TrueFire Review 2021: Does It Actually Work?

truefire review

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There are plenty of online guitar lessons and resources available to us in the modern era. There are also plenty of good reasons why people are turning towards online tuition over the real-world alternative.

As one of the oldest in existence, TrueFire has perfected their lesson delivery to a T and has one of the largest rosters of professional contributors going. Some of the more well-known names covering their curriculum might raise an eyebrow or two as well.

When it comes to teaching guitar online there are two main schools of thought, many are theory and technique based and others teach songs as standard. TrueFire’s focus is much more technique based and because of that they have a lot more content for the intermediate plus player, something that many apps and resources cop-out a little on.

That isn’t to say it is not for beginners, there is a ton of content for someone new to playing guitar with zero-knowledge. But, TrueFire’s biggest selling point is that the content is balanced at all playing levels so you really won’t tire of it anytime soon and it doesn’t eventually become obsolete.

The team behind it are so convinced they even sell a lifetime subscription option. So, let’s explore exactly what your money gets you in this TrueFire review!

TrueFire Overview

TrueFire is one of the world’s most comprehensive online guitar lesson platforms. It has over one million regular active users and is still going strong three decades after it was first launched in 1991.

With a long history, it has amassed almost 1,000 courses delivered by a wealth of professionals covering a wide variety of genres.

There are over 40,000 online guitar lessons, 30,000+ tabs/notation, 20,000+ jam tracks with new courses being added on a weekly basis.

Over the years they have developed a tried and tested format. The layout of the lessons allows you to pick and choose just how much depth you want to go into each subject.

TrueFire guitar lessons overview.

So whether you are a beginner that needs all the basics at a gentle pace with a linear and logically-lead learning curve, or ready to expand your knowledge then you are in luck.

TrueFire Guitar Lessons Breakdown

Interface

TrueFire’s interface is clutter-free and simple to navigate. You can use their website. It features professional-looking, clean-cut purple and black visually-driven aesthetics with an easy to browse slim menu bar at the top of the page. The most important of which will be the courses tab.

There is also a TrueFire core app for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

The main focus of each lesson page is an embedded video player. On the right-hand side of it, a lesson list is displayed as a side-bar. Any supplemental material fit for the lesson is located below the player where you will also find a description of the lesson itself and user comments where you can discuss with other learners.

A jam track and song tablature may also be provided depending on the level of learning and requirements.

For the most part, the video player is the company’s modern SoundSlice player that enables access to flexible speed controls and different visualization bars. It even provides interactive music notation when necessary.

However, some of the older content uses a more rudimentary player, the controls for which are a little more basic. You can play, rewind, forward, and loop sections and there are different speeds but it is not quite as adept. The newer player has relevant tablature moving in sync with the video playback.

TrueFire learning interface.
TrueFire learning interface.

The same can be said about video quality; the newer content is a higher definition, which is as to be expected. You can also tell that along the way the company has experimented but ultimately perfected its lesson format.

Granted this means you can’t guarantee which player or angles you’ll get but it is a minor issue and the same can be said about a lot of other platforms when it comes to their older footage. The TrueFire site has undergone several revisions over the years and the content is pretty unbeatable.

On the whole, most videos are 1080p HD video and shot with multiple angles covered to ensure you are getting to see exactly what the individual hands are doing. The audio is also high-quality.

The majority of the lessons are relatively short, some are only a couple of minutes with some of the advanced lessons maxing out at around the 20-minute mark.

This makes it easy to fit a lesson in around a busy schedule, another benefit of learning online. Having them shorter makes the information easier to digest and is particularly beneficial as many of them provide music theory knowledge and insight into technical concepts. It also keeps your attention span.

Of course, if you have plenty of free time to dedicate to learning guitar you can progress fairly quickly through some of the earlier level content. So it’s a win-win situation.

Starting Out

Whereas many sites will set a new learner on an obligatory course upon start-up, TrueFire opts for the ‘freedom of learning’ route. There is no starting point set in stone, you carve your own pathway through the material. You don’t have to play through everything in a specific order or finish a lesson to unlock another.

This could be beneficial or not, depending on the type of learner that you are. The way that the video lesson links related material and supplementary exercises prove useful enough. You have a lot more flexibility than some competitors provide but will require a lot of self-discipline to commit to learning on a regular basis. There are no badge/reward systems like some app-based guitar lessons provide.

Upon sign-up you pick a username and once logged in, TrueFire asks a few questions regarding your playing experience and your favorite genres/styles as well as garnering a little info about your learning goals.

TrueFire learning paths.
TrueFire learning paths.

The sensible way to progress is with the Learning Paths tab. There are learning paths indicated, you can select your favorite genres or playing styles choosing from the following;

Acoustic, Blues, Country, Jazz, or Rock. They also teach Bass Guitar which is found as a path here as well and some lessons look at Classical guitar playing. (On that note TrueFire also has lessons for Drums, Ukulele, Banjo, Mandolin, Dobro, Harmonica, Saxophone, and Vocals.)

Visit the TrueFire Learning Paths tab here!

You can start at the beginning and play through the lessons provided in the presented order or skip and jump around as much as you would like.

The content is organized into five skill levels beginner, late beginner, intermediate, late intermediate, and advanced. Between them, they help you to master new chords, strumming patterns, songs, simple licks, scales, and then take you through soloing until you can shred with the best.

There are two fundamental courses which if you are brand new to the guitar you should start with. ‘Learn Guitar 1’  is a core course led by TrueFire’s Director of Education Jeff Scheetz. It gives you some useful beginner info such as how to tune your guitar in the first place and introduces your first few chords.

You practice alongside Jeff and after each new skill, you get to immediately put it into practice with a short song example in a play-along session that gives you a backing track at 3 different speeds.

You play through all sections until you are ready to progress on to ‘Learn Guitar 2’, to expand on the first core course. You get a few more chords and some songs to play with them and a few basic techniques are explored.

TrueFire's Learn Guitar 1.
TrueFire’s Learn Guitar 1.

If you have previous experience then you can bypass these core courses and skip to the ‘Late Beginner to Intermediate’ lessons or even jump to the ‘Late Intermediate to Advanced’ section.

The genre-specific courses start at late intermediate and their content is much more varied and specific. The jazz route brings in 7th and diminished chords with swing rhythms while the rock route is looking at power chords and classic riffs.

Once you select your course, there is a video introduction that explains what the lessons will entail and cover. You also get all the relevant info for it including, how many lessons there are, all tabs, chord charts, and the runtime of the jam tracks along with the release date.

You will also see the style and curriculum tags another tool you can utilize to find similar things. Each video has a rating of 1-5 stars so you can see how others found it.

You will also see a price on display. Basically, you can stream the video lesson for free as a subscriber by clicking the “Play” icon at the top-right corner as many times as you like. Or for an extra cost download all of the lesson content for a permanent hard-copy of it.

The video player has 2 modes of display. You have your basic controls in the classic view which also allows you to loop and adjust your speed to 0.5, 1.0, or 1.5x.

The tab sync view option allows you to adjust speed more finely. You can change it from 25-200%, this also affects the audio.

When you are in a play-through video lesson you can choose to see the chord’s pulse in time to the metronome. This can be displayed on a guitar fretboard or piano keyboard.

You can add lessons to your playlist, saving it, and keep track of your progress by marking a video lesson as complete, incomplete, or in progress.

The home page usually displays popular video lessons which is cool if you like to have a nosey at what other people are learning. The home page is also where you will find information on any contests or giveaways taking place.

TrueFire has a student forum, with a thriving community as well as a Facebook community that has videos and updates. They also regularly update their Twitter and you might also enjoy their blog otherwise known as ‘The Punch In’ for gear reviews, licks, lessons, tips, and tonnes of guitar articles.

You can also stream live sessions and occasional concerts as well as older live streams on their YouTube channel.

Supplementary Lessons

The supplementary lessons provided alongside the core courses provide great extra tuition for anyone looking to improve. Some of them are pretty extensive too. They give a more in-depth look at the topics you are learning and give a complimentary expansion.

A list of different guitar lessons offered by TrueFire.
A list of different guitar lessons offered by TrueFire.

So you might find yourself completing a lesson and staying at the level for a long time whilst you explore everything relative or you can keep steadily plowing ahead.

The wealth of supplementary material available for intermediate and advanced players is TrueFire’s biggest asset. It seems the majority of other online guitar teaching tools are very heavily focused on complete beginners and eventually tail-off. There are some very niche techniques explored which other sites haven’t begun to explore.

Because the content is played by instructors familiar with that style you genuinely learn from the best.

Roster

Whilst we are on the subject… Among the 300+ instructors on TrueFire are award-winning educators, some of the world’s best session guitarists, and iconic players including Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel, and Larry Carlton to name but a few.

The videos are shot in a relaxed manner and the majority feature a white background with the educator centrally positioned. This keeps your focus where it needs to be.

The instructors speak clearly and are non-condescending. Difficult concepts at the advanced levels are broken down and explained in easy to grasp terms.

TrueFire guitar instructors.
TrueFire guitar instructors.

One of the things about the videos which keep them so down to earth is mistakes are unedited, if an instructor fluffs a run, they re-attempt it. This keeps them human and is refreshing.

Feedback

If you have a little extra cash, then you can eventually go on to pick from a range of these instructors. Then utilizing the site’s upload system you can record yourself playing, state your goals for progress or what you want advice/help with and receive personalized feedback from them.

Sadly, Steve Vai’s time is probably too expensive for TrueFire to have him in their private instructor bank but there are a number of familiar faces from the roster to pick the brains of.

While it isn’t a live tutoring experience it is invaluable to have someone check in on how you are doing. Online guitar lessons for the most part are a self-taught thing. You can follow the most thorough of video tutorials and miss a few things. The upload for feedback feature is a nice way around the isolation on your online learning journey, which would otherwise be solely remote education. It really helps to pinpoint problems.

As an inexperienced player, you might have no idea why what you are playing sounds nothing like the example. Without someone to point out your mistake, you are relying on yourself to judge your own progress. Even as an experienced player, you can still pick up bad habits, lazy fingering, etc without someone to correct you.

Also as a side note, learning to play an instrument can bring about anxiety in some learners. The ‘fear of falling’ weighs heavily on some people and can actually be a major reason for taking online lessons instead of group or private classes. Being able to upload a video for feedback rather than subject yourself in a live manner is much less nerve-wracking.

In The Jam Experience

In The Jam is an app-only feature, but it is one of TrueFire’s other cool benefits. There is a separate desktop app available for ‘In The Jam’ for both Windows and MacOS, as well as a new iPad app.

The tracks provided are more than your standard backing track, you can control the other instrument parts that you want to hear in the piece and the chord changes are displayed in real-time. It has a real playing with a band vibe to it rather than a ‘playing over the top as an outsider’ feel.

TrueFire’s In The Jam: How It Works.

It gives you the breathing space to put things you have learned into other keys and develop as a player. Especially in your soloing and improvisation skill areas.

Although it costs extra, there are a few free tracks to try in the desktop app and you can see how you feel about purchasing it.

There are also other apps available at an additional cost, such as Jam Packs and a ‘Licktionary’, but they are currently only available on iOS.

Extras

There are a few extra tools that come in handy as part of your subscription access. They include an email PDF chord library as well as a scale sheet with the 7 modes as well as your pentatonic and blues scales. There is also a PDF entitled the “25 Principles of Perfect Practice” to help you reach your full potential as a learner.

The mobile app features a chromatic tuner with Standard, Eb, Drop D, DADGAD, and a range of open tunings.

TrueFire Pros & Cons

Pros

  • 40,000+ video lessons
  • A roster of over 300 award-winning tutors
  • High-quality video content
  • Plenty of material for intermediate and advanced users
  • Lesson support
  • Feedback available from tutors

Cons

  • No full song play-throughs
  • Some of the older videos have a simpler video player with fewer user controls
  • Some extra features will cost you more than your initial subscription

TrueFire Review – Final Thoughts

Learning guitar online is a convenient stress-free way to gain a new skill. TrueFire has the lesson format down really well and it is easy to see why they are one of the longest-running options, still holding their own against newer innovative competition.

Anyone with doubts should just take the free trial and it is very quickly apparent what TrueFire has going for it and why it is still one of the world’s leading online guitar lesson platforms.

For complete beginners, I would say that Guitar Tricks has a slight edge, it follows a more structured step-by-step process with its Core Learning System.

For those that already know how to play and have a good understanding of the basics, TrueFire guitar lessons offer the opportunity to learn numerous new styles, techniques, and overall improve on your existing skill!

Is TrueFire Any Good?

Yes! What makes it so good? The content is engaging and thoroughly covers a huge selection of techniques. With such a mega-list of instructors, a vast amount is covered. You get the benefit of different playing styles from people who know the techniques they are presenting inside out.

With TrueFire you have a greater amount of flexibility in terms of what you learn next and how you progress. You can bash your way through core subjects until you can jam through many styles, or stick to one topic and hone in on the skill side of things, learning extended and related licks, riffs and techniques.

The lesson plans allow for freedom and give you recommended supplementary lessons along the pathway, letting you explore things in as much depth as you desire. A lot of the content is short, making it easy to find the time to learn on a regular basis. The theory is doled-out in manageable doses, that way.

Who Is TrueFire For?

If you are a more seasoned player it is full of useful nuggets you may not have picked up along the way. If you are pretty new the beginners’ course (Guitar 1 & 2) will take you under its wings until you are ready for licks and riffs that will keep you challenged and leave you feeling pretty accomplished.

That said, we would probably say there are better options for beginners out there and if you are young then you would probably prefer the interactive elements and social/competitive platforms that some of the newer app-based guitar lessons provide. A beginner could find themself a little lost with TrueFire when compared to the linear Core Learning System of Guitar Tricks for an example. Unless they have a tonne of drive and initiative.

As a supplementary tool to bolster your learning or for developing your playing skills TrueFire is wholeheartedly exceptional.

Bottom Line

TrueFire ticks all the boxes for a good online guitar lesson which we discussed in our 10 best online guitar lessons article; Large library, a balance between practical and theoretical lessons, and importantly great video quality with multiple angles shot. You might find it a good read to see how TrueFire measures up against the rest of the contenders.