Last night, I had my first opportunity to work with Wild Chords, which is a free (but offers in-app additional lesson) app intended to help a person learn how to play the guitar. The app is cartoon based, and features both chords and individual notes. Each chord gets its own representative animal, such as a sad elephant (e minor) or a happy Crocodile (C major). Individual notes are shown as birds on a six-wire telephone wire.
I found that the program accurately identified when I was playing chords or notes incorrectly…although the app’s specific ability to tell whether I played a chord well was questionable. In other words, if I played a C major chord when an a minor chord was requested, the app knew I was wrong. But if I played a chord correctly, but not very well (losing grip on the strings), the app would still register the chord as being correct.
Two things stand out:
1. The app makes the act of learning the guitar fun, far more than the Hal Leonard Guitar Method I’ve used in the past.
2. The app works.
Oh, and a third: the beginning lessons are free.
Are there issues that I’m critical of? Of course. The e-minor chord is originally taught with fingers 1 & 2, versus 2 & 3, and most guitar books just teach 2 & 3 because it is easier to make an e minor into an E Major chord with that fingers. Additionally, the G Major chord is taught with four fingers instead of the three that most guitar books use.
I’m also bothered that the individual notes are ultimately taught in tab style, instead of as their actual note names. This doesn’t help the music literacy of guitarists at all.
Finally, I’m fine with an app offering some content for free, but requiring an upgrade for full functionality. I’m even fine with the fact that each additional lesson is $0.99. However, I’d like the option to buy the full app (including future updates) for a single price. This is also essential if you wanted to use the app for an educational setting–you would want a way to be able to purchase multiple copies of the app at one time for use in a guitar class in a 1-to-1 iPad environment.
In my own experience teaching Guitar at the high school level, two types of students take guitar. The first are students that know nothing about the guitar and want to learn how to play, the other are students who know how to play guitar but don’t know how to read anything other than chord symbols and tablature. The latter type of student cannot read music, and thus they are musically illiterate. The National Standards of Music dictate that students should be able to read and write music. Chord symbols and tablature do not fulfill that standard.
Don’t get wrong–tablature is a great option for learning how to play complex guitar music, and there are wonderful iPad tablature apps such as Tab Toolkit and Progression. But the weakness of both chord symbols and tablature is the absence of clearly indicated rhythm. Therefore, although notes and chords can be accurately represented, rhythm is left somewhat vague–unless the guitarist has a demonstration (recording, video, YouTube) to “fill in the blanks” about the specific rhythm.
What I’m saying is that if you use Wild Chords in your guitar class, you’re going to still have to teach actual written notes–just as if you use only chord charts and tablature in your classroom.
Wild Chords could fix this problem, however, offering the user the option to substitute tab numbers for actual note names, and perhaps steaming written chords on the bottom of the page underneath all the exercises. Would this require more work? Yes. But would it potentially help beginning guitar students to learn notes and rhythms in addition to chords and tablature? Yes.
In summary, Wild Chords is a great app for beginning guitar. It’s fun, and it works. The app has a few discrepancies compared to traditional guitar methods, and focuses on chord symbols and tablature, leaving real notes and rhythms unrepresented. The app is free and offers in-app upgrades, but I would like to see a universal upgrade option for people wishing to support the app (and receive future updates) as well as for educational settings.