Active Melody Review
Verdict and Review Summary
Though limited in scope, a highly-detailed and specialized approach by Brian Sherrill makes Active Melody optimal for those wanting to understand soloing structure, blues-based patterns, and the technical side of improvisation and application.
Parent article: Best Intermediate Guitar Lessons
Since I've started reviewing online guitar lessons, I've heard several people recommend Brian Sherrill's program, Active Melody. I finally got in touch with Brian and he was kind enough to set me up with a membership to his site for a full Active Melody review. It allowed me to experience the benefits of a premium membership from a first-hand perspective. In this review, I want to give you a picture of what having an Active Melody membership is like. Here's a quick screen grab of me logging into the site, so you can be sure I've actually used a full membership:
As with all our guitar lesson resource reviews, I sat down with my guitar and actually worked through the material before any writing took place.
As a result: This Active Melody review is thorough and genuine.
For a quicker answer (should you prefer it), I've summarized the entire program via our ratings system for online guitar lessons below. If you'd like to explore other programs, I'd recommend checking out our roundup of best online guitar lessons here.
Point Value (weight)
Active Melody Score
1. Content Quantity
2. EDU Quality
2. Topical Order
3. Concept Coverage
4. Song Section
n/a (not weighted)
7. Video Player
8. Site Design/Navigation
Compare to Similar Programs
My review will focus on the quality of the website itself, the educational content, ease of learning, presentation, and the value of a full access membership. And while grading a program like this is somewhat contextual (subjective), it's important to mention that I'm also going to paint a picture of the ideal Active Melody member.
In what situations would it be most beneficial? Who would be likely to enjoy or get the most out of an Active Melody membership? At the end of my Active Melody review, feel free to submit questions about the programs to the comments section and I can either get you in touch with Brian directly or help you out myself.
Let's get started.
Site Design and User Experience
In terms of usability, my initial impression of the Active Melody website was quite good.
There aren't many elements to navigate through, so browsing the site feels smooth and un-intrusive with only a handful of components that bid for your attention. In terms of design, it's one of the more minimalist guitar lesson sites I've used.
To find lessons and content you have two primary options:
- View All Guitar Lessons
- My Account Menu Item/My Courses
Let's first look at the "View All Guitar Lessons" section and see what material we can access from there.
View All Guitar Lessons Page
This part of Active Melody houses almost the entire video library, allowing you to browse content via the search bar or by categories which populate the left side of the screen. A listing of videos makes up the main body of content.
These elements are labeled in the following screenshot:
The breadth of content included in each category - and overall from a topic and style perspective - is somewhat limited. Since Active Melody is run solely by Brian, its volume of content isn't as large as other sites, hovering in the 300 to 400 video range (as of June 2019).
However, Sherrill does release new educational guitar lessons every Friday.
Expect to see longer videos that go more in-depth with a single idea as opposed to a higher number of videos on multiple topics.
Sherrill is far more likely to drill down deeper in one spot, than to setup drills in additional locations.
We'll cover more on his teaching style later.
Sorting and Browsing Content
The newest lessons are displayed at the top of the "View All Guitar Lessons" page, per the following screenshot:
In total, you have three different ways to sort content in Active Melody:
- View All Lessons
- My Courses
All three of these sections use the same video lesson format, so let's take a look at the actual lesson pages and elements thereof.
Active Melody Lesson Pages
Each lesson page is setup with similar video and audio-based elements.
Sherrill actually provides a large portion of each lesson free, namely the embedded YouTube lesson.
In the screen shot below - taken in a private browser - you can see that the YouTube video is available while all additional content is blurred out (including the Vimeo embed below that you can't see). Once I logged in with my premium membership, those additional elements were accessible.
Here's a quick summary of free and restricted elements:
Free Content Available to Everyone
- YouTube video embed (usually part I of each lesson)
- Text explanation
Premium Content Available Only to Members
- Vimeo video embed
- SoundSlice tab viewer
- Streamable and downloadable MP3 files
While Brian's YouTube videos are helpful and often quite long (most run between 10 and 20 minutes) they're essentially the only pieces of content available to free users. Everything else is considered premium content and only accessible to paying members. Most of the premium Vimeo embeds are slowed-down demonstrations of the licks or some form of expansion on material covered in the YouTube video, which can be valuable follow-ups.
This brings up a pertinent question:
Is the additional content worth the cost of an Active Melody membership?
Active Melody Cost and Value
In keeping with smaller scale sites like Guitar Gate and Fender Play, Sherrill prices his premium membership at only $10 a month or $69 per year. At these prices, the supplemental content he provides, which includes all of the "My Courses" material, is a fantastic value.
As I alluded to previously:
Active Melody is particularly useful for those interested in blues lead, improvisation techniques, and lead guitar patterns. Sherrill specializes in these areas, which means guitar players interested in those topics will see more value in a premium membership.
If that's not what you're most interested in, Active Melody - though good - is probably not your most ideal option, simply because Sherrill doesn't touch on other styles.
This doesn't mean his content is bad or incomplete.
He's simply focusing on what he knows best.
If that's not what you're trying to learn, the value of a premium membership drops significantly.
Video and Lesson Page
Considering Sherrill is operating Active Melody largely on his own (or at least appears to be), the amount of content he gets onto each lesson page is remarkable.
Depending on the scope of a given lesson, you'll have all or some of the following content:
- Multiple videos
- Title and text description
- Downloadable tablature (PDF file)
- Downloadable MP3s (usually backing tracks)
- Tab viewer app (Soundslice)
It's a lot.
I'd also have to compliment the design and flow of lesson pages, as they all feel minimal and "clean" while still providing opportunities for user engagement.
The following screen shots have each element labeled:
Again, not every video has all of these elements.
They show up when and where they're useful/applicable.
You get the sense that Sherrill puts a lot of work into each lesson, providing (what I assume are) original backing tracks and complex licks for each example. Like his teaching style, the contents of his lesson pages are thorough and specific.
Let's talk more about Sherrill's teaching style.
Brian Sherrill's Teaching Style
In Brian's own words, Active Melody has very specific goals about what it wants to teach you:
"...helping people understanding the mental aspect of visualizing chord shapes and how they connect to scales." Brian Sherrill - Founder of Active Melody
Sherrill's goal is to teach you how to understand chord patterns, scale shapes, and how the two connect, which then leads you into improvisation.
Furthermore, he's intentional about addressing depth within each individual lesson:
"Each lesson is really a mini-course with all of the background information you need to be able to understand what is happening." - Sherrill
It doesn't take long to discern that Sherrill's background is blues and improvised lead technique. This is a huge part of what he teaches, evident even in his beginner material that might be more broadly applicable to other styles.
While it's fair to say that those looking for other styles are going to have a hard time finding a ton of material to work with, Sherrill's knowledge of the topics he does cover is thorough and extensive. He is extremely helpful and effective when it comes to explaining them.
Here are three angles I frequently noticed him taking:
- Focus on position-based lead guitar (scale segments/shapes)
- Intricate explanation of blues soloing technique and movements
- Extended time spent on explaining and applying short scale segments
These are some of the specifics you can expect to see a lot of in most Active Melody content.
Speaking more generally, Sherrill is just a really good speaker and teacher.
In some respects, he's similar to Justin Sandercoe of Justinguitar.
He's patient with topics, comfortable in front of the camera, an engaging speaker, and quite evidently comfortable with the subject matter.
Video production is also solid, providing multiple camera angles in HD, with good lighting that looks professionally done, even on the YouTube side.
Sherrill is also extremely detailed in his explanations of riffs and licks, going note-by-note in most cases and leaving no aspect unaddressed.
Since Sherrill's methodology relies so heavily on improvisation, he'll frequently dissect a particular scale pattern and show you how to develop that pattern into some kind of lead melody or solo segment. This means that a lot of what you do during his program is application, as opposed to topical learning.
If you're trying to get good at blues and improve your ability to improvise on the fly, this is an incredibly effective teaching method.
The My Courses Section: More Members-Only Content
With a free account the "My Courses" section I mentioned earlier is not available to you.
This is a more organized, chronologically listed grouping of three courses, titled as follows:
- Beginner Guitar Course
- Blues Lead Guitar Course
- Hendrix Style Rhythm Course
All of this is Vimeo-hosted premium content, which is available under the "My Account" menu section for logged in members:
Each course is broken up into modules, meant to be following in order, as in the following screenshot:
Modules go into a fair amount of depth, with long videos that have plenty of thorough explanation from Sherrill. However, there are some curious arrangement of topics, depending on where you look.
For example, in the beginner's course:
We see an "Overview of Hammer-ons and Pull-offs" in Module Two before we cover "holding a pick" and "single notes" in Module three. Though as we saw in the previous examples, each lesson is packed with a ton of explanation and demonstration.
Within each course video, you have basic "Mark as Completed" progress tracking as well.
Where applicable, you'll notice a familiar offering of additional video instruction, downloadable MP3s, and the tab viewer app.
Again, I have to come back to the stylistic limitations here. While the beginner course touches on most of what I would expect, there are only two follow-up courses on very specific topics, namely blues lead and Hendrix rhythm.
I asked Brian about this and he told me he does have five new courses in the works that will cover additional concepts.
For now, I can only recommend becoming a paying customer if those areas of study are of particular interest to you.
Active Melody Social Proof
Sherrill's current system seems to follow a pattern of publishing to the Active Melody YouTube channel, then creating supplemental content for that YouTube lesson which goes up on his site weekly.
His YouTube channel alone had over 231,000 subscribers at the time of my Active Melody review:
His Facebook page offers similar social proof:
In terms of negative feedback, I wasn't able to find anything substantive or even nit-picking. Sherrill's YouTube following seems to be a combination of both paying members and those just browsing his free content.
It's not unusual to see people recommending his paid program:
There are certainly limitations to an Active Melody membership.
As I've pointed out several times already, your style and genre interests will have a lot to say about whether or not you can get value out of the program.
But I would advise at least checking out the free content, either on Active Melody directly or on the Active Melody YouTube channel. Both are exceptionally good resources and are well put together.
Overall, Sherrill's teaching style is strong and his content gets good marks in the following areas:
- Video production
- Teaching ability
- Topical comprehension
If you're looking to improve your ability to improvise, especially in the context of blues, funk, or jazz, Active Melody's $10 a month price tag is a great value.