Fender Play is a learning platform with some serious heritage. Fender was the first guitar company that ever fully committed to providing an online platform for people to play guitar. But why did the creator of the Stratocaster and Telecaster choose to diversify after over 70 years of making some of the most iconic instruments and amps in the world? It’s actually very simple: it doesn’t want you to give up.
According to Fender’s CEO Andy Mooney, 45% of the guitars sold in a year by his company went to new players, but 90% of those beginners then abandoned the instrument within their first 12 months of playing. That’s a huge problem of retention and with Fender Play, the company wanted to tackle it head on and keep beginner guitarists playing. So how successful are they at it so far? The short answer is that Fender play is top of our list of the best guitar lessons online. For the long answer... read on.
Fender Play: Ease of use
Price: $9.99/monthly, annual plan $89.99
Styles: Rock, blues, country, folk and pop
App: iOS, Google Play
Free trial: 14 days
Unsurprisingly for the company that’s given us the most iconic guitar designs in history (we all know what a Stratocaster looks like), it’s clear early on that a lot of thought has been put into the presentation, and general user interface, of Fender Play via its app and browser version. It’s clean and clear with little room for confusion.
After signing up, choose your instrument from acoustic, electric, bass guitar or ukulele. Then select your ‘path’ from a choice of genres. For acoustic and electric guitar these are rock, blues, folk, country or pop. From the beginning Fender Play gives players the choice to focus on the style they are most interested in. And you can switch at any time you want.
This genre choice will determine some of the songs and techniques you will learn early on, but at the start you are really working from the ground up regardless of your choice with the first main lesson type – Guitar 101. This covers how to hold the guitar, pick, name the strings, tune them and how to pick the string. These things become second nature for guitarists but they’re absolutely not when you’re starting out.
From then on the real fun starts. Your path is a five-level system with each level containing a number of courses, each offering you different activities. For most there’s a lesson and then a Practice Mode.
The video quality of these lessons is some of the very best we’ve seen with an easy to use interface. The tutors seem approachable and experienced. There’s a clear three-camera approach for the main part but what really earns Fender Play bonus points is the little things that make life easier for a beginner…
In some chord lessons where the tutor is running through the positions again, the camera switches to a player point of view camera – close to what a beginner is seeing on their own guitar. This kind of added effort can be the difference for some players between getting their basic skills right or becoming frustrated.
Within the desktop browser interface (Fender Play isn’t usable offline) you can access the guitar tab notation for the lesson and in the video player you can slow the video down to half speed or 0.75x or up to 1.25x or 1.5x. Slowing down is a great way for beginners to learn at a pace that’s comfortable for them and reduces the risk of feeling uncomfortable in this learning environment.
You can work through each course as many times if you want, and the Practice Mode after each tutorial allows you to follow autoplay tab to a backing metronome and try out what you’ve learned.
Fender Play: Suitability for beginners
The pace of the courses, within the levels, is gradual and approachable; it never throws too much at you at once. Lessons integrate parts from famous songs from each genre you choose. These are simple riffs early on before evolving into chord-based parts and they can offer a real sense of satisfaction for beginners. Most of all, it’s enjoyable.
By level five you’ll have put in enough prep to confidently tackle scales and even fearsome-sounding lessons like 'Diatonic Chords in C' because Fender Play has gradually helped you build your skills. But there’s more to Fender Play than just its course learning paths.
If a budding guitarist wants a break from their path to mix things up, Fender Play is happy to oblige. A song section offers video tutorials for simplified versions of popular songs with a difficulty rating of one to three plectrums (nice touch). There’s everything from a riff-based lesson on Chuck Berry’s classic rock'n’roller Johnny B Goode to simple chord-based versions of hits from Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish. It’s an impressive selection with the difficulty carefully pitched for beginners.
In addition, the chord challenge section offers more ambitious, focussed short lessons on specific chord positions and you can even choose to challenge yourself with chord transitions – moving between two specific chords.
You can also hone in on specific techniques in the Skills section – and this could be especially useful for players feeling rusty when returning to the guitar after a break away. There’s a wide range covered here from blues shuffle basics to hybrid picking and volume swells. And there’s more…
The Collections section is the cherry on an already wholesome cake for us. This is where Fender Play moves into truly inspirational territory by rounding up themed skills and song lessons under themes like Indie Rock and Singer-Songwriter crash courses. In curating this content it allows players to test out their skills in areas they’re most interested in. It makes learning more fun.
Fender Play: Extra features
With such a comprehensive learning experience we’d forgive Fender Play if it didn’t add even more to the mix. But there’s a few less obvious bonuses to be found as you explore the options and menus.
As you play more guitar you’ll inevitably want to buy more guitar gear; as a Fender Play subscriber you can get 10% off guitars, amps, pedals and accessories at Fender.com. But beware; there’s a lot of temptation to be found there.
Fender Play also has its own daily live events, from Office Hours Live (ask an instructor your questions in real-time) to Fender Play Live with featured artists and guests. It really helps to enhance the experience of Fender Play as an inclusive and supportive environment for beginners.
Should you use Fender Play
Fender clearly knows what they’re doing here. If you’re new to guitar playing, Fender Play’s attention to quality and presentation will make a huge difference to your vital first steps with the instrument. Fender’s commitment to creating a welcoming user experience here for all ages is clear and the choice of genres and gently-pitched challenge level enhances that.
There are some minor drawbacks; it is designed as an online-only experience so there’s no offline access via the app or browser and you can’t print the lesson tablature material. But Fender Play is a one-stop learning platform that has more than enough to get you to intermediate level while having fun and feeling the satisfaction of making progress playing your guitar.