As I’ve commented before here on the blog, iOS music apps are about more than apps for making music; there are also some excellent tools for learning about music. When it comes to learning the guitar, there is a massive potential audience for these sorts of tuition tools and I’ve reviewed a number of candidates here on the blog including the very popular Yousician app that now also covers piano and ukulele.
Another interesting candidate is Uberchord Guitar from Uberchord Engineering. While the app was released back in April 2015, I’ve only recently had a chance to explore it (OK, I was nudged by Chuk Ugwuegbula from the development team!). It currently stands at v.1.6.2, is designed for iPhone (but scales up fine for the iPad), requires iOS8.0 or later and is a 33MB download. Oh, and aside from a few IAPs that allow you to unlock options for alternate tunings, all the app’s usual features are supplied for free.
Like most tuition apps, Uberchord Guitar is based around a structured series of lessons. The programme is very much focused on chord/rhythm playing and the lessons start from the most basic of open chords and build from there. However, build they do, and the app would actually have plenty to offer almost any player up to an intermediate level.
Equally, if you are interested in learning about alternate tunings, then even more advanced players might enjoy the ride as all the app’s feature adapt themselves for alternate tunings including the display of chord boxes, etc. Standard tuning and open D are included in the free app but there is an extensive list of other options available at a very modest cost.
Like Yousician, however, the really interesting feature with Uberchord Guitar – and something that can distinguish computer (desktop or mobile) tuition courses from more traditional books or DVDs – is that your iOS hardware can hear what you are playing. And, via some rather clever programming within the app, this allows Uberchord Guitar to supply you with feedback as you progress through each exercise.
With Uberchord Guitar the rather cool part of this is chord detection. Whether in one of the actual exercises, or simply in the Chord Finder mode, when you strum a chord, the app will identify it and – remarkably – also take a stab at showing how you have voiced (fingered) the chord. In the exercises, this is used to show you just how well you are playing the required chords in a progression. In the Chord Finder, it is one way to identify a specific chord and to then get the app to show you different chord boxes for that chord on different parts of the guitar neck.
This technology works with either an acoustic guitar using the iOS device’s built-in microphone or, if you have an electric guitar, via a suitable audio interface such as the iRig (or similar). I have to say I was suitably surprised at just how well this chord detection worked (including ‘slash’ chords where the bass note is not the root) and, while it is possible to ‘fool’ the process if you try, I could imagine novice players would find this feature really useful as it even superimposes the ‘wrong’ fingering you are playing over the ‘right’ fingering that you ought to be playing; very neat.
Get some exercise
Considering the price of the app (er… free), there is also a tremendous amount of lesson content. As shown in some of the screenshots, the Chord Trainer section (for example) is split into a number of lesson/exercise groups and these generally involve a single chord sequence to work on. These gradually get more complex – and use more complex chords – as you progress. Equally, there are ‘sound-a-like’ chord sequences based upon some popular songs included as some exercises; you could easily move on from these to play the actual songs.
Within an exercise, you simply strum along as the required chord sequence passes in front of you. To start with, the chord box is shown and a slow tempo is used… however, as you progress, the tempo increases and the chord boxes disappear. There is also a basic drum track to accompany you and keep you in time (and additional drum tracks available as IAPs if you want extra variety).
There are song features included within the app that allow you to create your own chord sequences and practice those and, as you progress through the various exercises, you earn points (guitar picks) that open up new material. Those pick rewards also form part of the feedback and progress reporting. This includes a chart-based view so you can get a sense of how far you are moving forward (or not) over time.
Oh, and there is a very serviceable tuner built into the app….
My 17 yr old son has, over the last 18 months, developed a serious guitar habit. So much so that, next year, he is hoping to secure a place on a guitar performance degree course. As a consequence of his journey, I’ve been exposed to lots of the current crop of guitar teaching resources that are available. And, my goodness, there are a lot of them and a chunk of them are very good indeed. His rapid rate of progress – as well as being down to the considerable number of hours he has spent practicing – is in no small part down to some of these wonderful teaching tools. Compared to what was around even just 10 years ago, today’s options are staggering.
Uberchord Guitar is perhaps not the only guitar tuition tool a newbie guitar player might wish to explore but, for getting going with some chord/rhythm playing, it is both a lot of fun and rather cleverly designed. Yes, you still have to put in those hours of practice but, if you can’t stretch to an inspiring guitar teacher, this app is yet another way you can (a) apply some structure to your practice and (b) get some sense of feedback on your progress. In that role, it really does work very well.
Oh, and did I mention that it was free? If you happen to download a copy, then, for next week only I think (in time for the 2016 NAMM music convention), all the IAPs are going to be free also. That strikes me as a rather good deal…. Uberchord Guitar… what’s not to like?