Sonora Guitar Intensive Review
Verdict and Review Summary
While employing an incredibly effective teaching method, based on the four primary scale systems (major, melodic, harmonic minor, harmonic major), Sonora has built one of the most solid intermediate programs we've ever tried, with a ton of value for beginner and advanced skill levels as well. Only the price limits its accessibility, though it may still be worth it.
Sonora is one of the more comprehensive online guitar programs we've reviewed, incorporating software, feedback from tutors, and a unique learning system they've developed in-house. While it's marketed to intermediate players, it's accessible to any musician and helpful at all skill levels.
Through a clear, repeating pattern of explanation, demonstration, application, and feedback - Sonora Guitar intensive does a tremendous job at keeping you engaged and learning.
The only downside?
It's also the most expensive program we've ever reviewed, requiring you to be absolutely sure it's the route you want to go.
To help you out, we went in for a long-term test of Sonora (several weeks worth) to take a look under the hood and see if it's the right fit for you. Let's jump into our Sonora review.
Compare with Similar Programs
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Sonora Guitar Review Quick Hits
- Total videos: Not known
- Format: Streamable, instructional, interactive
- Ideal Skill Level: Intermediate
- Ideal Musical Style: Applies to all
- Released in: 2019
- Guitar type: Any
- Kid friendly? Yes
IDEAL FOR: Social, intermediate players who want to push themselves into more creative spaces and get some 1-on-1 mentoring through the learning process.
Addressing Price and Basic Format
Sonora uses video, software, accelerated learning tech, a spaced repetition algorithm, and dynamic practice plans to teach. Videos are streamed, as you would from most other guitar lesson sites, though it is integrated with the aforementioned software and Soundslice. All of this material is on top of an assigned tutor that you get if you sign up for the mentored version of the program. This tutor provides daily direct feedback on your playing and helps you through the content as a 1-on-1 mentor.
If you don't sign up for the mentor program, you can still ask questions in a group setting via a weekly Q and A class.
- Mentored program: 1-on-1 tutoring style access
- Non-mentored (group) program: Still ask questions in weekly Q&A session
It's one of the few programs that have integrated this type of learning online, and the only one we've seen implement it to this degree. Let's talk about the pricing.
Cost and Value
Here are your options for using the Sonora program:
- 7-day free trial (grace period afforded to all users)
- Upfront payment of $1975 for lifetime access (payment plans available) for the non-mentor version
- Mentored version pricing is uniquely design for individuals and varies depending on the education and financial needs
With a shorter trial period, Sonora does make it extremely easy to cancel. Note the red "CANCEL" option below:
As you can see, this is easy to cancel, though you will be charged - either monthly for five months or upfront - once the seven days are up.
While it's understandable that people might be hesitant about the price point, you have to keep in mind that you're in part, hiring a mentor to help you improve - or at least paying for lifetime access to weekly Q&A sessions with a master teacher. It's not just the material you get, but the expertise of some incredible musicians that will be directly available to you.
For this to be worth it to you, I would argue you should be prioritizing the following:
- Social/feedback-oriented learning
- Intentional study
- Helps to be extroverted
- Studying jazz is a bonus, but the method can be applied to virtually any style of music
How does it all fit together?
The cadence of the Sonora program - as we'll detail more in the next section - follows a pattern of video explanation, practice, and then mentor feedback, if you've purchased a mentor membership. Again, if you go with the non-mentor membership, that feedback comes in the weekly Q and A. Either way, I'd argue that's a big part of what you're paying for here, so if you don't take advantage of it, it's hard to justify the price tag.
- Video explanation (topic)
- Practice (application)
- Feedback and review (reinforcement)
I'll touch on some of this material in the next section, since the course begins with a thorough explanation of the learning philosophy and learning process behind the Sonora program.
The Learning Process
The first few sections of the Sonora program are focused on explaining how you learn in their guitar lessons. This covers things like accelerated learning, the deconstruction process, how we retain information, and deliberate practice. While these might be foreign concepts to you, and not unique to learning guitar, they're extremely helpful to learn up front because of how the course works.
It might be a bit weird to not pick up a guitar for a while, but it's worth your time to settle in and listen through these early lessons which are mostly verbal explanation.
In early lessons, the learning process is explained using concepts that are also used to describe the process of learning language, like in the graph below:
The material goes on to explain concepts like the deconstruction process and how interviewing questions can help to identify where you should focus time and energy.
As I was going through the material, it occurred to me that it was the absolute and complete opposite of Fender Play. All of the foundation of how you'll learn is being laid up front, as well as a rationale for the theory that you're about to be introduced to.
It's also just a generally solid look at how we learn, how our brains work, and how we retain information.
Spencer Handley and the people that put this course together have done a tremendous job of getting their learning science down on paper and putting it to work for people that want to learn guitar.
Overall, it's an extremely rare and unique teaching approach that helps you learn the fretboard in a fundamentally different way.
The Four Primary Scale Systems
This all leads you to the idea of deliberate practice, where the time you spend practicing is optimized around the four primary scale systems:
- The Major Scale System
- The Melodic Minor System
- The Harmonic Minor System
- The Harmonic Major System
Here's the slide from that section of the course:
While Spencer is usually talking through the material, guitarist Ila Cantor handles most of the demonstrations. The videos are professionally shot and the script seems to have been written ahead of time.
Here's a screen grab of one of Ila's earlier videos:
Videos have a calm and relaxing feel to them, and the concepts that Ila covers are applicable to a wide range of musical genres. In other words, you won't study a specific style as much as you'll study structures that allow you to improve in any style.
Most of the content has you playing with a metronome, which is an important part of the program's teaching model.
Ila will show you things like playing behind or in front of a beat, and how to use the metronome to your advantage during practice sessions.
There's a pretty wide variation in timing between videos, with some running just a couple minutes and others running north of 10 minutes.
All of the content is extremely easy to navigate.
Sonora's Teaching Pattern
You'll notice that the Sonora program is really intentional about how they pattern their lessons. The basic structure is that you have a concept explained to you, then you get to try that concept yourself.
In other words, introduce a topic and then let the student (you) apply/practice it.
Sonora's custom learning software bakes in many of the concepts from accelerated learning, such as spaced repetition and feedback loops, allowing you to submit as many videos as you'd like to your mentor if you choose to do so. This element is optional but, again, a significant part of the material.
Most of the application lessons function in the same way. They're refreshingly simple, showing you an example of the concept being covered. This is usually a pattern that you'll play through, as in the following screenshots:
All of these lessons have tabs and sheet music from a Soundslice embed, which is a fantastic tool and our preferred method of displaying tablature. We always like to give guitar lesson sites credit when they implement Soundslice.
This makes it easy to slow things down, speed up, and displays content in tandem with the video as it is played.
These lessons don't force you to play the material (you could continue on without actually working through it), but they assume you're able to at least attempt and practice the pattern where you can get through it without too many mistakes.
As you practice these patterns, you'll start to see the concepts explained earlier make sense.
The pieces of the puzzle will start to come together.
As you get into concepts like triads, patterns become a bit more difficult, as in the following screenshot:
As difficulty steadily increases, you'll notice your familiarity with the fretboard improves as well, while the overall puzzle will continue to make more sense and come into clearer view.
The Modifications Feature
Any time you have an exercise with tabs and sheet music, you should see the "modifications" icon available.
When you click on the modifications button, it'll give you the following options for modifying the exercise you see on the right side of the page.
- Right hand
- Time feel
Here's a screengrab that shows a few of those options:
Once you select one of these, you'll be greeted with a page that shows a handful of variations of the exercise from that particular lesson.
Each section has its own video. In the example I'm using, Ila walks you through the modification and explains it quite thoroughly.
It doesn't change the SoundSlice tab, but it does give you a different method of approaching and continuing to build patterns in your mind.
Here's the section for subdivision mods for the same lesson.
These lesson mods dramatically increase the amount of time you could potentially spend in each lesson. With each section providing multiple videos, it almost makes the parent lessons a mini course, within itself.
Don't view the modifications as something you must get through, but instead something that you can do to help get a more full and clear picture of the pattern you're studying.
It seems to be designed with a lot of intentionality, to be applicable to a wide range of styles and not necessarily for a static goal.
Sonora Live Q&A Lessons
In this section, I'll cover my experience watching some of the live Q&A lessons.
The live lessons are hosted by Ila and are rewatchable on a premium Vimeo account.
These are usually a Q&A format where Ila and/or Spencer will answer questions about the Sonora Guitar Intensive program or things that students might be working on with their mentors.
It's certainly a communal experience, ideal for those that thrive in a more extroverted learning environment.
Members ask questions about material that is in the course, things they're struggling with, and overall questions of clarity.
Again, it's not for those that don't really value the classroom experience.
Because this is - in every sense - a classroom. You have a teacher, students, and the ability to interact with one another just like you would in a formal music class.
What might make it even more helpful would be if Ila actually sat in front of a markerboard and explained things a little more visually, though she usually demonstrates directly on guitar, which is also quite helpful.
If you do sign up, I'd recommend taking advantage of these sessions as they're a big part of the interaction and community that you're paying to be a part of.
The Meta Narrative of Sonora
Sonora is designed to help you learn guitar from a high level viewpoint.
This means you won't focus on a particular style of music, a weird tuning, or technique specific to a genre of music.
Instead, you're going to be working on learning guitar in a way that you can then apply to any musical style. Jazz guitar players have just as much to benefit from this program as metal and hard rock fans.
It's structural and not topical.
Think about the difference between learning algorithms/data structures and learning how to code a particular program.
- Algorithms and data structure: Learn the underlying concepts and logic that allow you to write programs in any language
- Coding a dice roll program: Learn the steps necessary for one particular coding goal
Sonora is the algorithm and data structure approach, and we think it's executed extremely well. Instead of focusing on specific tasks, they give you the underlying concepts in a way that frees you to work in any subsequent musical style.
The Ideal Sonora Context
While Sonora is primarily marketed to intermediate guitar players, we'd recommend the program to just about anyone. Perhaps for complete beginners it's not the most ideal place to start, but they do offer a prep course to help beginners get ready for the program.
If you're a social learner that prefers to work with a tutor, the mentor version of Sonora is going to be a fantastic option for you, especially since the price includes feedback from the program's mentors, who are well-known and respected industry musicians and educators.
People who enjoy interacting to learn and want a form of feedback will appreciate that aspect of the program a lot, making the price of admission well worth it.
Your Questions and Comments
Do you have questions about our Sonora review or about the program overall?
If so, drop us a line in the comments section below. If I can't answer the question for you, I can definitely put you in touch with someone who can.
Sonora is a fantastic program, but it's definitely a commitment that you shouldn't make unless you're totally invested in the guitar, and you know what you're getting into. Getting your questions answered is a critical part of that process.
We'll see you there.
what is my best bang for buck for learning as a beginner. do not yet have guitar, (considering fender telecaster(simple, reliable, sturdy, good)). i have seen some tab learning systems, wondering if some free/low cost systems that i can use at my own pace- books, videos, etc. prefer something w. proper ergonomics/biomechanics(not using bad, bizarre tech of thumb on fretboard, etc.). noticed ila uses classical guitar foot pedal for practice. i am not working due to health issues, so i def. need best bang for buck.
thanks. t: )
Bobby Kittleberger says
Hey Tom. I would probably start with Justinguitar since all his stuff is free and well organized. From there you could jump into Guitar Tricks if you wanted to level things up.
I spoke with an adviser this week and was quoted $13.8K for the full program. It was nowhere near the $5,800 that others have been talking about.
Bobby Kittleberger says
$13.8K????? Holy freaking smokes.
$13 thousand. No way. Try 52 week guitar player with Brandon Deon. It’s $2400 and not open again until June 2023. Ge only takes 100 students at a time.
Thank you for the thorough review.
I’m quite interested in joining but there’s one information I can’t find and it’s key for me: how much time will I have to dedicate daily?
I work 9-6 and am a father of 3….. if it means I’ll need 2 hours a day every day, even 1 full hour commitment daily it might be challenging for me.
Bobby Kittleberger says
Hey Felipe – I am not totally sure, though I think it can be at your own pace. I’d check with their support folks on this.
Looks like the price is now $5,800.
$500 off the top if you took the prep class. They are willing to work with you on financing, sorta, kinda. Is it worth it?
My theory knowledge is there, but probably would be considered on the low end. My ability to play is intermediate .
My available time is also not what I’d like it to be. I could find the time but it wouldn’t be that easy
When taking private lessons my issue seems to be application.
My goal is to add fills, play chords all over the fret board. In general find my way around the fretboard with ease.
Once again I wonder is it worth it.
Higher pressure sales.
Do I need all the scales and theory to achieve my goal?
Bobby Kittleberger says
Honestly, Kathy – I’d probably say it’s not worth it. It’s a good program, truly. But I think the price is just too high. It doesn’t seem like a high-overhead operation, so I think they’d do better if they just lowered it.
Any updates on the cost of the Sonora program? Is it still $3,200 a $5,000?
Bobby Kittleberger says
I haven’t gotten any updates, and I know they try to avoid making dollar amounts easy to find. Under their course for intermediates, they actually list the price as dependent on educational needs and ask you to apply for a quote.
These are good folks, but they really need to drop the price or come up with a new pricing system.
I never felt any connection with the mentor. The mentors never take care of you because they are busy. there are just 30 minutes skype lessons every week.(12 weeks) Their website is only about triad inversion, some drop voicing inversion, and major scale position. You can learn these by yourself. Do not waste more than 5000 bucks here.
They should really consider a monthly subscription model. I would pay monthly for a service but gambling and blindly paying $2,000 up front for online lessons is a bit ridiculous. Also consider an option that does not have any group Q and A or interactive sessions for a lower price. Some people just want to go through the online content on their own especially more introverted people.
You’re singin’ my tune.
Do not waste your money and time on this website.
Why does buying this course feel like a gamble? That fact alone is disqualifying. If they had a quality product that justified its ludicrous price tag, they wouldn’t make you pay for at all at once.
They also delete negative comments on their social accounts. Very sort of icky in concert with their aggressive sails tactics and fake admissions process.
Lol, lots of spelling mistakes. But I stand by my remarks.
Hey Matt – I did not know that they’re deleting negative comments on social channels. I would certainly not endorse that policy. I’ve been through the content, and it’s good, but only worth the expensive admission in a limited context. Thanks for sharing your perspective.
I just signed up and am a few days in. I haven’t really seen anything too complicated for me, but I did already have the pentatonic scales well known, and also some basic piano/theory from my childhood. I can say that I am still intrigued with the course work after spending a couple of days on it. It looks well put together. I definitely find it better than what I spent my first year in guitar doing. Which was just watching Youtube videos and reading books. I do find some Youtubers very helpful, but I felt I needed something formally structured towards a clear objective, with real course work and a feel for accountability. I definitely don’t have the time or money for something like Berklee. I was spending $350 per month with live teachers who weren’t really structuring me anywhere. I think something like Sonora fits because it feels formal and efficient. I have made a decision to open a full understanding of the fretboard instead of just memorizing songs. My goal is to improvise on the guitar, which will also help me learn songs faster in the future. That direction definitely takes a certain discipline that I’ve had to come to terms with. I’d be glad to come back and post after a few months and post my progress. If I sound anything good, then it works, because I definitely don’t sound great right now.
Sounds like Sonora is going to be a good fit for you, Juan. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I believe you started in February 2022. Can you give an update on your experience a few months into Sonora?
Has it helped your playing?
Understading of music and the guitar?
Is it worth the money?
And one more thing. I’m not a person who has $5,000 to toss around. I really wanted to get better at guitar. Spencers ad video is just so convincing and I’m kind of gullible and trusting so when i spoke to the sales guy, who was very convincing and then took that ridiculous test, (much of which I got wrong or didn’t know) he still said it was a good program for me. I’m really angry that I spent that money for that and am basically only marginally better. Yes, I can go to the site and use it anytime but I don’t because I didn’t do well with it.
Hello Teresa. I wanted to ask if you still have access to the site. I saw your comment and thought I could try it out on your account if you don’t mind. The free trial period has ended.
I think it should be pointed out that this program is not for everyone regardless of financial resources. The nonstop scales are cumbersome and boring and I could never see where it was leading nor did I see a great deal of improvement on understanding where it was going. I would rate myself a 2 or 3 at the highest for every scale because that’s how well I thought I was doing. I certainly didn’t master it. So it would come up for me to practice every other day and that’s what I did every day. Practice those scales. Every day, after an hour I would put my guitar down feeling defeated. I began to dread practicing but I spent soo much money I felt I had to. I think it’s a particular personality style that this fits and a skill level. People like Spencer who are linear thinkers. AND people who are much more advanced. I was way too beginner but with the short little test I was told I was good enough for the program. Within moments of being in Ilas class, my eyes glazed over because I didn’t understand a word she said for the most part. I didn’t even understand the questions the other much more advanced players asked. I expressed my disdain but was assured that if I just did this or that, I would catch on and get better. I had a mentor but it just didn’t make it better. I couldn’t catch up. My daughter is a professional musician and graduated from Atlanta Institute of Music guitar program. She said she would have never been able to start learning that way and thought I got robbed.
So, I just wanted you to know that even though the program is designed well for some people, they will sell it to anyone and I came away feeling like a total failure. I hated it.
Sorry to hear about this, Teresa. Though I would agree – and pointed out – that Sonora is not the best option for total beginners.
I am a self taught guitarist who has played on and off for about 10 years from the age of 13-33. I have a pretty sound knowledge of theory. I know all the major scales and modes from Knowing the major scale inside and out vs memorizing TABS. I can build any chord from stacking intervals off a given scale. I can harmonize scales etc. My knowledge of progressions is not as up to par. That is one of the few things I am pointlessly memorizing. My main issue isn’t learning the material as much as it is USING the knowledge to make melodic compositions and learning to implement proper technique and avoid bad habits. For a player whose knowledge of theory is pretty adept but cannot properly implement said knowledge is this course a good fit? Or would it be a waste of time teaching a bunch of theory that is already known?
Brandon – I feel like this could be a little bit redundant for you, although they do go through a lot of material in the vein of applying what you know. Are there any other courses you’ve tried or tinkered with? I feel like TrueFire might be a better fit for your particular situation.
what is the cost of including a mentor along with the program?
Hey Mike – I’m honestly not sure because it varies and depends on your situation. I would recommend getting in touch with them and starting the dialogue. They can give you a more accurate price.
John Dermont says
Scholarships can be available for a significant discount.
Hey, so you mention the prep course but it doesn’t look like you’ve reviewed it. Is it something you’ve looked at/would recommend? I’m a total beginner and love an intensive-style environment and would love to learn a lot, quickly, but don’t know if the prep ($500) is worth the price.
Hey Eva – responded to your email as well, but I’ll report back here to in case other people are having the same question. Checking with Spencer to confirm the prep program. Thanks again for the comment.
Here are those links I sent you, Eva. The rest of my reply was via email. Thanks!
Spencer From Sonora says
The Prep program is 6 weeks with 3 live classes per week from an incredibly skilled instructor. We keep class sizes down to 30 students, so that each student gets the attention that they need. It’s a great fit for beginners and if you plan on enrolling in the core program afterwards, the tuition for prep is credited toward the core program so it’s effectively free. We’d love to see you in the program if it feels like the right thing for you.
How much is the core program? My focus is more on learning popular songs not to be a jazz musician. Will this help me in achieving my goal? I need to work on my rhythm guitar. I have done very little in terms of solos but I have learned the pentatonic scales and major scales.
Spencer from Sonora says
Hey Larry, the core program has different pricing depending on the level of one on one attention you receive from a dedicated mentor. On the low end it’s $1975 and includes all of the software, curriculum and lifetime access to our live group trainings.
To answer your question about fit, the program is a deep dive into all aspects of music through the lens of guitar, it will of course help you learn to play popular songs, but it will also unlock your ability to play just about anything you’d like to play. If you know your pentatonic and major scales you’re just about at the intermediate plateau and would probably thrive in the core program.
I would suggest at least applying to the program and speaking with one of our admissions counselor. They will help you get clear on your goals, see if it’s a good fit and answer any other questions you might have. You can do that here:
Wishing you all the best in your learning journey and looking forward to supporting you if Sonora feels like the program you’re seeking.
Does the software still cost 1975?
paul stephan says
I just went thru the ‘application’ process. It appears to now be priced at $5000 for intensive and $3200 for core (no mentor) and they offer up a $500 discount without asking. So now $2700 vs $1975. They will let you pay it out over 6-9 months but will accommodate 12 if you push.
Hope that helps!
Thanks, Paul. That’s helpful information.