andrew burke





It's Van Halen Challenge Time!

Posted on: 2023-09-29

I recently cleared up enough space in our spare room for a corner by the window where I can play guitar and watch the sun set. My lovely Godin LG HMB had been in the basement for far too many years, so I was happy to bring it back into my life.

I wanted to make sure I actually used it more often though, so I decided to try out one of the new apps that help you learn to play guitar. The two big guitar makers Fender and Gibson each have their own quite similar-looking apps, and while I've always loved the beautiful space-age design of the Fender Stratocaster, my fat fingers do better on the wider necks of Gibson-style guitars, which is what my Godin feels like - so I decided rather arbitrarily to try the Gibson app.

I've been enjoying it a lot. It has some light gamification to keep you coming back, though it's nothing at the level of, say, Duolingo. The core of the app is play-along pieces which track how well you hit the notes very much like Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution, but you're actually learning how to play on a real instrument. It mixes your playing, including distortion and reverb effects, with a backing band. This makes even simple chord or finger exercises feel like you're rocking out on stage - and certainly makes it much more fun to come back to regularly.

I've ploughed through the introductory units pretty quickly, as it turns out my fingers remember more chords and licks from my teenage years than I expected. The goal is to hit three stars in a given piece, and often I get there on the first try. The app has good tools for learning the trickier tracks too: you can go back and play through at half or three-quarters speed, and even loop through phrases repeatedly until you get them right.

I did get stuck for quite some time on, for example, the finger-stretching riff of the Marilyn Manson version of "Sweet Dreams"

Screen capture of the Gibson guitar app, featuring the tricky fingering of the core riff in Marilyn Manson's cover of Sweet Dreams

I've gotten through the "Licks" and "Riffs" and "Chords" units and was about to start in on the "Solos" suite of lessons, but then I got an email about a special event.

It turns out that, starting today, it's time for the Eddie Van Halen challenge!

Gibson releases new lessons and guides every week, but this is a new kind of program: 16 days of lessons and workshops and exercises and videos, all designed to get you to play like Eddie Van Halen.

Promotional email about the Gibson App's Eddie Van Halen 16-Day Challenge

Now, I may be pretty good at the beginner lessons, but this is way way out of my league. Eddie was one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time, with a blistering command of technique and a revolutionary sound and swagger.

Not only can't I play like that, but I don't even have the parachute pants - or the mullet.

There is no way at all that I'm going to get anywhere near that level, but as Pat Methaney says, you should always be the worst player in your band. I may never be as good as Eddie, but going through these lessons can only make me better.

If I survive the first few days of this, I'll share my progress here.

Promotional email about the Gibson App's Eddie Van Halen 16-Day Challenge

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