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'Year of Rock' is the patient guitar tutor for the internet generation

'Year of Rock' is the patient guitar tutor for the internet generation


A free online service teaches guitar by listening to the notes you're playing

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ben plays guitar
ben plays guitar

Blake Jennelle struggled to learn guitar. He started and then gave up three times while growing up, trying various books, teachers and online lessons. Finally, as an adult, he decided to build a way to teach himself. He and co-founder Brian Stoner (yes that's his real name) created their own software that would recognize the pitch of the notes they played, letting them know when he needed to tune or wasn't placing his fingers quite right on a certain chord. "The goal was, have any human sit down, who has never picked up a guitar before, and with the teaching software and the pitch correction, they can be playing a recognizable riff in the first ten minutes."

The service, called Instinct, is now available for free to web users. The interface relies on your computer's microphone (whether built-in or plugged in) to pick up the different notes that your guitar sounds out. You play along with the tab on the screen which shows where your fingers are off if you're not hitting the right note. It also helps your learn the rhythm of the song by making you sound out each note for a different period of time. Instinct's front end is built entirely with Javascript, so you can start playing right from the browser without having to download or install any software.

"We've had demos of a lot of amazing technology in the browser, but few match what Instinct's been able to do," said Nate Westheimer, founder of the NY Tech Meetup. "It may be the most advanced javascript app I've ever seen."

"It may be the most advanced javascript app I've ever seen."

After putting the prototype online, more than 24,000 signed up to try Jennelle's system. Simone Chiesi had tried a couple guitar lessons before, but the time and money of going to instructor each week was too much of a commitment. So finding Instinct and The Year of Rock was a revelation. "Standard lessons will inevitably get you forward at the cost of eroding your free time. Instinct gives you the chance of being the only factor in musical learning. Empty Sunday? I can go for 6 hours of guitar! A girl suddenly calls up? I can the guitar and get a shower."

Recently, Instinct launched Year of Rock, a series of weekly lessons which borrow from the structure of Codecademy, which created a year worth of programming lessons, with a new one delivered into user's inbox each week. It gamefies the learning process with badges and points. "It keeps me coming back to practice because I'm really motivated to get that perfct score," says Mark Keleghan, a college student in Wicklow, Ireland who enjoys Jason Mraz and Neutral Milk Hotel.

The Verge took Instinct for a spin. As you can see from our video, it's a very visual learning system, with few written or spoken clues to help beginners find their way. Did I learn a rock riff in under ten minutes? No. Did I learn about playing the guitar and feel inclined to come back for more? Definitely.