A thoughtful attempt
Capitalizing on the human interest in musical instruments contains a mixed bag of results. I’m a self-taught guitarist and pianist, though when I learned to play the saxophone, I took years of private lessons. As such an individual, I have professionally recorded a studio album for my band, Release the Skyline. So I’ve always been hesitant, curious, and a little bit jaded when it came to various sources claiming to be able to teach anyone how to play guitar (or any instrument for that matter).
Enter FourChords Guitar Karaoke, an iOS app or future Steam download where you can learn your favorite songs in a quick manner. Particularly interested in the product in order to gauge whether the program actually worked, I figured I’d take on the review. I sat down with my beautiful Minarik Medusa, flexed my fingers and opened up Four Chords.
At first, I was excited. Viewing the approximate 110 songs available on the Steam client was thrilling. Quite a few of relatively unknown songs that I actually enjoyed were on the list (like A Day to Remember’s “If It Means a Lot to You” or Bring Me the Horizon’s “Happy Song”). Even my wife’s favorite in Taylor Swift was available (“Shake It Off”). Really, of the 110 songs available on the Steam client, many were decent selections.
Getting into the songs, however, revealed a not-so-exciting discovery. I’m not sure if the name of the program, FourChords, was intentional to the client because all of the songs used approximately four chords. Sure, every once-in-a-while, you’d get the five chord or three chord anomaly, but the songs each consisted of a small set of chords. In theory, the program is an easy starting point for beginner guitarists. In reality, the program is more harmful than helpful. I’ll explain that soon, but the actual program itself doesn’t sit well with me.
You see, the first song I tried to play on Four Chords was “If It Means a Lot to You”, and that went over fairly well. The chords sounded relatively accurate, and, playing with the song, it was okay. The tempo is set a little too slow, but the entire experience was acceptable. My attempt of “Happy Song” is where FourChords showed its true colors. Perhaps the developers/creators truly believed this program would help young learners impress their ignorant friends, but the reality of the situation is much darker. If you listen to “Happy Songs” on YouTube and then compare it to the FourChords version, you’ll notice an extreme difference; the songs are almost unidentifiable. The bpm (beats per minute) of the song is at least 50bpm off, and the chords are essentially irrelevant – as I found they are in the majority of the songs. If you’re impressing anyone, you’re impressing the kids who don’t actually listen to music.
On the aesthetic side of FourChords, I found the client to be a visual delight. With the resolution turned up on my 4k monitor, the client is crisp and large. The songs are split into four categories: pop starter, rock starter, country starter, and traditional starter songs. Before starting a song, the client shows the fingers for each chord, so you have somewhat of an idea of what to play. When the song begins, you’ll see the chord name (like Am or G, for example), and you’ll strum along with each direction. The client provides accompaniment in the form of vocals (set to a choice of three sounds), percussion (a choice of hand claps or actual drums), and bass/guitar.
And that’s about it for the setup of FourChords. I know I’ve been pretty hard on the product, but it deserves every word. On a karaoke view, FourChords would be a moderate success, though the random bpm for songs, while adjustable, would throw off many familiar with the actual songs, but since the client is advertised as a tool to learn guitar, they do any potential consumer a severe disservice. When used as a means to learn chords and practice them to familiar beats, FourChords is pretty solid (research that bpm and adjust it accordingly); however, if used as a means to learn songs to show off to your friends, stop. You’ll embarrass yourself.
When I think about programs like this, I have to warn potential beginning learners of how difficult picking up an instrument can be. I spent years practicing, and, in my eyes, I’m average. I’ve had friends try to learn, and most fizzled out (Guitar Hero did that to a lot of kids). It’s not an easy process, and only dedication will help you succeed. Depending on what you’re looking for and willing to pay, FourChords Guitar Karaoke is an experience I’d suggest you stay away from.