While TrueFire may sound more like a brand of antivirus software than the home for guitar tuition, it is actually one of the world’s leading sites for online guitar lessons and has been since it launched in 1991.
Having been established for so long, TrueFire has amassed more than 33,000 lessons, 700 courses and a roster of hundreds of top-class guitar teachers. With this in mind, it’s little wonder why more than one million members use the site regularly. But is it all positive? Let’s take a closer look…
The first thing you will notice about TrueFire is how clean and simple everything is. No cluttered designs or difficulty in navigating around the site – everything you need can be found on the slim black menu bar at the top of the page.
The lessons themselves follow a very familiar format, similar to what you would find on GuitarTricks and other sites.
Each lesson page offers a video player as the main page focus, with the lesson list on a righthand sidebar. Below this you will find supplemental material for the lesson, including a description of the lesson, a discussion area (for user comments) and some additional material, which may include a jam track and song tablature.
Note that TrueFire appears to use two different video players. One – which seems to be used for older videos – is quite basic, with simple controls, including play, rewind, forward, full screen, loop and speed selection. However, more often than not, you will be learning via the modern SoundSlice player, which is an excellent player that features interactive music notation when appropriate. This means that, below the video itself, you will find the relevant tablature moving in time with the video playback. A very convenient feature that makes lessons engaging and easy to follow.
The video recordings themselves differ in quality and style too, depending on how old they are. Most of the videos are filmed in high definition with multiple camera angles, although some of the older videos are relatively basic and lower quality in recording. It is a little odd as you never know what quality, player or angles to expect with each lesson, but this is the case with many tuition sites, especially those with a huge archive recorded over many years.
The pedigree of the 140 different instructors really cements TrueFire as one of the leaders of online tuition sites, alongside the likes of JamPlay, which also uses a wide range of legendary performing artists to guide lessons.
TrueFire employ award-winning teachers, the world’s best session players and a handful of absolute icons such as Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel and Robben Ford – learning from legends such as these are beneficial to any guitarist.
TrueFire offers a lot for beginners although – like JamPlay – you are left to find your own starting point, wherever you feel that may be. For that reason, TrueFire just doesn’t feel as intuitive for beginners compared to something like GuitarTricks, with their streamlined Core Learning System.
Having said that, if you are a beginner who can use some initiative, you can find plenty of use with TrueFire’s ‘Learning Paths’ system. You choose your favorite style from a selection of popular genres (i.e. Rock, Blues, etc), then begin with the universal ‘Learn Guitar 1’ core course, taken by Jeff Scheetz – a friendly and clear teacher (who also happens to be TrueFire’s Director of Education).
Jeff takes you through how best to practice as well as the foundations of guitar playing, before throwing you straight into your first chords. A nice feature is that, after being taught the material, you get to practice along with Jeff instead of going off and practicing by yourself. We feel this proves a better way to learn.
Already know the basics? You can skip the Learn Guitar 1 and go straight to Learn Guitar 2, which expands on the material in the first core course, with more chords, songs and techniques. Then you will be able to tackle some advanced material…
While there is enough for beginners to enjoy and progress with, TrueFire shines brightest when it comes to material for intermediate and advanced players – there are so many courses to get your teeth stuck into.
Sticking to the Learning Paths, experienced players can bypass the first set of core courses and head straight for anything from ‘Late Beginner to Intermediate’ courses right up to ‘Late Intermediate to Advanced’ courses.
Each of these core courses come with supplementary courses that offer extra tuition. For example, you could begin on ‘Play Jazz Guitar 4: Rhythm Approaches’ (under ‘Intermediate to Late Intermediate’), which is a core course, then move onto ‘30 Jazz Guitar Rhythms You MUST Know’ or ‘Magic Gypsy Chords & Rhythms’ for an extended look. How you progress is up to you – if you want to do all supplementary courses you can. If you prefer to just nail the core courses, that option is equally valid.
As we mentioned above, several major styles are covered on TrueFire including Jazz, Acoustic, Blues, Country and Rock. It is through the supplementary courses that many of their sub-genres are covered, ranging from Gypsy Jazz and Bebop (Jazz) to Power Ballad Soloing and Surf Guitar (Rock).
TrueFire is certainly worthwhile for bassists too, as courses are available for complete beginners right up to advanced players, with the same core course and supplementary course structure as is available for guitarists. Bass teachers include Andrew Ford, Stu Hamm, David Santos and Ariane Cap, who teach everything from the ‘First Steps for Beginners’ course to advanced techniques, including Andrew Ford’s ‘Motown Bass Survival Guide’ course.
When it comes to extra features TrueFire lacks a little bit compared to other sites and most of the extras they do offer are subject to additional fees.
However, some things are available at no extra cost (or only cost extra for premium content). For example, the series of artist channels, such as ‘Sheryl Bailey’s Bebop Dojo Bootcamp’ and ‘Frank Vignola’s Jazz Studio’. These artist-dedicated channels offer both free and paid-for content including exclusive lessons, although it seems the actual content differs depending on the artist.
TrueFire Live is another extra worth checking out. These interactive sessions give artists the chance to talk about their courses and music, while it gives members the chance to ask questions. While these sessions are broadcast live, an archive of past recordings is always available to watch at a later stage. At the time of writing our review, some of the most recent live events were ‘Melodic Soloing’ with Rob Garland and ‘Guitar Gym Workouts’ with Chris Buono.
One cool feature TrueFire offers is ‘In The Jam’, which is an additional learning tool that offers members the chance to jam along with some incredible artists of several styles – a great way to develop improvisational skills.
However, these tracks are more than simply a generic backing track. You have the option to adjust the volume or mute different parts, while you are also given chord changes and notation for the guitar parts. The catch is that – like other aspects of TrueFire – these tracks cost extra, so you will need to decide if they will be of use to you before forking out the cash.
TrueFire also offers private guitar lessons, which work in a similar fashion to some other sites such as ArtistWorks. These are not live face-to-face lessons – instead you choose your instructor from a streamlined bank of TrueFire’s teachers, state your objectives and upload a video of yourself playing, then receive personalized feedback.
While not as helpful as a live face-to-face lesson, this upload system allows you to work in your own time, with no performance anxiety (hey, it happens to us all!) and proves a useful addition to the regular video instruction you will find on the site. Of course, these private lessons do come at an additional price.
If you are expecting to be able to learn one of your favorite songs, you may be a little disappointed as there is no dedicated song list on TrueFire. Anyone with experience in ArtistWorks will understand that this site is more about technique lessons than learning hit songs. Whether or not this puts you off will depend on whether you prefer to learn techniques or to build your song repertoire.
TrueFire offer members a range of tried-and-test online tools, which are nothing groundbreaking, but you would miss them if they weren’t there. These include a chord chart, jam tracks, metronome, guitar tuner, guitar scales and a practice journal.
In addition, a simple but effective TrueFire core app exists for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android, while a separate app is available for ‘In The Jam’ for both Windows and MacOS (no mobile apps there unfortunately). There are also some additional apps such as Private Lessons and a ‘Licktionary’, although these are only available on iOS.
TrueFire – like many other sites – keeps members engaged with a basic Student Forum, which is approachable and easy to use. They also offer an active blog called ‘The Punch In’, which offers ‘insight and inspiration’, covering a range of guitar topics including gear reviews, essential licks, lessons, tone tips and miscellaneous guitar articles.
There is also a Facebook community with more than 130,000 followers, offering videos and updates, while their Twitter page is also regularly updated with site information, videos and blog offerings.
Whether beginner, intermediate or advanced player, a sensible starting point is under the Learning Paths tab on the top menu bar. This will give you a choice between different styles, which in turn will give you a choice of which level to start at.
Complete beginners will start with the universal ‘Learn Guitar 1: First Steps for Beginners’ course, while more experienced players can choose to start on a less basic course. Then simply work your way down the list, completing the core courses and – if you really want a complete experience – some of the supplementary courses.
Adding a private lesson or two after a few weeks of learning can certainly help you pinpoint problem areas and nail techniques you are struggling with, but – as we have mentioned – these are subject to further fees.
So, how much will a TrueFire subscription set you back? The core material is very competitive and matches many of the other online courses, with a monthly subscription at $19 and an annual subscription of $199. You can also purchase a lifetime subscription for $1,999 – after ten years being a member will start paying for itself!
Whichever subscription you go for you will be able to stream all 700 courses and 33,000 lessons, although – as we have mentioned – some things are subject to addition charges, such as In The Jam and Private Lessons.
TrueFire offers a very generous all access trial for 30 days, which provides unlimited streaming access to the entire course library. Even better, no credit card details are required – simply register and you will have instant access.
Make no mistake about it, TrueFire has a lot going for it – spending just a little time with the platform makes it apparent why it is the leader in the world of online guitar tuition. Having access to more than 700 lessons and some sensational tutors is beneficial to any guitarist.
There is plenty of material and tuition for beginners – providing you can use your initiative and decide what level you are at and what you want to learn (and providing you aren’t overly keen on learning your favorite songs). But TrueFire really excels with its tuition for intermediate and advanced players, with a huge range of courses, lessons and styles available. You have the freedom to choose your own learning path, which can help keep you interested and focused, even if it requires a little less hand holding.
Whatever your level, taking advantage of the generous risk-free 30-day trial is a good course of action.