Originally created 09/06/98

PC's a patient teacher of guitar licks



So you wanna play rock guitar?

If the crackdown on online guitar archives such as OLGA continues, instructional software might be the only way for would-be Eric Claptons to learn new chops on their home computers.

But that's not so bad. Music instruction is a task well-suited to the PC. Your computer never gets tired of showing you a scale or a lick, and it doesn't charge you extra if you need more time to nail it down.

In fact, most programs cost about the same as two hours with a private instructor. And you can sit down with your digital teacher whenever it's convenient.

Play Rock Guitar, Windows 95, (Play Music Inc., $49.95).

As instructor Keith Wyatt says in his introduction to this CD-ROM, "The best way to learn rock guitar is by playing songs." And Play Rock Guitar has lined up some classics as textbooks examples -- "Crossroads" by Clapton, "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix, "Freeway Jam" by Jeff Beck and "Black Magic Woman" by Santana.

Unlike other tutorials, which teach watered-down versions of popular tunes, this one teaches the real thing. So be warned -- Play Rock Guitar and its companion, Play Blues Guitar, aren't for beginners (Try the company's Play Guitar CD if you're a newbie).

Wyatt is an accomplished musician who dives into the sublime technique of the guitar gods by walking you through the theory and fingering of each part of a song. Video clips and animated fret board (with a novel choice of overhead, facing or left-handed perspectives) help nail down the tricky passages.

When you're ready to see how the song comes together, click on a button to see Wyatt and his band jamming on a smoky stage before an altar of stacked Marshall amps. If you've got the guts, you can make Wyatt's lead guitar go mum, so you can play guitar god instead. Instructional software doesn't get much better than this.
Information: (800) 887-7529 or www.playmusic.com.

Classic Rock Guitar Volumes 1 & 2, Windows 3.1/95 and Mac OS 7, (UbiSoft Entertainment, $59.95).

If you've ever wanted to be a jukebox hero, the Classic Rock Guitar CDs are for you. Designed for intermediate guitarists, they teach beautifully arranged rock on an acoustic guitar. Volume 1 contains eight classics by artists such as Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Volume 2 adds seven Beatles tunes guaranteed to make you the life of the party.

The cartoonlike graphics are slick and help keep the mood light -- they almost make you forget that learning can be hard work. The screen layout is professional and intuitive, with video clips, animated chord diagrams and scrolling notation visible at a glance. A nice touch: Move the cursor over a chord diagram and click to play it; move it over the video and it magnifies the instructor's finger work.

Classic Rock reviews essential techniques from palm-muting to flat picking, but not in detail. For a serious discussion, look elsewhere. If you want to have fun and add great tunes to your repertoire, it's a good choice.
Information: (800) 824-7638 or www.ubisoft.com.

G-Vox Guitar 101, Windows 3.1/95, (G-Vox Entertainment, $49.99).

Guitar 101 is billed as a ground-up tutorial for beginners, and it does start at the very beginning. Lesson 1 is how to hold your guitar. While the visuals are stunning and the content solid, instruction moves at a glacial pace. Aggravating the problem, the CD lacks example songs that are fun to play and tie together new concepts. Each lesson's drills and quizzes do help budding guitarists nail down one concept before moving to the next. But newcomers may soon tire of all the hard work and look for a way to play hooky.

G-Vox also publishes four Guitar Songbook CDs, which contain tunes by artists such as the Police, Santana, B.B. King and Clapton. But these lack the polish and depth of the better programs. If you want to hook your guitar directly to your computer to record your songs, check out the $100 G-Vox Guitar, a magnetic pickup that translates your notes into MIDI format.
Information: (215) 922-0880 or www.gvox.com.

Blues Guitar Explorer, Windows 95, (Explorer Music, $59.95).

In this meaty blues course for the intermediate player, veteran studio chopmeister Tim Huffman rolls up his sleeves and serves a smorgasbord of theory and technique. The tutorial covers basics from soloing to rhythm to slide guitar, and the CD is loaded with video clips of Huffman pounding out each new lick. You can view the clips from various angles and print out the music itself -- something you can't do with most tutorials. The disk also offers six full-length blues jams.

Unfortunately, the meaty content is offset by a clunky presentation. The lessons are nested within folders, which can make navigating tedious and confusing. Even so, if you persevere, you'll come away with a rock-solid foundation of blues theory and technique, so you can create your own classic.

Information: (888) 83-CDROM or www.explorermusicgroup.com.

eMedia Guitar Method 1 and 2, Windows 3.1/95 and Mac OS 7, (eMedia Corp., $59.95).

These CDs provide a solid, no-frills package for beginning and intermediate guitarists. Method 1 offers 60 comprehensive lessons and more than 100 songs and exercises ranging from stringing the guitar to chords, melodies and finger picking. Method 2 continues with intermediate skills such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, vibrato and bar chords.

What's nice about Guitar Method is that it teaches a variety of styles -- from country to rock -- and includes material for acoustic and electric guitar. While it lacks the fancy graphics of some other tutorials, the Guitar Method series is well-organized and offers clear explanations of technique and theory -- which is all students need. The inclusion of popular songs ranging from folk classics such as "Greensleeves" to tunes by the Grateful Dead makes slogging through the lessons worthwhile.

Information: (206) 329-5667 or www.emedia.org

Guitar Magic, Windows 3.1/95, (SDG Soft, $99).

Guitar Magic bills itself as a guitar university, and for good reason. This two-CD package includes more than 330 lessons, enough to keep any guitarist busy for months -- even years. It's aimed at all skill levels and covers almost any popular style imaginable, from grunge to jazz.

Neat features not found elsewhere include a lexicon of chord shapes and scales that rivals the Oxford English Dictionary, and a ministudio where you can compose your own jams. For teaching purposes, Guitar Magic uses all the standards: video clips, animated fret board and volumes of descriptive text.

Its faults? The guitar and other instruments are poorly synthesized, which makes you feel like you're preparing for a gig in an elevator rather than a seedy barroom (the ultimate guitar environment). Guitar Magic also isn't much fun -- there are no full-length songs to learn, so you won't walk away knowing a Pearl Jam tune to impress your friends.

But if you have limitless ambition and patience, Guitar Magic will broaden and deepen your knowledge of the guitar.

Information: (800) 477-7341 or www.sdgsoft.com.