Apple makes online music lessons easy with GarageBand

Colbie Caillat's 2007 hit Bubbly is so popular online that about 800,000 people have watched YouTube videos of musicians teaching how to play the song on guitar.

Only one problem: Most got it wrong.

"They do a nice job," says the singer/songwriter, but "most don't realize it's in open D tuning and has totally different chords."

Now Caillat gets to show how it's really done. She is one of nine artists offering video music lessons at $4.99 a pop via Apple's GarageBand, the music-editing software bundled into its iLife suite of programs. Among others, John Fogerty teaches Proud Mary and Norah Jones shows you how to perform Thinking About You.

Many sites offer video music lessons now. A year ago, iVideosongs was launched with artist tutorials from Graham Nash, John Oates and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell. And there are thousands of free instructional videos on YouTube produced by young guitarists and teachers. Some even feature well-known performers such as Paul McCartney, Police bandmate Andy Summers and Queen guitarist Brian May. Longtime guitar-maker Gibson even devotes a page of its website to the YouTube lessons.

Apple's high profile — and heavy promotion of the video lessons within its 250 retail stores — brings the idea of learning music online to higher prominence. "It's a fantastic idea, and I hope they do more," says British guitarist Justin Sandercoe, who offers free video lessons at "The idea you can have the guitar lesson with the actual artist who wrote the song is terrific. Now, a great artist may not be a great teacher — they won't be familiar with the act of teaching — but the fact is, it's Sting teaching you Roxanne."

A ministudio

GarageBand is a minirecording studio tool that often gets overlooked by Apple computer owners. As part of an overhaul for the iLife '09 program suite (free with new Macs, or $79), Apple added an instructional component to capitalize on renewed interest in playing music spawned by popular "rock band" video games.

"There's this huge problem that hasn't been attacked yet," says Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president. "Finding a new way to teach music, from your personal computer."

He says the YouTube instructional clips — his kids watch them — "don't attempt to solve the whole problem: how to properly learn to play."

Apple has a guy named Tim (it won't reveal his last name) offering free lessons on playing guitar and piano. For $4.99, artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Ben Folds show you where to put your hands on the guitar or piano keyboard and what key they like to play the song in. They also tell you about how it came to be written.

But if you just want to find out what the chords are to AC/DC's Highway to Hell, it's all there on YouTube for free.

"This is how kids learn music now," says Stutz Wimmer, an Atlanta-area high school music teacher. In a bygone era, teens might listen to a song over and over again to figure it out. Now, "Somebody shows them the chords online."

The YouTube instructors range from professional guitarists such as Sandercoe to young teens in their bedrooms with a Stratocaster.

Edison Mellor-Goldman, 17, a Los Angeles-area high school student, likes to go home from school and make video tutorials using his iMac computer's built-in webcam. "When you teach someone one-on-one, that's great," he says. "But when you put it on YouTube and hear from 100,000 people around the world that 'you helped me' and get such a massive amount of feedback, that's really something."

He's made 33 videos. His most popular — how to play Jason Mraz's I'm Yours— has been viewed 200,000 times on YouTube.

Sandercoe began offering video lessons in 2007 as a way to attract new students. His lesson on how to play Guns 'N Roses' Sweet Child o' Mine has picked up more than 2 million views. His site attracts 600,000 viewers a month. "People can share their common love of something online. It's a fantastic resource," he says. He offers instructional DVDs for sale and asks for contributions. He says he averages about $100 a week.

Most of the lessons found on YouTube are by young teens. Many are imprecise, says Tim Huffman, CEO of Atlanta-based iVideosongs. "You get what you pay for. We offer multiple camera angles, high-definition video and accuracy."

Accessing lessons

Competing with Apple isn't easy — especially when he charges twice as much for artist lessons: $9.95 — but he says he has a few advantages. You can make purchases at the iVideosongs site or via Amazon downloads. The company also offers instructional podcasts (how to play slide guitar, the piano, etc.) at iTunes.

Apple does not offer stand-alone purchases of its copy-protected video lessons at iTunes. The only way to see Sting demonstrate Roxanne is by using a newer Mac with GarageBand.

Joe Lamond, president of the National Association of Music Merchants, a trade group for music stores (where most guitar lessons are held), says the growth of online video lessons has paid off with more-attentive students. Guitar sales — even in a recession — were up 3% in 2008, he says. He credits the Internet and video games.