It’s a great time to be an aspiring musician. It wasn’t that long ago that beginners started out on poor quality instruments and the only way to learn was either to find a local teacher or to spend hours wood-shedding in one’s room, learning off records or your friends, basically through trial and error. The former was not always a viable option, especially if one wanted to learn to play piano like Otis Spann but the local teacher insisted on teaching the complete works of Chopin. The latter took patience, dedication and a high tolerance for the sound of a cat being strangled.
Thankfully, good quality instruments are now widely available (and affordable) and there is an astonishing array of teaching tools available for musicians, from printed magazines and books that come with their own CDs or DVDs, through to high quality YouTube clips of great musicians demonstrating their techniques in close-up. A number of online music schools have also sprung up, offering lessons that vary significantly in style, format, quality and cost.
ArtistWorks have recently launched a new online music learning resource, and they are cleverly bringing something new to the table.
The ArtistWorks website is structured around a series of online “schools”, each run by a highly respected artist and teacher. There are individual schools for certain instruments, such as piano, voice, harmonica, percussion and scratching, but broader schools covering Bluegrass, Bass, Classical and Guitar. Within each of school, different artists teach different approaches and styles, such as the Online Rock Guitar School with Paul Gilbert or the Online Mandolin School with Mike Marshall. Students, or members, pay a monthly fee, with different payment plans depending on whether they sign up for a month, three months or a year.
Each school is built around a core video lesson library that guides students from the fundamentals through to advanced techniques and concepts. All of the videos benefit from slow motion isolation and video looping. What sets Artist Works apart, however, is that students are able to submit practice videos of their own playing and receive personalized video responses from their teachers, providing custom feedback. Each video interaction between a teacher and the student is then paired together on the site and made available for all members to learn from. These video exchanges form the basis of a constantly growing online learning resource.
There are two immediate benefits to this approach. First, it is a learning experience for every musician simply to listen to other players, whether because the other musicians are inspiring and have something to “steal”, or perhaps because they demonstrate how something should not be played. Secondly, there are few better (or more humbling) ways for a musician to really improve than to record him or herself and then listen back with a critical ear. What may sound wonderful in a live (or bedroom) setting often does not bear repeated listening afterwards. Note selection may be poor, rhythm can be inconsistent, bends may not reach their intended pitch. When you record yourself to submit a video to a teacher, you may well learn a lot about your own playing even before receiving feedback from the master.
We reviewed the Blues Guitar School run by Keith Wyatt. Wyatt’s own resume is impeccable. Apart from holding down the guitar seat in The Blasters, he has for many years had a stellar reputation as both a musician and a teacher. His ArtistWorks Blues Guitar Lessons are split into different levels, each with approximately 30 or so different video lessons. In each video lesson, Wyatt addresses a specific aspect of blues guitar, analyses it and provides practice tips. At the moment, the four levels are: Fundamental (covering the basics of blues guitar, such as gear, terminology, notes on the neck, the 12 bar blues progression, vibrato, etc); Intermediate (riff chords, turnarounds, chord tones, phrasing with the 6th, blues tonality, etc); advanced (tremolo picking, jump blues, self-accompaniment, pedal points, etc) and Beyond Classic Blues (New Orleans blues, rockabilly, swamp blues, etc). There is also a section on music theory available to all students. After watching Wyatt’s lessons, students can submit their own videos on a particular topic, such as “Big Bends”, or just for general feedback. The upload process is very simple, and the site accepts videos in .mov, .mp4, .m4v, .flv, .wmv and .mp3 format. Tablature is available in relation to each lesson, as are .mp3 backing tracks, to enable students to practice what they have learned.
Wyatt has also added a series of fascinating blogs to the site that make great reading, for example of recommended classics blues albums to listen to or great blues guitar solos to transcribe.
The camera work for Wyatt’s videos is simple but effective, enabling students to follow Wyatt’s fingering as well as absorbing what he is saying. He has a very natural, relaxed approach to teaching and comes across in each video as warm, intelligent and genuinely interested in his students. Needless to say, his guitar playing is first class, but he is also very good at identifying positive aspects of a student’s playing when commenting on a video, as well as coming up with sensible, achievable ideas for the student to work on in order to improve. He also comments on and explains the techniques that the students use, which helps other viewers to adopt similar techniques. What is especially engaging about Wyatt’s teaching, however, is that he encourages his students to find their own individual voice, which has to be the ultimate aim of every blues musician.
ArtistWorks and Keith Wyatt are to be commended for having produced something very impressive with this learning tool. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced musician, you will find a huge resource here to improve your playing in these lessons. Certainly, this reviewer did. After using this product for this review, I put my money where my mouth is, and signed up for more!