Active Melody - Full Review of Free and Premium Membership

Guitar Noises #17: October 15, 2021

The best time to learn guitar is now. With online lessons a student can be in a room with their teacher all the time.

Traditional music lessons go like this: you see your teacher once a week. You’re given a lot of information at once – technique, theory, musicianship skills. Then your teacher tells you to “go home and practice.” Basically, all of the emphasis is put on that one brief period each week, with the majority of growth left up to the student.

- Why Traditional Music Lessons Have it Backwards

People who play sports rarely practice alone. The coach or trainer is always present. They never have to ask “Did you practice this week?”

Asynchronous learning allows you to practice guitar alongside your teacher all the time. “Instead of spending 10% of your time with your teacher and 90% practicing alone, why not spend 90% of your time with your teacher and 10% alone? Instead of a “teacher” and weekly lessons, why not a “coach” who guides you through daily practice?” Ibid.

Learning guitar online really harnesses the full power of the Internet. But it’s a beast that thrives on quantity over quality. A big challenge for learners is finding the right teacher. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

For your consideration, this week’s newsletter is a review of Active Melody. Heading over to www.activemelody.com or its youtube channel is like putting yourself in the studio for a one-on-one lesson with Brian Sherrill, a Nashville area guitarist who only teaches online.

Brian is the only teacher at Active Melody, but you’ll never run out of lessons. There are already more than 400 lessons posted and new ones are added every week. There’s no leap of faith required to see what Active Melody is all about. Brian gives the good stuff away for free. The free content is already markedly better than a lot of the Internet’s more expensive guitar programs. It’s easy to see the appeal of an $89/year premium membership.

Although Active Melody has been around for years, it only really came on my radar after I started writing this newsletter. I kept hearing about it from readers who strongly recommended it to me.

(Just want to say here: this isn’t a sponsored post and there aren’t any affiliate links in this newsletter. I signed up for Active Melody and became a Premium Member because I liked it.)

Brian at Active Melody has developed a successful lesson format that doesn’t waste time trying to entertain you. He gets right down to the business of teaching you how to play guitar instead of memorizing what to play. The lessons don’t teach you how to play other people’s songs and generally avoid teaching how to play in the style of a particular artist.

New in-depth lessons are added every Friday with a typical lesson including about an hour’s worth of video. The first half is always available to non-members for free. That alone packs a wallop with heaps of useful material to work with. Premium members get a second video that unpacks the weekly topic in even more detail. Premium members get downloadable MP3 jam tracks to go along with the lesson, often in several different keys. There is also an interactive video tab viewer that lets you watch Brian’s fingers playing in sync with the transcription, which you can slow down if you’re struggling to keep up. And if you’re trying to cut down on screen time you can download the tablature for every lesson and print it off for your guitar folder.

Every lesson on Active Melody is like a landing page. You can start with any lesson and move in any direction. There is no main course of study. The lessons jump around, mostly staying near the blues, but always with an eye to working up your own leads, rhythm and fills. The starting point for lessons is usually an original song or jam by Brian. Some weeks it will be a solo acoustic number, while others may be slow electric blues jam or simple chord progression that needs spicing up. Even though there is a tab viewer and play along video, the lessons are never about mimicking Brian’s riffs and solos. There is always an underlying concept that is being approached in a thorough and logical way. If you are able to catch on quickly, the availability of jam tracks in different keys is enough to keep you busy practicing throughout the week.

A lot of this sounds heavy for beginners, and it is a little heavy. This isn’t a site for absolute beginners. However, if you’ve been a beginner for a long time, or are really motivated to push on, these lessons always offer important guitar playing insights. The teaching method allows for students of different levels to try their hand at it.

Brian is a really good speaker and it’s clear he regularly goes through the comments on his videos - in part to improve his teaching, but also to gauge what topics need more elaboration. Undoubtedly, Active Melody is a labour of love for its creator.

My favorite part of the lessons are the little takeaway highlights. Every good teacher knows that everyone is going to learn at a different pace. Brian is always careful to point out the salient point. Any one of these takeaways could be a light bulb moment for a student. This habit of stopping to reinforce what is at the heart of each lesson is part of what makes Active Melody a site that really makes things click.

If you prefer a more structured approach there are a few separate courses available to premium members at no extra cost. There is a course on blues lead guitar and another on Jimi Hendrix Style Rhythm. A real  hidden gem though, is the beginner course on Essential Theory. It’s designed to bring beginners up to speed with all the foundational information needed to better understand the weekly lessons. It’s one of those “where was this when I was starting guitar” moments. All the years I spent digesting music theory from books is clearly explained in just a few hours of videos in a way that isn’t boring, and is easy to remember. Seeing music theory for guitar taught with a guitar in hand makes so much more sense than words on a page (duh!). Essential Theory is an excellent introduction to music theory for guitar, and a worthwhile refresher for any non-music majors.

At $12 a month or $89 a year, the membership is reasonably priced. The free lessons alone offer a extensive amount of guitar instruction.

Brian at Active Melody is the guitar teacher you probably wish you always had. Light bulb moments don’t just happen by themselves. You need to be actively learning and looking for the spark to catch. Practicing guitar alongside a gifted teacher is the best way to spend your hours. It’s no accident the site is called Active Melody. Brian will get you actively leaning guitar.

Since becoming a premium member I get excited every week when a new lesson drops. Now you’ll have to excuse me. It’s Friday and I have somewhere else to be. TGIF.