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