Posts Tagged ‘guitar’


Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Reviews, Tech

Yousician is a software application that teaches you to play guitar. It is available for iPad, iPhone and Mac (and possibly other platforms). I have been trying out on my iPad because I imagine, and other reviewers have commented, that the iPhone screen is just too small to be practical.


It starts off slowly with a skill test, some basic notes and chords. Each “mission” starts off with a video that you have to watch, then you have to do the exercise. The app listens to your playing and checks you are playing the right note. If you hit a high enough percentage, you pass the mission and unlock the next one. If you fail, you have to retry.

A ball bounces between the notes to tell you when to play them. It falls at different rates though. It flies in an arc, and sometimes will come down steeper than others, so getting the timing spot on is very tricky. I sometimes felt like I was playing an arcade game rather than learning guitar. In the end I adopted slightly different strategies for timing my chords and my individual notes.

It is also slow to get going. I think I must have spent 2-3 hours on it just to get through the basic stuff and up to a standard that I found a challenge. This is despite the “skill tests” it recommended I took to get ahead. Also at one point it decided to remove the chord names and replace them with individual fingering, which was annoying, though thankfully disappeared after a few songs. After that I thought it got very difficult very fast, so it would be nicer to have a more adaptive curve.

Given it is so similar to Rocksmith, it is impossible not to compare it. It is not as well made as Rocksmith. You have to download each mission each time you play it – so even if you have done it before, it re-downloads it. Also all the videos are just embedded YouTube videos, so again you will need internet access for these. There is no offline mode.

It is difficult to gauge how accurate it is, because it could be me missing the notes, or it could genuinely be missing them. On the whole, it is fairly accurate. I started by playing with my guitar amp and the iPad’s microphone. This I found the timings difficult to get right. Eventually I plugged my Apogee Jam interface into the iPad and this made things much better.

It also allowed me to play chords wherever I wanted. For example it recommended I play A5 with the root note of the open 5th string. I played it on the more typical place of a closed power chord on the 6th string and it did not complain.

You are limited to about 30 minutes of game time per day on the free version. It’s not this straight forward though because you have to wait exactly 24 hours between free sessions, so you can only use this if you move your practice time back half an hour every day. This time is also interrupted by ads telling you to upgrade. The game doesn’t pause when these adds appear, so an add will finally disappear only to find you’re about to finish a song having missed all the notes.

Premium gives you unlimited access for £14.99 a month. When I first tried to upgrade to premium it failed every time, and I had to wait until the next day. It’s recurring billing and bills your iTunes account, though you can easily disable auto-renew in iTunes.


Yousician is like Rocksmith, only not as good. Given the price and the build quality, I would recommend going with Rocksmith instead, though Yousician certainly has its charms.

The new house band

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 | Humanism, Music, Video

As I mentioned recently we have been working on forming a live band for Sunday Assembly. We rolled it out at the March event.

Here are the videos:

Bill Withers – Lean On Me

Ben E. King – Stand By Me

The Beatles – With a Little Help From My Friends

There is a lot we can improve going forward. Having enough space so allow me to turn and face the audience for one thing! Looking a bit less sour-faced would be an improvement too, though in my defence, my current ulcer makes it very painful to smile. Alsol, a set of stage outfits in the style of Lordi or Kiss would definitely add a touch of class. As an opening gammit though, I think it went really well.

Pedaltrain Jr review

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Music, Reviews

Recently I was looking for a pedal board and settled on the Pedaltrain Jr. If you are not familiar with a pedal board, it is exactly what it sounds like – a board that you put effects pedals on so that you can wire them in to your power supply and transport them around easier when you’re going to jam sessions, gigs, etc.


I went for the Pedaltrain Jr because everyone seems to be recommending. However, I have found the build quality rather poor.


It comes with two holes to connect the power cables through. However, the wholes are slightly too far apart. In the photo above, you can see that you can barely get the power cables through.

Of course you can argue that it is not their fault because my power supply is made by Voodoo Labs which is a separate company. However, the runners are another matter.


You get two braces that you screw into the side of your power supply and then you screw those braces into the frame. However, they do not fit properly. This is Pedltrain’s own braces screwing into Pedaltrain’s own frame, there does not seem to be any reason why these would not fit without having to bang them into place.


Finally, after only a few days, the velcro has begun pealing off the top of the board.

Guitar strumming patterns

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | News

One of the frustrating things I have found as a beginner guitarist is that it is easy to find out the chords used in a song, but the strumming pattern is rarely discussed.

Worse, if anyone does dare ask about it, they are usually shot down but a swell of unhelpful comments suggesting that they should just “listen to the song and work it out”. This is not a particularly satisfying answer as why would you not assume the same is true for the chords? Surely someone is looking for a tab precisely because they do not know how to play the song.

Video tutorials are often a lot more helpful but do not translate into something that is easy to find. As a consequence, I have started a guitar strumming patterns database. It is very small at the moment but will hopefully grow over time.

10,000 hours of golf

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 | Sport

When I started learning guitar, I took some heart from research showing that natural ability was not that important. The key factor, at least according to the research, was the amount of time spent practising. This was good news because despite not having a natural aptitude for practical tasks, I could just apply a simple equation of time x structured practice = success.

Of course, the jury renames out on the results for me so far.

However, BBC News ran an article earlier this month about a guy who was rubbish at golf, so quit his job to play full time to see if he could achieve greatness. He is only half way through his experience but is already showing great results. You can follow his progress on his blog.

On the down side, his team does include a chiropractor.

Rocksmith Rap

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 | Video

Heini posted this on my wall.

Fender Telecaster

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 | Music

When I started the Rocksmith Challenge I put some money aside and told myself that if I reached the end of the challenge successfully, I could treat myself to a new guitar. The motivation worked well.

Having played a couple of guitars in the shop I spent a week thinking about it only to decide I was equally in love with the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul Junior. They are all super guitars. In the end though, I opted for the Telecaster. It looks beautiful and plays like a dream.


It really is a nice step up from my Squier Stratocaster. That has been a great guitar too, and I intend to keep playing it. But the Telecaster is so much easier to play. Of course, I could have paid for setup on my Squier and it would have been probably a lot better, but also cost as much as the guitar.

Very happy with my choice so far.

Rocksmith in review

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 | Music, Reviews

Now that I have never to play Rocksmith again (I have been doing anyway, but I do not have to which is a big psychological difference), it is probably time to express my overall thoughts on the game. As Sherlock Holmes would suggest, it might be best to know the worst of each other and see if that is tolerable than being sold on the shiny veneer.

Here is what I found annoying:

Automatic difficulty
This is not perfect. Take American Idiot. I did it with the full chords and got 58% mastery. But then the next time I played it, it had downgraded me to single notes. Not even the two note in-between stage, just all the way down. I hit 95% accuracy, but only got 28% mastery. Why would it do this?

At the end of a song a voice tells you how you did. But it is a bit silly. For example, if you do something really easy it will say “brilliant performance” even though you have not improved your skill. Fine I guess, it was pretty accurate. But when the game makes it harder and your accuracy drops to 70%, even though you might move your mastery of the song up 10% it will still say something far less encouraging like “needs more practice”. Again, true, but you have just got to the higher difficultly, what does it expect?

The lessons are of very little use. They are just too difficult. I cannot do the riffs they introduce – even if it is about something else. For example it might be a hammer-on lesson, but you have to jump around the fret board at the same time. This would be fine except the game is throwing me this stuff in the songs, so I have to go look it up elsewhere.

It cannot tell you what you are doing wrong. Take bends for example. I almost always miss my bends (apparently). But I do not know what I am doing wrong. Too much? Too little? Wrong pattern? Wrong speed? Oddly, on some songs I get “miss” followed immediately by “late” and these only come up after I have finished playing my bend.

The chord book included in game is not much use. Nine times of out ten, I cannot find the chord I am looking for. I am fairly sure it is not in there. Of course there are a huge variety of chords, but it is not difficult to include lots of them. If you can build an entire game, you can stick a few more chord diagrams in there – indeed they must be in the same somewhere.

It crashes from time to time.

The recommended song list is strange. At first, once I played a song it would move down the queue and give me some different recommendations. Then, 45 days in, it started making me play a song twice before it would move it down the list. No indication as to why.

Also the R.E.M. song pack appeared in my list, even though I had not bought it. This could be a commercial feature rather than a bug, but it only appears randomly. One time I turn it on and they are there, the next time they are gone, the next time they are back, etc.

I would totally recommend Rocksmith. It has its problems, but there is nothing else out there like it to compare to so they might be really difficult issues to overcome. Ultimately, it kept me engaged for the whole two months. The hardest part of learning an instrument, indeed some research suggests the only part, is committing the time to learning. Rocksmith managed to get me to do that.

Guitar lessons

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 | Music

Recently I started guitar lessons in an attempt to improve the speed I am progressing at.

My teacher, Chris, who spookily has the exact same initials as me, was immediately able to start improving my playing. For example, I can now get to the end of Green Day’s Oh Love without my hand falling off in pain. That is nice.

Time will tell if it is worth the investment but after my first two lessons I am feeling reasonably positive.

Rocksmith Diary: Day 60

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 | Music

I’m done! Check it out:


More of a review is coming up later.