Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Yousician


I doubt there is anything worse for a guitar player than sitting down to practice and not knowing what to practice. This might be the biggest limiting factor for people like me, who have gone well beyond beginner, but still lack any sense of mastery. It is definitely the worst part of teaching yourself and so often it leads you to just hacking away at something simple or noodling around without direction or purpose.

This problem makes a system like Yousician very appealing. Yousician is a play-along app that features customized progressions for players built around original songs and exercises. It also has a library of songs by popular artists that you can play along with. I have been playing with Yousician for a year and a half with mixed results. This week I decided to return to it to get some more structure to my practice.

It is hard to overstate just how incredible the technology of this program is. It listens to you play and tells you I you hit the right notes in real time as you play. You can slow down songs in practice mode to help master them and then try to nail them in performance mode to progress. As someone old enough to remember a time before there were even chord charts available online, this seems as futuristic as flying cars or self-fitting clothing.

But as impressive as the tech might be, you can’t help but use Yousician and think, “this is basically Guitar Hero on a real guitar.” The program gamifies playing music so much that it feels like you are really only learning to play the game of Yousician and not playing music. This feeling is reinforced by the biggest flaw with the app- you can’t print out or export any of the music to play outside of Yousician. This makes it really difficult to feel like you are mastering a song independent of the app and basically makes it impossible to play anything on your own. As a result, to date, I have only learned one song that I play on my own from Yousician and it was a pretty easy song for me to play (and to memorize) to begin with (Ain’t No Sunshine). Without being able to step away from the very easy-to-follow format of Yousician’s notation and practice with just a metronome, I feel like I never really learn anything but how to play inside Yousician and that is disappointing.

This week, I did discover one thing that I really love Yousician for, however. The program cannot be beat when it comes to practicing techniques like scales and arpeggios. One thing Yousician does really well is to force you to have great time. Because it judges you on accuracy note-by-note, there is no speeding up and slowing down to fit to the beats. You have to nail every sixteenth note in time and this makes it perfect for warming up and for technique exercise. I just wish they had more of them available. As much fun as the app can be for playing along with famous songs, it really crushes it for the more mundane elements of practice and I’ll be incorporating it into my playing for that reason for the foreseeable future.

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