You took guitar lessons as a kid, picked up the basic chords, and retained just enough that now, as an adult, you can play a few tunes with your kids. You’d like to continue playing and learning songs, but you don’t have time for lessons. So, your dusty six-string sits in the corner, getting dustier.
It’s called 4 Chords, and it’s a karaoke app for guitar.
This app for iPhone and iPad starts by letting you choose from a library of more than 500 songs. The app plays the songs and displays the chords and words in an easy-to-follow, scrolling karaoke style. There are a variety of customization options, including the ability to adjust the tempo and the accompanying instruments.
An intro screen at the outset of each song shows you the chords in the piece and the fingerings for each, complete with links to short video lessons for each chord. (The app integrates lessons from justinguitar.com.) There’s also a diagram of the suggested strum pattern, and a simple tuning tool. (You’ll want to get a dedicated app like Cleartune for full-featured tuning.)
As a bonus — if you dare — you can record yourself as you play, either in full video (with audio) or audio only.
And yes, the app lives up to its name: Each song can be played with no more than four chords, and they’re mostly the good old-fashioned “easy” ones (C, G, Em, A, F, etc.) that you probably picked up in those lessons as a kid. You don’t need to read sheet music.
Click the audio link below at right to hear GeekWire chairman Jonathan Sposato singing and me playing guitar in our App of the Week segment on the GeekWire radio show and podcast. This gives you a sense for what you can do with the app — with very little talent, in my case.
The app is a free download and comes with a selection of free songs, mostly folk and gospel standards like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and of course, “Kumbaya.” Beyond that, however, you’re going to need to pay, and that’s where the app leaves something to be desired — not the fact that you have to pay, but the way they’ve structured some of the payment options.
The price is $3.99 for a “Starter Pack,” with six songs available in each pack. For example, I picked up the “Extremely Easy to Play Pack” with six songs, including “Let it Be,” “Start Me Up,” and others. The Pop Starter Pack ranges from Madonna’s “Material Girl” to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” You can also search for individual songs, and purchase them for $1.99/each.
Here’s the big catch: Songs in the “What’s New” and “Top Downloads” section of the app require you to purchase a subscription VIP Pass — for $7.99 a month or $39.99 a year. That’s a substantial investment, in the realm of what some people currently pay for streaming video services like Netflix.
So, for example, if you want to learn to play Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” — and who wouldn’t? — you can get a 29-second preview but no more unless you pay for the VIP pass, because it’s a Top Download. Sorry, but Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” is also behind the subscription model.
Beyond that downside, the navigation/UI of the app takes some getting used to at first, and isn’t entirely intuitive.
But I’m having so much fun with this app that it’s easy to recommend despite those caveats. if you’re looking for a casual way to learn or rediscover the joys of playing guitar, this is a very good way to start.
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