Startups are increasingly helping people learn music online, and New York City-based Instinct is adding to the trend with their new browser-based guitar teaching tool. The startup, which is currently in private beta, is trying to build the “guitar teacher of the future” by letting people play along with lessons using their computer and microphone, and providing real-time feedback. Though they’re launching with a guitar teaching tool, they plan to branch out to other instruments after their public launch.
Instinct co-founder Blake Jennelle plays piano and guitar, and formerly founded MyDunkTank and ran marketing for TicketLeap. He got the idea for Instinct when he decided to start learning guitar, but couldn’t find any online resources to guide him through the process. Along with co-founder Brian Stoner, he started working on a tool that could detect pitch and give users feedback on their playing, all with a beginner guitar player in mind. “[We designed it with] a total beginner in mind, assuming that the person in front of it may have never touched a guitar before, and not even understood the basics of how a guitar works,” Jennelle said in an interview.
Jennelle said they have a number of users testing out the platform, which as of today offers one full introductory course for beginners. Musicians can get started with Instinct using just their computer and an internet connection, guitar optional. After users choose their guitar-wielding avatar and tune their guitar using Instinct’s tuner they can start playing the beginner exercises, starting with Amazing Grace. Users can play along with the step-by-step visual demonstrations using a real guitar, or on their computer with a “virtual guitar.” As people play along, Instinct “listens” via a computer’s microphone, and provides real-time feedback.
The introductory course has eight units, with several mini lessons in each one, outlining everything from learning how to play Amazing Grace and La Cucaracha, to learning about strings, frets, and open position. While right now the tool is designed for beginners, Jennelle said they will eventually be adding more content for intermediate and advanced players, and want to target guitar players of any skill level.
The platform also adds an element of gamification, giving each musician points based on the levels and exercises they’ve completed, and displaying a leaderboard of who has the most points. Players are awarded points based on rhythm, accuracy and completeness, though scores are only saved when users play along with a real guitar.
The company has seed funding from investors including DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg. While Jennelle said there are several possibilities for driving revenue, from charging for each unit to charging for premium content upgrades, they haven’t settled on a monetization strategy yet. “There are a lot of options, it’s straightforward how one could charge for an app that teaches music,” Jennelle said. “I don’t really like the way I’ve seen other people doing it, so it’s still an open question for us.”
There are other companies trying to replace or augment the role of a music teacher, namely Chromatik’s web and iPad app, which is targeted at music students, teachers, and professional musicians, and partnered with American Idol earlier this year. And there’s Rock Prodigy, which offers a $29.99 iOS app for learning guitar, but requires an app download as opposed to just a browser like Instinct. Despite similar goals, Jennelle believes that Instinct wins out when it comes to teaching true beginners. “We’re really a learning tool, and I don’t think there’s anything out there that a beginner can really start from zero,” he said. “I think we’re the first that’s started to crack the nut of how you really teach people to play guitar.”
While Rock Prodigy already has the iOS market cornered, Jennelle said they’ll be looking to expand to other platforms down the road. They’ll also be branching out to other instruments, though they haven’t confirmed which one is next. Right now they don’t have a set launch date in mind, and they’ll be working on beefing up the content before they debut it publicly.
The company’s competition could be a bit more web 1.0 – for many, YouTube tutorials and old-fashioned music teachers might still remain the method of choice. But Jennelle said he doesn’t necessarily view Instinct as a replacement for traditional teaching methods, and says musicians can use it to supplement other teaching methods. “I’m a huge believer in the importance and the power of a human teacher,” he said. “There are certainly things you can only learn from an actual human being.”