There are two possible responses when frantically hammering brightly coloured buttons on a tiny plastic guitar, desperately hoping to master a song on the likes of Guitar Hero or Rock Band.
The first is: “THIS IS AMAZING AND I AM A ROCK GOD”. The second is (the rather quieter): “I feel like an idiot, and should probably spend my time learning to play a real guitar”.
If you belong to the second camp (or, excitingly, both camps), you really need to check out Yousician, given that it takes the core fun-ness of those console games, but actually teaches you things.
The app starts off with a worryingly smiley person telling you how to hold your guitar and a plectrum, and eases you into playing in the gentlest possible manner. You might want to be Hendrix, but you start off plucking the odd note, or strumming open chords.
Gradually, the app builds on your skills, adding chords and little riffs to the mix. The idea is that if you stick with it, you’ll be playing full songs before long.
The interface is really nicely designed, and works especially well on the larger screen of the iPad. Imagine Rock Band turned on its side and minus all the gaudy over-the-top backdrops (you’ll have to provide those yourself) and you’re there. So you see a stripped-back representation of your guitar’s strings, with coloured notes and chord blocks scrolling along. A bouncing ball helps you determine when to play.
Occasionally, the app falters, in not picking up what you’re doing. For some reason, my iPad for a time erroneously and regularly decided I had no idea how to play A-minor, scuppering some 100 per cent runs. For the most part, though, Yousician is akin to a slice of music-lesson magic, correctly registering notes and chords — at least if you don’t plug a guitar into your device. (At that point, latency issues with hardware inputs — such as an iRig or JAM — cause too many notes to be flagged as ‘late’; the developer’s working on a fix.) Electric guitarists are, for now, better off using Yousician with an amp and their device’s mic.
Regardless of your set-up and despite the odd niggle, then, Yousician impresses. It’s also decent value. For free, you get access to everything, including a load of practice songs, and a really great tuner. The only restriction is a limited amount of play time per day. Unlimited premium subscriptions are available for £14.99 per month or £89.99 per year, which might seem steep until the second you inquire somewhere about the cost of actual music lessons.