Updated by Bobby
Updated on October 3rd, 2023
The big update here is that JamPlay has been acquired by TrueFire and all the content has been absorbed into their program. This review, and the information thereof, is going to be left up for reference, but links now lead to TrueFire's dashboard and home page. If you have questions, let me know in the comments section.
Verdict and Summary
A playground for those looking to expand their guitar skill-set, JamPlay excels in concept coverage, instructor gravitas, and niche-topic/style learning depth.
While it's similar to Guitar Tricks, and built on a familiar course structure, we believe JamPlay effectively serves a very different type of guitar player. Briefly: Where Guitar Tricks is well-suited for the beginner to early intermediate player, JamPlay is more optimal for those on the high intermediate to advanced end of the spectrum who want to expand their skills and perhaps delve into additional genres of music.
This means that we don't recommend both (Guitar Tricks and JamPlay) to everyone. To help inform you about what to expect from a JamPlay membership, we've put this review together to illustrate what makes JamPlay unique and where its strengths and weaknesses can be found. Once you have that information, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it will work for you.
Compare JamPlay to Similar Programs
JamPlay (now part of TrueFire)
IDEAL FOR: Intermediate players, exploring different genres of music, focusing on single courses, and getting access to a wider range of teachers.
- Lots of topics covered
- Popular artists and teachers brought in to teach specific courses
- Exposure to a wide range of teachers for single topics
- Lots of learning paths you can take
- Sales and deals, especially for yearly memberships, tend to be very generous
- A little less beginner-focused than Guitar Tricks
- Learning paths aren't always super straightforward
- TrueFire Free Trial (14 days)
- Monthly Membership Price: $29
- Yearly Membership Price: $249
- New content produced: Weekly and Monthly
We'll start with a broad look at how the material is organized. JamPlay breaks their content down into four categories, spread across four phases, where genre and skill-specific lessons are "sorta" grouped together:
- Beginner Lessons
- Genre Lessons and Skill Building Lessons
- Song Lessons
All of the videos and pages on their site are accessible across multiple devices, including iOS and Android powered phones or tablets. They offer support for Chromecast as well. Just for your own reference, we conducted this review on a 27" iMac in Chrome and Firefox browser environments.
Most of their hallmark features are attributable to the video-based content, with a list of specs that's comparable to Guitar Tricks' setup. Slow motion and A-B looping are helpful video tools, while you also have progress tracking built throughout the site. We'll get deeper into JamPlay's features as we go on.
The signup process for JamPlay is lengthy, though more focused and comprehensive than something like Fender Play. It's clear when going through JamPlay's signup that this is an involved and thorough learning experience, whereas Fender Play simply asks you a couple broad and pedestrian questions, claiming it will "customize" your experience. JamPlay's questionnaire doesn't make any claim of customization, but is still fairly thorough.
After you go through the above questions, JamPlay will give you the opportunity to add some information about your playing goals and how much time you intend to practice.
The last section allows you to setup a profile, all of which is optional information. Though it is fun to list your favorite bands and your gear, which is sort of a right-of-passage if you plan to use JamPlay's forum or social-based features.
While this information doesn't really play into your experience using JamPlay, it does come off as sincere and is actually helpful to think about before you sign up. Once you're signed up and able to login we can start going through the home screen and some of what's available to you via the main menu.
Home Screen and Menu
JamPlay's home screen isn't as nice as the Guitar Tricks interface. It's also a little more difficult to navigate at first, depending on how familiar you are with the site. There's a menu bar with Lessons, Tools and other content-related categories, then you have the body of the page with upcoming content like live courses, Q&A and a news section. It definitely has a distinctly interactive and "live" feel to it.
Scrolling down reveals some additional content that, again, seems to indicate that JamPlay is more focused on spot-training and advanced topics. Expressive acoustic guitar and pentatonic personalities were both standalone content we noticed that didn't seem to be part of a wider section of material.
The bottom of the home page has a section for your progress report and your "playlist" which is an area where you can save specific lessons that you might want to come back to. In this regard, you do have some customization power over your home page.
We can't help but be a little disappointed by the homepage's strange prioritization of content. We'd much rather see lessons, categories or even a breakdown of the program's four phases.
Getting to the four phases, which makeup the meat of JamPlay's content, is actually a fairly obscure exercise from here. Then again, that's a user interface and optics issue, not a problem with the content itself. In the following graph you can see how JamPlay's educational content stacks up against similar programs, second only to Guitar Tricks:
The following chart addresses broad content quality, which we use to measure a guitar lesson program quality in a more broad context. How much material do they have? How well is it all presented and how easy is it to access?
Starting the Lessons
You'll need to scroll to the top of the page and hover over the "Lessons" menu item which will drop down to four phases and five additional categories, just like below:
From here, you can select one of the following four phases, per the earlier graphic that left out the songwriting section.
- Phase 1: Beginners
- Phase 2: Genres & Skills
- Phase 3: Songs
- Phase 4: Songwriting
Once you click on a phase you'll be taken to a sort of "parent" page where content is sorted by instrument and instructor. For each instructor you have a series and for each series you have a number of lessons. For example, Chris Liepe's beginner electric guitar series is a course made up of 23 lessons and 376 minutes of material.
The only thing we don't like about this page is that listing each series by instructor and a single topic (beginner acoustic guitar lessons) makes it really hard to tell what each series is going to cover.
You can tell that each instructor is covering the topic from their own unique angle with their own set of content. Yet it's all under the banner of a similar topic. It would be really nice to know more detail about what each instructor is covering or at least what kind of angle they're taking. Not a deal breaker, but something we can see improving for the beginner's section in the future.
Getting into a Particular Lesson
Once you choose a lesson (or browse through a few to see what they actually cover) you'll end up on a page like the one below, that shows you each lesson in the series, what it covers and how much time it takes to watch:
In this example we've gone to Phase 1 Beginner Electric Guitar and are now set to tackle Lesson 1: Series Intro - Guitar Parts and Tuning. When you click on one of the lessons, you'll be taken to a screen that is similar to the following screen shot, where you'll actually watch the content.
This is where JamPlay does tremendously well.
Content is further broken down into "scenes" which means you don't have to watch one 30 or 45 minute video. Included are the video feature we mentioned earlier, your progress tracker (on the left side of the screen) and supplemental written content below the video.
In many cases you'll have backing tracks included as supplemental or downloadable content.
The videos themselves are HD and professionally-shot through multiple camera angles that always provide you a view of the instructor's face.
Each instructor has their own unique personality and take on the material, which is really allowed to come through despite a somewhat scripted presentation. It doesn't feel nearly as canned as Guitar Tricks and does a good job of making you feel a little less like you're just staring at a screen.
You'll quickly notice a more conversational and informal tone, which feels really welcoming. The personalities are also widely diverse, with over 80 instructors having contributed material to the JamPlay database.
Getting back to the lesson material: To access supplemental content and the notes for each lesson, simply click on the "Supplemental" button underneath your video player.
Some additional tweaking options include changing the theme and hiding or collapsing the progress tracker.
As we mentioned, the JamPlay experience gets really solid once you're able to explore some of the lessons and use the video player section. They do a great job of packing a ton of information into each series, with a unique, yet nuanced take coming from each individual instructor.
Content isn't quite as organized or uniform as others, but that almost plays to JamPlay's strength since they're able to field such a diverse roster of talented instructors and such a wide range of topics. Especially if you already know what you want to learn, it's a great setup. We gave JamPlay an 89 for topical ordering and organization, which you can compare to other programs in the following chart:
Navigating More Lessons: Genre and Skill
If you want to go to a different series or instructor, your best bet is to backtrack to the parent phase page. All the material is structured the same way with different instructors addressing different topics.
For example, in the series below the instructor is covering a bunch of introductory guitar pedal info.
With this in mind, it can be helpful to go over a number of different series within a single category (remember we started in "beginner electric guitar") and figure out what courses you want to focus on.
Once you understand how series are spread out within a given category, and you get familiar with the instructors, the design is fairly intuitive and straightforward. You'll find some instructors you like, some you don't, and start to build a routine as you use the site.
Advanced & Genre Specific Lessons
Everything in phase one is what JamPlay would categorize as beginner material. Phase 2 is where they house all advanced and genre specific lessons, effectively breaking the difficulty levels up into just those two phases (Phase 1 and Phase 2). The navigation for Phase 2 is better, with everything sectioned off into some distinctly nuanced genre sections.
This is where we get courses devoted to Flamenco guitar, surf and even an acoustic rock section. The skill section is broken up in a similar manner, but let's take a look at the genre pages first.
Notice on the top right-hand side of the following screenshot, you can select between genre or skill-based lessons which will be sorted accordingly.
Clicking on any category will drop down courses and instructors that are significantly more descriptive than the material in the beginner's section. There's also a related lessons section with series that seem to be pulling from the "Artist Studies" section.
The skill building section gives you a unique set of options, if not somewhat oddly categorized. For example, you've got a section for both "Speed & Technique" and "Helpers & Tips," the latter of which mentions several technique-related topics.
There's also two sections for lead and rhythm guitar, where the lead section could easily include plenty of technique.
It's just a little hard to tell what's going to be under each category, though this is easily remedied by dropping down each section. In other words, labeling could be better, but it doesn't prevent you from finding what you're looking for. It might just take a few more click.
It's important to note that most of these courses are meant to be taken as singular entities. For example, the "Power Picking" course with 31 lessons is an autonomous series of lessons, without any explicit prerequisites or follow ups. In some cases, this can make picking an order between courses more difficult but, as we mentioned previously, JamPlay is most optimally designed for someone who knows what they want to learn ahead of time.
These are specific goals within a given category, and not necessarily a chronological ordering of topics.
Song Learning Section
Labeling the song section "Phase 3" gives off the vibe that it should come after Phase 1 and 2, which is not the case. Learning songs can act as a supplement to either beginner, intermediate or advanced lessons. It's similar to the Guitar Tricks song section in that everything is broken down by artist, with a skill-level indicator and an instructor devoted to each piece.
It's simple to navigate, with a sortable table that includes the artist, song title, teacher, genre and skill level. There's also a spot for your progress tracker.
JamPlay's extensive roster of instructors really shows through in this section, as they've even been able to utilize some of the actual artists for these songs. Staind's Mike Mushok teaches all the Staind songs, while Tosin Abassi tutors you through some Animals as Leaders tunes. There are a handful of other guest instructors that includes Lita Ford, Phil Keaggy and Tony MacAlpine.
The interface for the song lessons is setup exactly like the other sectuins, with multiple camera angles, supplemental material and your progress tracker. Backing audio is available for most songs and the tutorial level is 100 percent complete, down to every last note and nuance of the song, at least for the songs we went through.
The multitude of camera angles becomes even more helpful in the song lessons, with looks from the guitarist's viewpoint, the right hand and left hand. Once you toggle the supplemental material, you'll have a full score (sheet music) and tab sheet to work with, as well as audio backing tracks and even Guitar Pro files that you can download and use with the software.
It's an incredibly complete and well-put together resource for learning songs. And while they don't have as many songs as Guitar Tricks, their song lesson content is an area where they start to make a really strong case for their program.
Below you'll find our ratings for the song lesson section of similar programs. JamPlay is firmly in the top three, while an argument could be made for putting it above Justinguitar's song lessons.
Cost and Value
Since we've reviewed and tested so many guitar lesson programs (in addition to JamPlay) we can use the ratings we've put together and the approximate cost of each program to get an idea of the value presented by each one. In other words, you want lower cost and a higher overall rating. If we plot those two numbers together in a simple graph, we can see how JamPlay's value stacks up against other programs. We'll do the monthly price first:
We can repeat the process with yearly costs, which gives us a little more of a definitive graph to work with:
JamPlay's problems are almost entirely limited to design and navigation issues, which can be problematic for beginners who are looking for a more clear and identifiable topical order. If that's your situation, we'd be much quicker to recommend Guitar Tricks and their Core Learning System, which is all very clearly ordered in more of a step-by-step manner.
However, JamPlay does an extremely good job in primarily two areas:
- Depth of topical coverage
- Breadth of instructor input and genre/skill coverage
What JamPlay covers, they cover at length and in depth. Moreover, with 80 different instructors they're able to traverse a wide range of genres and skills. It's really a remarkable accomplishment that they've been able to cover so much material at such advanced levels after having gotten started in 2006. For comparison, Guitar Tricks has been around since 1998.
This is why we like JamPlay for the intermediate to advanced player who knows exactly what they want to study. Chances are, JamPlay will have it, similar to how we feel about TrueFire.
Here's the context/situation we'd recommend if you're going to sign up:
- You already know (within reason) what topics or genres of music you want to study
- You aren't concerned with being guided through topic-by-topic
- You're a self-starter who prefers the ability to jump around and "hoe their own road."
Some people want the guidance of a step-by-step plan, while others want to go more in-depth with more specific topics. JamPlay definitely tends to build knowledge vertically, while Guitar Tricks builds more of a horizontal plan to "touch on" as much as possible.
If you fit one or more of the three descriptors above, JamPlay is going to be a good and affordable fit for you.
To conclude our JamPlay review, we recommend giving the trial a shot and seeing for yourself.