Learning Guitar for Free (for Now) on YouTube Two guitar instructors have gained YouTube followings by posting videos that teach both basic strumming techniques and the opening riffs of popular songs such as "Sweet Home Alabama." But copyright concerns could put an end to the free classes.

Learning Guitar for Free (for Now) on YouTube

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Let's say you want to learn to play guitar but you don't have the time or money for lessons. Don't despair, there's always YouTube.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Unidentified Man: We'll start off with the intro part. It's quite distinct.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Home Alabama")

BLOCK: In fact, quite a few people are teaching guitar on YouTube. And in the last few months, two of them have posted about 200 videos demonstrating everything from basic strumming techniques to this riff from "Sweet Home Alabama."

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Home Alabama")

BLOCK: One of the teachers sees the videos as part of a budding online music business. The others see them as a public service.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: I stopped playing guitar more than a decade ago. I'd never been much good and I seemed to be stuck playing the same three-chord songs. I picked it up again last year, then one night I typed the words guitar lessons into YouTube. A man appeared in a flannel shirt with a backwards baseball cap.

Mr. DAVID TAUB (NextLevelGuitar.com): What's up, good people? How are you doing today? David Taub coming to you from sunny San Diego, California.

(Soundbite of music)

LANGFITT: Then I found another guy sitting cross-legged on the floor of his apartment cradling a guitar.

Mr. JUSTIN SANDERCOE (Justinguitar.com): Hey, how are you doing? Justin here again for easy songs two. Next on our list is "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young. So he got me...

(Soundbite of song, "Heart of Gold")

LANGFITT: These are my new teachers. The first is David Taub. He's from New Jersey and used to play in bars on the East Coast. The other is Justin Sandercoe. He lives in London, where he teaches guitar and plays with a famous pop singer. Separately, they began posting free instructional videos toward the end of last year. So far, people around the world have watched those videos a total of more than three and a half million times. In Taub's videos, which run up to 21 minutes, he patiently explains chord progressions. Like this one from the 1990's hit "How is It Going To Be" by Third Eye Blind.

Mr. TAUB: So your verse is going to be this.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAUB: B.

(Soundbite of music) Mr. TAUB: To A.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAUB: To G. Dag.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TAUB: D-A-G.

LANGFITT: The teachers play slowly and use close-ups, showing each finger movement. If you don't get it at first, you can hit replay. It's like having a teacher with endless patience.

The lessons are informal and feel homemade. Sandercoe sometimes appears with his hair matted at different angles. Taub's lessons are mostly unedited and include moments like his golden retriever eating his guitar pick.

Mr. TIM GILBERG (NextLevelGuitar.com): Dude, she got your pick again.

Mr. TAUB: Give me that pick. Give me that pick. Give me. I lost three picks already, dude.

LANGFITT: That other voice you've just heard is Tim Gilberg. He's a student of Taub's who also serves as his cameraman and business partner. Gilberg has a background in Internet marketing. He came up with the idea to post the videos as an experiment.

Mr. GILBERG: We filmed about 10 minutes in his backyard. I put it up on Google and I just forgot about it. Basically, about two months later, I said let me take a look and see how many visitors we had. And there was about 6,800 visitors, and I was like wow!

LANGFITT: Then they posted the videos to YouTube. Taub uses them to market his paid teaching Web site called nextlevelguitar.com. Gilberg says the site has hundreds of members so far.

On the free videos, Taub teaches the basic chords but he holds off explaining some of the riffs so he can drive people to his site. That's what he's trying to do here with Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy."

(Soundbite of song, "If It Makes You Happy")

Mr. TAUB: You know.

(Soundbite of song, "If It Makes You Happy")

Mr. TAUB: But if you want to learn that, you're going to have to go to our full site for the lead lines, okay?

LANGFITT: Justin Sandercoe also has a teaching Web site — justinguitar.com. He has a few ads and takes donations through PayPal to cover Web hosting fees. But he doesn't charge visitors.

Mr. SANDERCOE: I will keep the site completely free. Because I like the idea of being able to deliver quality guitar lessons to people who can't afford guitar lessons, or they're in places where there's not that kind of access to somebody who can teach them the right stuff. I know when I grew up in Tasmania there wasn't a whole heap of access to really great musicians to teach. This way, a kid growing up in Sri Lanka or India or Mexico can actually get a good quality guitar lesson for free on the Internet.

LANGFITT: Sandercoe now has fans in places like Saudi Arabia and India. They e-mail him with questions and request specific lessons. One fan is Linda Dumitru, who lives in the Netherlands. She used to pay $26 for a half-hour lesson but stopped because she couldn't afford it. Then she typed "Johnny B. Goode" into YouTube and found one of Sandercoe's videos.

(Soundbite of song, "Johnny B. Goode")

LANGFITT: Now she plays along to his videos in her apartment after dinner.

(Soundbite of song, "Johnny B. Goode")

LANGFITT: Dumitru says Sandercoe's laid-back approach makes her want to learn.

Ms. LINDA DUMITRU: Every time he comes, he says hi, I'm Justin. And then he says don't worry if you have trouble with the chords, because everybody has problems with it. So it's like he understands you. He knows what you're going through. That makes it fun. It's like he's there for you.

LANGFITT: When Sandercoe isn't teaching, he plays with Katie Melua, a star in Europe, so he's used to some attention. But his work on the Internet is raising his profile in ways he never expected.

Mr. SANDERCOE: I got recognized on a bus the other day. Literally gone into town to do a bit of shopping and stuff, and I was on the way back and this kid goes, are you Justin, the guy who teaches from YouTube?

LANGFITT: If learning pop songs for free online sounds too good to be true, it may be.

John Palfrey runs the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He says most of the songs Sandercoe and Taub teach are under copyright, and he thinks it's only a matter of time before some company orders YouTube to take them down.

Mr. JOHN PALFREY (Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society): There's a very strong argument that the re-use of well-known chords in the sequence that the instructor played them would be a violation of the copyright of the original composer.

LANGFITT: Sandercoe doesn't think he's doing anything wrong.

Mr. SANDERCOE: In fact, I hardly ever play the song all the way through. I'm just showing little sections of the song.

LANGFITT: But Palfrey says all it takes is a few notes.

Although Sandercoe sees his Internet teaching as a public service, he has benefited from it. Since he put his Web site up last year, he's developed a long waiting list for the lessons he teaches in person, and of course that's still the best way to learn.

When I tried my hand at Sandercoe's video of "Silent Night," I struggled with the final notes. So since I had him on the line, I played a little and asked for help.

(Soundbite of song, "Silent Night")

Mr. SANDERCOE: Not quite right.

LANGFITT: Now you do it. Show me what I'm doing wrong.

(Soundbite of song, "Silent Night")

LANGFITT: Ooh, see that is much better.

(Soundbite of laughter)


LANGFITT: That is a lot better.

Mr. SANDERCOE: Remember with the harmonic that you don't have to - there's no hurry to get the finger off the strings.


(Soundbite of song, "Silent Night")

Mr. SANDERCOE: I left my finger on the strings. I didn't even take it off. So try again.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SANDERCOE: That sounds a lot better.

(Soundbite of song, "Silent Night")

LANGFITT: Okay. I still have to work on that.

If someone tells Sandercoe to take down his song lessons, he says he will. But his most valuable videos are the ones that teach guitar basics like strumming, scales and finger picking. No one holds the copyright to those things and nobody can make him take them down.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Silent Night")

BLOCK: If you want to visit the guitar Web sites mentioned in this story, go to npr.org.

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