Slowhand, fast track

17th May 1996 at 01:00
GUITAR HITS, PLUGGED IN VOLUME 1, CD-Rom for teaching guitar at intermediate level (for all ages) For Multimedia PCs (minimum Windows 3.1 PC486 SX25 with 8 megabytes of memory and double-speed CD-Rom drive), Macintosh version soon around Pounds 40 UBI Soft, Bridge House 11 Creek Road, Hampton Court, Surrey KT8 9BE

Jon O'Connor gets to be a guitar hero for the price of a Clapton album. Go on, admit it, you always wanted to be a rock'n'roll star. Well, now it's time to put down the tennis racquet and pick up the Fender Stratocaster. This CD-Rom is a brilliantly executed concept, and not just an album of golden oldies.

Guitar Hits is a cracking good teacher. For the price of a classic Clapton album, you have the equivalent of a year's guitar classes.

Every guitar mega- star started by strumming a bit of rock history in the upstairs bedroom. Guitar Hits uses the same classic tracks mixed with high-tech to have you plucking away at Hey Joe and No Woman No Cry in no time. The program is easier to play than a three-chord trick. You won't be embarrassed by the need for troublesome technical knowledge and the whole pro-gram fires up easily for fool-proof first-time use.

You choose a favourite song, then work at it from as many different angles as you wish from the main menu: Music, Lessons, Chords and Words. The Music section is the central feature and runs through the whole song, individual verses, bars, notes or phrases as you wish, playing basic versions. These are accompanied by scrolling on-screen notation, with highlights and a red-stripe marker at the relevant part of the score. From the more challenging riffs, you can cut straight to a tutorial.

In each Lesson section, there are a dozen or so business-like sessions on technique which, as the voice-over says, is essential for any guitar player. Each one uses the chosen song as the working text for the tutorial.

The Chords section is the fast-track approach to rock'n'roll. If you never got on that well with over-optimistic titles like "1,000 Chords By Monday", there is hope. Here, the chord-bank for each song is clearly laid out with an easy pick-and-play screen, including full sound and vision demonstrations.

Once you get into the final section, Words, you're cruising home. This is where you sit in front of the mirror in the bedroom to get the pose right. If you can't remember the chord-shape or the sound is strangely unfamiliar, a friendly pop-up tutor will remind you how to straighten out your Fender.

This CD-Rom makes excellent use of video clips and clear graphic tablature for the chord shapes, which can be played with a cool see-through plectrum cursor. This really helps the player to check that the fingers are knitted together correctly on the frets. You can play each string, and strum the sound as much as you like, and a metronome option helps you feel the rhythm.

Many of the video sequences offer two camera angles on the fretboard positioning and run as full-screen if you prefer, showing the fingering and chord-shapes synchronised with the sound. This piece of programming is a perfect match of function and purpose. You can work the lesson over and over until you grasp the idea.

Would that music tutors were so friendly and patient in real life. There is even a simple lesson on tuning the guitar. This allows you to listen to the pitch and to check the relationship between each guitar string picked individually or strummed across all six strings. To put the icing on the cake, you can see the waveform of the frequency as well.

The publicity claims that guitarists are "completely free to study exactly those elements which are most relevant to their level or particular interest". For once you can actually believe the hype. Rock on.

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