Here’s a novel concept:

  • Provide video tutorials that teach you how to play an instrument and walk you specifically through the technique of a song
  • Make them available as downloads
  • Charge US$4.99 each
  • Get the artists (and producers) involved in the original song
  • Let people hear the original track
  • Break down the song piece by piece so you can learn it
  • Get the artists talking about the inspiration for the song, and what it means

Apple pitched these as a new concept in music education in its Macworld keynote. The company calls the videos “a whole new way to help you learn to play piano and guitar” and said they “also give you something you won’t find anywhere else: the story behind the song.”

The only problem is, every one of these features – every single feature – has been available for months on (Thanks for the comment, Anders!) Updated: one correction. As Tracy notes in comments, the celebrity ivideosongs entries are $9.99, though the rest of the content is $4.99. So, either Apple quietly partnered with that site and didn’t mention it (very possible), or they blatantly ripped off the site. Either way, the feature isn’t really new, which I missed. And either way, this is a great way to learn about music without buying any new software for five bucks a pop or even free. (The only real catch is, as with Apple, if you’re not a pianist or guitarist, you’re likely to feel left out.)

I had heard of the site but unfortunately didn’t spend the time I should have with it. Other bloggers wisely paid more attention:

Learn to Play an Instrument Online, Adam Pash, Lifehacker

Video-Tabs: Learn to play guitar the YouTube way, Brad Linder (sometimes CDM tipster), Download Squad

Listening Post’s Top 10 Hottest Music Sites, Eliot Van Buskirk, Wired

In fact, for a really terrific, thoughtful essay on learning and what these sites can provide, check out the always-wonderful blog Key of Grey. I like this bit:

Playing exactly like SRV is an impressive technical feat, but you won’t be revolutionary, or even evolutionary. You’ll be an SRV clone. If that’s what you want, then great, but it’s not for me.

A person can learn guitar without a teacher; learning anything takes motivation. But with the right teacher, that same motivated person could accelerate their learning.

Most importantly, while may lack the whiz-bang features of GarageBand, it also doesn’t require special software. You don’t need a Mac (any OS that plays videos will work), you don’t need iLife ‘09, and you can (ironically) load the videos onto your iPod or iPhone or other device if you want.

On Learning

GarageBand does have some additional unique stuff, though, that is worth mentioning. Most notably, you get solo-able tracks that you can play along with or use to zero in on one soloist. You also get downloadable tablature, which is a huge extra. Still, I have to say – Apple really thinks you have to buy their software for a hundred bucks or so, plus possibly a computer to run it, just to watch what is really a video tutorial? Especially when there are other videos out there and, hopefully, should be many more? It’s a fantastic deal for GarageBand users, of course, just less so for everyone else.

In the end, it may not matter. ivideosongs could get more attention out of this, and the likes of Giles Martin, John Oates, and Graham Nash should easily attract people to the site. Addicts of this way of learning may grab both. But regardless, it’s worth checking out. And as I said, I hope more people rip off his idea. I hope more artists get involved, artists use this as a new revenue stream, people experiment with new ways of talking about and learning about music, and people work on their musicianship. So, Apple, if you did rip this off … thanks! And given the attention you generate, ivideosongs may even thank you, too.

Free tutorials to go practice (scales, fingerpicking, etc., sadly for some of us, all acoustic/electric guitar):

Free tutorials search @ ivideosongs

Free ivideosongs videos at howstuffworks

  • First off, I appreciate your kind words for Key of Grey. It appears to me that the ways that Garageband uses to teach songs is quite similar to ivideosongs and if Apple is in partnership with them, it automatically expands the available library at launch of the GarageBand store.

    If not, it's up to all of us to get the word out, as you've done in this post, that there's an alternative that doesn't tether you to Apple software. It'd be a shame if Apple ripped off ivideosongs and then became so utterly dominant that it drove ivideosongs into the ground.

  • I've been in business since 2002 producing instructional videos. I was one of the first to introduce the LMS technology where you can see the lit up keys at the same time. Check out what we are doing over there at

    You get:
    1. Overhead keys
    2. Lit up keys that line up exactly with fingers
    3. Dynamic chord names on every thing
    4. Scrolling sheet music
    5. Time line

  • Darren Landrum

    What I'm liking most about is the fact that the free tutorials, the ones to get you hooked, are not just randomly selected from the library of stars showing you their songs. Rather, they are general lessons about playing that anyone can use. That gets a big thumbs up from me right there.

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  • Ian

    Hasn't had a similar format for years?

  • Video music instruction is nothing new, but it is a great way to learn. The ivideosongs material looks great. The free stuff is very good and I look forward to exploring the paid content.

    But a few big differences that jump to mind are the Artist tracks on ivideosongs are $9.99 while the Apple ones are $4.99. Apple includes 18 free non-celebrity lessons. And all the Apple lessons come with tabs, commentary and backing tracks (hopefully the original recordings) to take into GarageBand to jam with. Quite a package for five bucks.

    Conclusion: The more sources for this kind of material the better. Competition is a great thing for consumers. Find the song you like from the source that offers it and start playing.

  • marq prades

    I think it is just a great idea , why is it always apple the only one to think about those kind of stuffs ?

  • Thanks for mentioning iVideoSongs. They had a big "Web 2.0" launch last year, but instead of fading into the woodwork after that, they've kept adding songs and improving the site. I have bought a bunch of them – mostly the $5 non-celebrity ones – and they're excellent.

    I don't see the overlap so I doubt Apple partnered with them. But I'm pretty sure they were "inspired" by them – iVideoSongs has had their free lessons on iTunes for a while, and I know Apple specifically mentioned them in an iTunes email at one point.

  • bobm

    Although I admire the effort behind iVideoSongs, they simply don't have the reach or star-power (Who is Steve Reick, exactly? Oates? I guess Hall was out of town…) that Apple is going to bring to the table. And how is it a rip-off if Apple has figured out a way to do something better than someone else…just like they did with online music sales? They are going to own this business within 18 months.

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  • iVideoSongs is cool, but just look at the production quality, design and style that Apple brings to this product. The elegantly simple set, the lighting, sound and editing. The animated presentation of the fretboard. And the star power. This is a world-class top tier product.

    Almost every training video I have ever used looked like it was produced in a garage, home or a cheap studio. This is not a slam against the educational value, which is usually very satisfying. The iVIdeoSongs videos look better than most, and teh lessons are very good, but they certainly don't look like "real televisions" like the Apple vids do.

    Considering this point, the extra content that Apple bundles (GarageBand Tracks), their extra functionality (speed adjustment, etc) and the higher cost of iVS celebrity tracks, I think iVIdeoSongs may need to reanalyze their business model … quickly.

  • Any thoughts on this two months later? I finally installed the new iLife the other day, excited to get a hold of these lessons that Apple's "star power" brought to me, and…

    There aren't any new ones. Just the same ones shown off in the keynote – Fogerty, Sting, Fallout Boy, a couple of others. Less than 10 total.

    They were excellent lessons, to be sure, but without more songs it's a silly novelty feature instead of a viable competitor for iVideoSongs.

    P.S. I'm mostly a guitarist but I wish Apple would beef up the piano lessons too. The one for Sara Bareilles' song "Love Song" was great.

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