a virtual reality performance simulator where you could gain experience performing in front of people. Not only would it help you feel at ease playing in front of more eyes, but it could also provide the skills needed to play in a band with other musicians, teaching you how to play in time and react to prompts and signals from your band.
Maybe you could start off performing in virtual pubs (where people aren’t always fully engaged in the music), then work your way up to small clubs and venues, before stepping out in front of thousands of fans on a stadium tour. Naturally, the crowds would be fully interactive, rather than just braindead AI, so maybe you could engage in small talk with them or get them hyped up so you could learn some stagecraft.
We also thought it would be fun if you could set the hostility levels of the crowd: begin with a forgiving audience who ignore any mistakes you make, then as you get better, test your skills against a tougher crowd. Be warned though, mess up and they might throw stuff at you. Or leave.
Learn: Improvisational Tools
Improvisation can seem like some kind of mythical hurdle that you have to overcome before you can consider yourself a ‘proper’ guitarist, but this isn’t the case. Although there’s a few ways to practise this, again, the best method is playing with other musicians, which isn’t always a possibility.
The process of learning guitar uses a combination of the 3 main types of learning: auditory, visual and kinaesthetic (doing/acting), but this idea came to us from the notion of being able to visually see the notes you should be playing, or in other words, the notes that sound good.
It can seem like some highly skilled guitarists can do this naturally — literally see the right notes — but really this just comes from learning the fretboard and understanding scales. In this case, technology could certainly help.
Now, let us step back a moment as there are no ‘right or wrong’ notes to play, but we can all agree that there are ones that sound better together (notes within a scale and chords within a key). So, imagine if these notes could somehow be displayed on your fretboard as you play, allowing you to explore the neck without making any ‘bum-notes’.
We envisioned this as some kind of tool that could display small LED lights onto your fretboard to show you the notes to play. You could change the key or scale via an app on your phone, and eventually learn the whole fretboard so you could improvise alone, or with other musicians — in any scenario.
Not only could it help you improve your improv skills, but it could be used for learning scales, arpeggios, chord shapes or even songs!
EDIT: Since posting we actually found that this kickstarter beat us to it! We’d love to know your thoughts on this.
Creation: Virtual Reality Songwriting
There comes a time in every guitarist’s journey when they decide to try writing their own material. The problem we often face here is getting our ideas translated to the fretboard or your recording software.
Perhaps you come up with an awesome riff in your head, but you can’t quite get your fingers to make you the sound you want. This is where a ‘virtual songwriting assistant’ could come in. Like Siri or Alexa, but much more advanced (and much less annoying), your virtual assistant could listen to the melody that you hum or sing and transpose that to a more understandable form — this could be in tab or written notation. You could then play it back to yourself and make any necessary edits or embellishments.
Imagine how much quicker you could sketch ideas for songs and put full works of music together, without the frustration of not finding the right notes.
Alternatively, one way to get better at this without tech is to practise training your ear — the old fashioned way. Not many guitarists start doing this early enough in their learning, especially when it’s a lot easier to quickly look up a tab online (perhaps a tick in the ‘con’ list for technology?), but the sooner you start, the quick you’ll get the hang of transposing riffs and generally becoming a more accomplished guitarist.
If you’re looking for a place to start with ear training, have a go at my course I put together specifically for this — it’s free!
What’s Already Happening with Guitar Tech?
As we mentioned, guitar learning has already come a long way. We’re seeing more and more apps aimed at new learners, for example, Yousician or Fender Play – platforms that can provide you with practical guitar skills as well as rate your playing and show you the progress you’ve made.
By giving you a score, these apps aim to make playing guitar more ‘gamified’, much like we’ve seen in the past with video-game-come-guitar-integrations such as Rocksmith. The only question is whether these style of platforms are as effective at learning as other methods.
Arguably, they are great for getting guitarists off the ground and playing songs, which is what we all want to do when we first pick up a guitar, but maybe they aren’t all that suited to understanding your instrument and building the core foundations of a good guitarist.
Another idea we’d had was a tool or app for helping you find the right effects pedals to play certain songs, or a platform where you could try these pedals out virtually before you buy them. Turns out Thomann beat us to it, or at least half of that idea. The German company’s Stompenberg FX app allows you to test out as many pedals as you like from the comfort of your own home with pre-recorded loops in a variety of styles, or you can record your own.
However, imagine having a stompbox, with an accompanying app that could immediately replicate tone and effects. For example, you might play a song to the app (Shazam style), which then attempts to offer you the closest tonal sound using the vast array of effects built into the stompbox. Perhaps it could even offer you suggestions for the most suitable pedals to purchase in real life should you want to take that sound even further.
Whilst we’ve had a lot of fun conjuring up these ideas for the future of guitar, it is worth bearing in mind that alongside all the wonders that technology can offer, it often brings with it a host of glitches and blips too. As most people know, this can become hugely frustrating.
One argument is that whilst technology can speed things up, it can also suck some of the fun out the challenge of learning guitar. For a lot of people, overcoming the challenge is the most satisfying part, plus, what’s the point in these tech advances if they don’t encourage you to keep playing?
To look at another industry, think about the development of electric bicycles. If technology can help more people get on a bike (or learn guitar), then that’s great, but equally, is cycling as fun and challenging when technology is helping you? Breaking a sweat is part of it, but when you take that away, can it ruin the process?
What we’re trying to say is that sometimes the classic methods of learning are the best and that’s why they’ve endured for so long. Technology can certainly help us along the way, but we probably shouldn’t depend on it for all of our guitar learning.
Also, if any of these ideas hit the market in the next couple of years, we’ll know that you stole the idea from us, so at least give us some credit — if not some of the profits.