Fancy becoming the next Hendrix, Adele or Beethoven? This app gives you a start
Surveys show how important parents think it is for children to learn an instrument. Millions of adults are keen to learn too – and yet relatively few do. However, with today’s technology, learning to play can be easier than ever.
In this article, I see how far I can get with a month of Yousician – a ‘gamified’ app with lesson plans that cover guitar, bass, ukulele, piano, and singing.
A free version of Yousician gives you a taste, but limits play time and features. Premium plans open up more levels, challenges, lesson time, instruments, songs, and access for family members.
Premium costs $14.99/£7.99 per month or $89.99/£59.99 per year, and gives you unlimited access to one instrument.
Premium+ costs $19.99/£13.99 per month or $139.99/£89.99 per year, and gives you access to all instruments, and a wider range of lessons and songs.
Premium+ Family costs $29.99/£20.99 per month or $209.99/£134.99 per year, and allows four family members to use the service.
For this feature, I used a Premium+ subscription I paid for myself. Yousician can be downloaded from the App Store.
About the student
I’ve played music for over 30 years, but am self-taught with many bad habits. My approach has been to learn what’s required to record a song I’ve written.
In being familiar with guitars and keyboards, I wanted to broaden my capabilities there. And I was keen to strengthen my voice, along with gaining confidence in vocals – and actual skills!
30 days with Yousician: the diary
Ambitiously, I try a bit of everything. Singing starts by getting you comfortable and ‘gliding’ to notes. The app encourages you to take things slowly.
Guitar introduces tuning and strings, using color-coding to help you play. The main interface’s scrolling view resembles Guitar Hero spun 90 degrees. You need a real guitar, but an acoustic worked fine with my devices.
Piano uses a separate app and kicks off with an absurdist song about a ball bouncing. You can use an external keyboard with its own speaker(s), a connected MIDI USB keyboard, or an on-screen keyboard. The last of those is sub-optimal – but we had some issues with MIDI.
Vocal exercises continue. The app’s bite-sized nature builds confidence, and it recommends good habits (warming up; shortish sessions), and replaying sections to reinforce skills.
In guitar, I learn basic riffs and am invited to play simple songs. I try Seven Nation Army. After a few loops, I realize I’ve played the entire thing in half time. Having until now been a chord strummer, that feels fantastic.
In piano, the app suffers when you start moving your hands. It’s unclear when and how to. I feel lost, because I’m trying to do everything properly.
Since I’m on Premium+, I start getting tempted by songs rather than exercises. I try a level-three Rod Stewart track and fare poorly. I do better with Tears For Fears and REM, but discover the app sometimes has trouble tracking sustained notes. Still, I must be getting into it, because I’m warned I’ve been singing too long and should take a break.
I ‘abandon’ piano, not because Yousician is bad, but because I want to focus, and am having more fun singing. The app takes me through analyzing building blocks of music and singing what’s in my head. Increasingly, I feel mic input is more precise with guitar than vocals – but that might say more about my voice than anything!
Guitar takes me through chords I’m familiar with – a chance to confirm the teaching’s solid. Occasionally, the app misses a played string, but impressively notices when one is wrongly muted. Vocals dig into awareness of how muscles and tension affect singing. I’m learning techniques I wish I’d known years ago.
Over halfway through, I’m focusing more on vocals. The lack of hassle helps – just putting on some AirPods, rather than grabbing a guitar. I’m getting a lot out of it – my range and accuracy has noticeably improved.
Perfect scores on two REM songs! Admittedly, this happened by going over some parts several times, rather than in one take. But it was a big confidence boost.
Having had a horrible cold for days, the advantage of a multi-instrument subscription becomes apparent and I tackle more guitar (power chords) and even use my keyboard again.
30 days with Yousician: verdict
There’s no substitution for human tuition, but Yousician feels human in its approach, with regular video snippets from teachers. Moreover, it means you needn’t battle self-confidence issues of performing in front of someone else, and can fit in bite-sized lessons whenever you like.
After one month, I’ve made a lot of progress on my weakest instrument: my voice. Guitar improvements have been palpable too, and the app’s gamified elements – high scores; stars to win; emailed certificates – provide boosts, even if you know they’re ultimately frippery!
The annual subscription isn’t cheap, but even the Premium+ Family sub is the equivalent of five or six hours of one-on-one real-world tuition. Here, you can learn and play as much as you like, for an entire year. Good value, then – if you’re prepared to put in the effort.