The TrueFire Review: Leading the Way in Advanced Courses (2019 Update)
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LAST UPDATED: MAY-1-2019
In the time since we last took a look at our TrueFire review, not much had changed with the site – apart from the addition of hundreds of new lessons and a plethora of new instructors. So, we reflected our review to incorporate both these, and made a few other tweaks along the way.
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 40,000 video 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? Or is this 28-year-old site starting to show its age? Let’s take a closer look…
Check out our video review of TrueFire:
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Some quick links to the sections discussed in this review:
- Home Page of TrueFire
- The Available Courses
- 140+ Instructors List
- Free Lessons by TrueFire
- In The Jam!
- Bass Lessons
- Private Lessons
The first thing you will notice about TrueFire is how clean and simple everything is. No cluttered designs here – everything you need can be found on the slim black menu bar at the top of the page, making navigation very easy.
The aesthetics of the site are nothing worth getting excited about, but – with the simple black and purple color scheme – it’s attractive and professional.
The lessons themselves follow a very familiar format, similar to what you would find on sites such as GuitarTricks and Jam Play. It’s easy to operate, allowing you to get on with learning the lesson at hand.
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, often you will be able to learn with the modern SoundSlice player. This is an excellent player with more flexible speed control and different visualization bars, as well as 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. However, some of the older videos are relatively basic and lower quality in recording.
It is a little odd as you never know which 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.
Drum roll please… TrueFire offers a huge list of more than 200 instructors! But it’s not just any old guitar teacher, as TrueFire employs the services of award-winning educators, the world’s best session players, and a handful of absolute icons such as Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel, Larry Carlton and Robben Ford – learning from legends such as these are beneficial to any guitarist.
The choice and pedigree of these 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 offers a lot for beginners and, providing you practice, you are guaranteed to make progress on the guitar by following the lessons.
However, there is no set starting point. As with some other sites, you are left to forge your own pathway, starting wherever you feel most comfortable. For this 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 likes a little flexibility and can use some initiative, you will find plenty of use with TrueFire’s ‘Learning Paths’ system. Here, you choose your favorite style from a selection of popular genres (rock, blues, acoustic, and so on), then begin with the universal ‘Learn Guitar 1’ core course, taken by Jeff Scheetz – a friendly 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 is a great way to learn the instrument.
Already know the basics? You can skip the first section and go straight to ‘Learn Guitar 2’, which expands on the material in the first core course, with more chords, songs and techniques thrown your way.
There are plenty of other lessons and courses for newbies, but the real magic happens as you start progressing past the beginner stage.
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 features a selection of 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 the supplementary courses you can (just set aside a few years!). 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 the more niche sub-genres are explored, ranging from gypsy jazz and bebop, to power ballad soloing and surf guitar.
TrueFire is certainly a worthwhile platform 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. These guys teach everything from the ‘First Steps for Beginners’ course to advanced techniques, including Andrew Ford’s ‘Motown Bass Survival Guide’ course.
Overall, a very solid offering for bassists, especially when compared to the zero lessons offered by other platforms.
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 feature worth checking out. These interactive sessions give artists the chance to discuss their courses and music, while it also 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.
In The Jam
One cool feature TrueFire offers is the ‘In The Jam’ experience, which is an additional learning tool that gives members the chance to jam along with some incredible artists of several styles – a great way to develop improvisational skills.
Yet, these tracks are more than simply a generic backing track. You have the option to adjust the volume or mute different parts (such as the drums, bass or rhythm guitar), 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.
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 perhaps 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, and they don’t include some of the higher-profile instructors such as Steve Vai or Tommy Emmanuel.
If you are expecting to be able to learn one of your favorite songs from bands such as Green Day, The Beatles and Metallica… then you may be a little disappointed, as there is only a small song list on TrueFire – and these are mostly licks, riffs and samples as opposed to complete songs.
Ultimately, instead of focusing on teaching hit songs, the attention of TrueFire is more on learning techniques and improving your general playing, speed and understanding of guitar. Whether or not this puts you off will depend on whether you prefer to learn techniques, or to build your song repertoire.
Tools and Apps
TrueFire offers members a range of tried-and-tested online tools. As with similar sites, these are nothing groundbreaking, but you would probably 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 desktop app is available for ‘In The Jam’ for both Windows and MacOS, as well as a new iPad app.
There are also some additional apps, such as Private Lessons and a ‘Licktionary’, although these are currently 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 provides ‘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 busy Facebook community with more than 130,000 followers. This page offers videos and updates, while their Twitter page is also regularly updated with site information, videos and blog announcements.
How to Use the Course
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 allow you to choose a suitable starting point.
Complete beginners should begin 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 want more in-depth tuition – some of the supplementary courses along the way.
Jamming along with the In The Jam tracks, and perhaps 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. However, these are subject to further fees.
Talking about fees, 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 of $19 and an annual subscription of $199.
You can also purchase a lifetime subscription for $1,999. Sounds expensive (because it is), but after ten years your membership will start paying for itself!
Whichever subscription you go for, you will be able to stream all 700 courses and 40,000-plus 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 free 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. Whatever your level, it’s the least you should check out.
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 one of the leaders in the world of online guitar tuition.
Having access to more than 700 courses and some sensational tutors is beneficial to any guitarist – regardless of your current skill level.
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.
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 involves a little less hand holding.
Of course, the site has some perceived pitfalls – the lack of real song lessons being a negative for those who like to add hit tunes to their repertoire, while a lot of the extra features are subject to extra charges.
But for the sheer amount of tuition available, TrueFire still shows why it remains one of the best after nearly 30 years in business.
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+ Over 200 experienced and iconic instructors
+ A jaw-dropping catalog of 40,000 guitar lessons
+ Great content for intermediate and advanced players
+ Extra jam tracks and private lessons are available
- Structure can be a little confusing for beginners
- Lack of individual song lessons will put some users off
- Many of the extra features are subject to additional charges