Initially, I anticipated writing a short comment about the eMedia course on the forum. However, the more I looked at the product, the more I realized that there was more to be said than simply good, bad or ugly.
I’ll start with an apology. This is my first attempt at writing an article for a guitar forum, or any forum, for that matter. I’m much more at home writing technical IT documents, mostly in German. So if my style seems formal and stilted, you’ll understand why.
Before we get down to brass tacks, I ought to say that I have not had the full eMedia Guitar 1 course in my hands, only the free downloadable demo lesson from it (which does include the table of contents of the full course). Also the Guitar Method 2 is not the latest version.
What does eMedia cost?
As in all walks of life, it depends where you go. I bought mine from eBay and it is not the absolute latest version. I paid $22 plus postage from US to Germany.
The retail price is a marketing $50 (also known as $49.95). The street price seems to be around $35-40.
For whom are these courses best suited?
This is, obviously, a very important question if you are being asked to pay good money for it. The way that Guitar 1 is laid out, I would say that even someone who has never had a guitar in his hands could start with these lessons. The Guitar 2 or the newer Intermediate would, I feel need some prior knowledge – eMedia says “If you already know basic chords and melodies, this is the easiest way to take your playing to the next level” and I would agree with that.
What do you get?
What you, physically, get for your money is a boxed CD. The jewel box has installation instructions inside the lid, otherwise everything is on the CD. There are no manuals or anything like that. In the box I found a freebie plectrum, which is actually pretty good, although I can’t guarantee everyone will find one.
Installing the software.
The installation is a standard Windows installation, requiring you only to decide where you want to put the installed software (a default is offered) and what features you want to install, if you don’t want to follow the standard options. It’s all very quick and painless.
What is on the CD?
In addition to the lessons, you get:
Helps you to tune your guitar. On my setup, it just won’t recognize the input from my guitar. I have the guitar playing through a headphone amp, the output from there going to the sound card microphone input on my PC. Disappointing, but it may just be my setup, rather than the tuner.
They say it also works with a microphone, but I can’t check this out, as I don’t have one. You can also play the sound of each open string to tune offline.
The tuner will, however, only allow tuning to standard pitch (EADGBE)
Allows you to record and play back your version of the lesson.
Allows you to set speeds from 40 to 208 beats per minute. It also has an audible tick, which can be shut off if you don’t like it.
It has alternating dots at the left and right of the metronome to show the beat. It doesn’t, however, offer any time signature beats – you can’t, for example, set 3/4 time and get bum-ti-ti-bum-ti-ti. This is a shame because such time signatures are introduced into the lessons.
Has fingering and sound of over 900 chords. More than you can shake a stick at and certainly more than are introduced in the lessons.
You click on the chord you want to find and the function gives you three different fingerings, each of which can be played, so you can hear how it should sound.
Internet Song Guide
They list songs (on OLGA) which they feel reflect the standard that you have reached at that point in the course and which contain elements of what you have just learned. This is a nice touch – leave the schoolroom and go play some “real” music.
The Lessons – General Structure
The pages are all built from a number of elements.
Mouth Button – to add the instructor’s comments to the lesson on this page.
Video Button – to illustrate the lesson with a short video.
Speaker Button – to play an audio track to demonstrate how an example should be played.
Record Button – allows you to record your interpretation of the lesson and play it back.
Arrow Buttons – to page back and forth though the lessons.
You will, of course, not find every element on every page, only where it makes sense.
The Lessons – Introduction
The introduction covers all aspects of getting yourself prepared to play, from the parts of a guitar through stringing and tuning your instrument to explaining how to read the charts and tablature.
Emedia uses a slightly non-standard form of tablature, which tries to bridge the void between standard notation and “standard” tablature. It adds the timing of standard notation to the ease of tablature.
This type of notation is very effective on simple pieces of music, where single notes are being played. The picture starts to become crowded, though, when there are lots of triplets and harmonies/chords (particularly barre chords) and it detracts somewhat from the simplicity of standard tablature. Look at the second diagram on the left of the screen-shot and imagine the half note being a G chord. With that reservation, I found it very useful, especially as I am trying to wean myself off tab and learn standard notation. If you don’t like tab, you can always switch to standard notation
Each point in the introduction is described in a clear and concise manner. As with the rest of the course (and all such courses for that matter), if the explanation is insufficient, there is nowhere you can look for more detailed explanation and the help function only covers information on how the program functions work, not the lessons.
The introduction contains really quite basic stuff, which even a raw beginner could understand. This is fine for the Guitar 1, but I would expect that the player that is taking the Guitar 2 or Intermediate would certainly know most, if not all, of what is there.
On the other hand, it does lay down the ground rules for the rest of the course and sets a flat playing field for everyone. If you can’t get past the introduction, you have no right going any further.
The Lessons – Learning!
The actual content of the version that I have contains the following lessons:
Chapter 1 – Teaches you all about fancying up plain old notes, with hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, vibrato, slides and bends.
Chapter 2 – Introduces examples of music in which the student can put the things learned in Chapter 1 to use. It finishes with a few songs on OLGA that they think a student that has got this far should be able to play.
Chapter 3 – explains barre chords and demonstrates using the E and A shaped barre chords. Again, these new talents are put to use in examples of (well-known) songs, such as All Along The Watchtower (Dylan, not Hendrix). Some fairly simple strumming patterns are used in the exercises. This again ends with a list of songs on OLGA.
Chapter 4 – expands on chords and introduces various strumming styles, e.g. rock, blues, country and bass strum. Each style is illustrated with a piece of music, including a couple of variations on “All Along The Watchtower”. More links to OLGA round off rhythm guitar.
Chapter 5 – takes you into fingerpicking. This is rather adventurous as they attempt to cover styles ranging from pop (Dreamboat Annie) to classical (Romanza). Again finishing with a selection from OLGA.
In addition, there are two appendices which cover background to the lessons.
Appendix A – explains the basics of musical theory, such as music notation, time signatures, etc..
Appendix B – explains the basics of scales and modes.
The newer Intermediate version now covers more theory than the Guitar 2 and includes such things as the circle of fifths.
What do I think of eMedia guitar courses?
Getting started is a doddle. The installation takes care of itself and you are ready to go in a couple of minutes. I have Windows 2000, so I didn’t even need to reboot the system. You must remember that you need to have the CD in the drive from which you installed the software to run it. I set up a virtual CD drive on my hard disk and tried to run it from there, but the program stolidly refused to look anywhere but the original CD drive. I couldn’t find any way to change it, either. After reloading from the virtual CD everything worked fine.
Everything is very well structured and laid out. The command bar allows you to roam around the course by searching for a lesson, a song or a technique. For those determined to use standard notation, there is a choice between using that or tablature and you can swap as and when you like.
Each chapter is broken up into lessons. Guitar 1 has 10 chapters and 155 lessons, Guitar 2 has 5 chapters and 59 lessons. Each lesson is designed to teach you one and only one method. Each page within that lesson is designed to make a small but significant point. There is no clutter, no overcrowding – just enough to get the point of the page across and give the student a success without tears. Having spent years making technical presentations to prospective customers, I was struck by the similarity of the lesson to the layout of a well-constructed presentation.
Every example of music – even a hammer-on or pull-off – has an audio accompaniment. You are never left guessing what the example should sound like. Most are played quite slowly to emphasize the point. Some of the more advanced examples have sound clips in two speeds – slow and (nearly) normal, so that you can learn on the slow clip and improve with the faster one.
Some of the lessons also come with short video clips, to emphasize the point of the lesson. They are, for the most part, short and well thought out.
It may be my sound card, but I found that the sound-track to the video clips was not synchronized with the images, which is quite irritating.
Wherever there is a piece of music for the student to learn, there is a tracking facility. The note that is being played is highlighted in red, enabling you to easily follow the music.
As with the video, I did experience a small peculiarity – the audio tracking rarely shows the note that is currently being played. This is not too worrying when a slow, simple tune is being played, but anything medium speed with a few triplets and you lose position very quickly. Again it may just be my set-up.
Each chapter has a specific goal and these are achieved with ease. You can progress at your own speed, so if you are stuck on one point, you can stay there until you are satisfied that you have it down pat. The hurdles are set very low by eMedia – no lesson requires you to make any major leaps – I can’t see anyone being stuck for so long that they either lose patience or, worse still, enthusiasm.
Also offered is a function to print out a page, which can be very useful for practicing the tunes, as most of them span two or three pages. Each screen page takes up a little less than half an A4 page.
Using the Mouth Button generally brings a second or two of the instructor’s voice and offers little to the actual lesson – in my mind, the function could have been better solved by bringing up a new window with more detailed text information in it.
The new version also offers an interactive fretboard, which shows the fingering of chords, etc. that are being played.
If you are new to guitar playing and you don’t want to start with a teacher right away, then eMedia could be the way to go. You will very quickly grasp the basics of playing a guitar and be able to take relatively uncomplicated tabs and play them. The structure makes it very easy for the student to get success – it may be small, but it is still an achievement and that is very important for confidence.
What it will NOT make you is an Eric Clapton or a Peter Frampton, but neither will any such course. It will, however, accelerate the need for you to get a guitar teacher!
By the way, I am in no way affiliated to eMedia and this review is totally unsolicited. If, however, eMedia should feel the need to send me any of their other courses (particularly the Blues Guitar Legends), I would be more than happy to give them the once over. ;-))