In sixth grade, I had the insight to realize that girls love musicians. So when the time came to sign up for music at school, I quickly raised my hand and declared my intent to play guitar. “That’s great,” said Mrs. Bonham, as she handed me a violin. “Start with this.”

I have nothing against violins (or violinists, for that matter) but I just couldn’t see how this frilly little instrument was going to help me become the lead guitarist of a rock band. Of course, in retrospect, I see that I was an idiot, but I was only 11, after all.

Fast forward a few more years than I care to count and I still have that itch to learn to play guitar. It’s true that I’m still motivated by a quest to impress the girls, but they’re now limited to my wife and children. I’d also like to learn so that I might enjoy the pleasure of the clean, pure sound of the guitar as I fritter away my free time.

So a couple of years ago I received an acoustic guitar and a “learn to play” song book for Christmas. I put some effort into it and made some interesting progress. Unfortunately, the book was trying to teach me songs I’ve never heard, which hampered my adoption a bit. The problem was that I had no idea how the song was supposed to sound, therefore no frame of reference to determine if I was playing it well or butchering it. (I’m supposing it was the latter.) I also realized I don’t have much free time, which has made learning a bit challenging.

I’ve heard stories of people learning to do all kinds of things by watching Youtube videos. I believe they’re true; I’m often surprised at the things my son has learned this way, and sometimes even impressed. I tried this method with the guitar but it didn’t work very well for me. I grew discouraged as my dreams of slashing cool riffs on my axe began to fade. (See? Two years in and I don’t even have the lingo down yet.)

So it was with this foundation that a friend casually mentioned that Instinct was “blowing his mind” with it’s interactive guitar lessons. After spending some time with it, I can confirm it’s a bit of a mind-blowing experience.

With the tag to “Learn Guitar, Love Guitar,” Instinct aims to make playing music as natural as singing it, because “playing music is one of the most natural things a human can do.”

Here’s the thing, and I think this is almost always the best place to start: The site was created by two guys who were looking to fill a need for themselves. When they were learning to play, they wanted something to show where to put their hands, something to make the notes visual, something that would provide feedback as they played and divide difficult songs into smaller chunks to help master the pieces as part of the whole. Outside sitting down with a private teacher, that experience just didn’t exist.

Thanks to Instinct, it does now.

As I write this, it’s difficult to put into words how this works, mainly because it feels like magic. When you log in to the site on your computer, you’re presented with a simple animated screen showing the front of a guitar and a sheet of simple notes above. The first step is to tune your guitar. By using the built-in microphone, Instinct “listens” to the notes you play and provides instant feedback. Tuning the guitar is as simple as everything else you’ll do, and sets the foundation for all that comes next.

Once tuned, your “teacher” first explains what you’re going to do next, then shows you, and then listens while you play each note. You’ll run through practice a few times before moving on to the next section of the song.

I was playing “Amazing Grace” in about 30 minutes.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. After two years of fits and starts, when all I really wanted was the ability to pluck out a few notes, I learned to do it in less than an hour.

Does this make me Eric Clapton? No. Does it provide enough gratification that I just might continue working on it? Absolutely.

In the first section, called The Instinct Experience, they get you rolling with “Amazing Grace.” From there, you’ll move through seven other lessons while building a better foundation for your new skills. By the end, you’ll know the “Mexican Hat Dance” and some of “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”

When you’re comfortable with both your guitar and the coursework, you can move on to the next lesson, “The Year in Rock.” Here they’ll teach a skill you’ll need, like Single String Blues, and then reinforce it with their own lessons and those uploaded by other users.

This is not a panacea; much to my chagrin, I probably won’t have Oscar Lopez shaking in his boots at my guitar skills. But there is a growing book of material here to become comfortable and proficient, and the rest is up to me (and you.) Instinct claims, “with this technology, you’ll become a musician – faster and more easily than anyone has before.” I think they’re on to something.

I’m planning a jam session at my house on Father’s Day. The girls will be so impressed.

2 Comments

  • Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I had my first experience with guitar learning 12 years back… i’m too much into it and simply enjoy it.

    Great story.

  • Posted January 26, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry to report that, as of December 31, 2016, Instinct has closed its doors. They posted the following message to their fans:

    Instinct began as a labor of love by by two musicians. We raised money for it as a startup, and then it became a labor of love again when we couldn’t make the business work. As the years went by the software aged and we just didn’t have the time or resources to give it the attention it deserved.

    So, Instinct is gone but there are other online resources available to help you learn. Soundslice is recommended by the Instinct guys and I’ve read other reviews as well. Give it a shot. And then let me know when you’re ready for that jam session. (I’m still working on it.)

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