Choosing Between Tomo Fujita’s Guitar Wisdom and Paul Davids’ Next Level Playing
Guitar Noises #22: December 22, 2021
You have a lot of choices when it comes to learning guitar online. Maybe you’ve already found a charismatic YouTuber who entertains you with their knowledge of music. Even with hundreds of uploads to their name, these free videos can only scratch the surface.
All year long I’ve been sharing free online guitar lessons. Your continuous feedback and questions have kept me busy checking out other “premium guitar sites.” You asked - sometimes more than once - and I’ve tried to answer.
For the final newsletter of 2021 I’m doing things a little differently. I want to do a side by side run through of the two most sought after premium courses. If the names Tomo Fujita and Paul Davids are new to you I suggest you quickly check out their YouTube channels. They are the Godfathers of online guitar lessons.
I’m not trying to compare these instructors so I can tell you which one is better. I’m a fan of both. I chose this format because we’re at the end of the year and I really wanted to get to both of these popular requests.
A Guide to Going Paid
Tomo Fujita and Paul Davids both have active YouTube channels. So why would you want to spend money on their paywalled content too? Aren’t there enough videos to consume yet? Both of these instructors know that it’s not their job to entertain us. They don’t produce regular content to dazzle us with their intellect and musical abilities. Their premium courses are designed to help us gain lasting skills and knowledge. Instead of teaching you how to play songs, they show you how to learn the instrument.
Tomo Fujita’s Guitar Wisdom costs $9.99 a month and it’s a pretty good value if you’re looking for lessons you can try out first. There are approximately 200 videos with more to come. It’s easy to pause your membership if you need to take a break or work at a slower pace.
Paul Davids' Next Level Playing costs $199 for a lifetime membership. It’s a pretty big investment considering that it only comes with a 14 day money back guarantee. That might not be enough time to see if it’s the right set of lessons for you. It’s a comprehensive step by step program that will take a long time to work through. The ultimate goal of becoming a next-level player can’t be rushed.
Stylistically the courses are very different. Tomo Fujita’s teaching has a lovable lo-fi appeal to it. It’s a bit like listening to classic Beck. It could have been recorded on cheap equipment outside a traditional studio, but for reasons that are hard to explain, it just connects and pulls you in.
Stylistically Paul Davids is more like Pink Floyd. Later Floyd albums were recorded in small spaces and used generous amounts of studio magic to make them sound like they cost a bazillion dollars to make. Paul Davids’ lessons are filmed in a small Rotterdam apartment and are put together so artfully you could almost forget about your guitar and just watch them for them for the mise-en-scène.
Let’s dig in some more, shall we?
Tomo Fujita teaches Guitar Wisdom
For over 25 years, Tomo Fujita has been teaching guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In Guitar Wisdom he shares many of the lessons he developed there for his students.
Rather than just showing you what to do, he provides explanations for why things should be done a certain way. As he says in one video, “you can get information anywhere,” but you need someone to show you how to use the information.
The course avoids the use of guitar tab and other visual materials. Chords and scales aren’t just shapes to be memorized. Guitarists should learn to hear music and recognize what’s going on. Guitar Wisdom is not about memorizing or copying examples note for note. You don’t need extensive knowledge of music theory to develop your musicality, but you do need to look at things differently than the commonly taught patterns and shapes.
Guitar Wisdom is not a typical “A to Z” course. The lessons are organized into three separate divisions. The Beginner Lessons are arranged in a sequential order. A second series of lessons is designed to transition students away from the linear approach. The third grouping of lessons offers a variety of topical lessons that can be done in any order according to the student’s personal interest.
From the course title you can gather Guitar Wisdom takes a philosophical approach to guitar. The teacher is always positive and encouraging, while patiently walking students through even the simplest of tasks. Tomo Fujita is a caring mentor who delivers more than just conclusions to his students.
Part of Tomo’s teaching style relies on tradition. You’ll notice he likes to teach guitar the same way he learned. For his beginner sight-reading lessons he uses Berklee materials, and to follow along you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of "A Modern Method for Guitar" by William G. Leavitt. The sight-reading lessons are excellent for all levels so you’ll probably want to get the book. It’s a bit like being in class with Tomo as he takes students through the material pointing out important details along the way.
We should be so lucky to have in-person lessons with Tomo at Berklee or on Skype. Guitar Wisdom captures what it would be like to learn with Tomo in person. If you’re already a fan of his YouTube channel, there’s a lot more detail and focus in Guitar Wisdom.
There are many paths to wisdom. The most important thing is to find the one that is right for you!
Paul Davids teaches Next Level Playing
Paul Davids is a guitar player from the Netherlands who runs an inspiring YouTube channel with over two million followers. He has three different premium courses available. Today I’m looking at Next Level Playing, which is a step by step course designed to help intermediate players level up even further. Unlike a lot of online courses, it’s designed to be used primarily with the electric guitar. You can take the course with an acoustic but things will be more difficult.
Next Level Playing starts off fairly simply, almost like a refresher course for beginners, making it accessible to many level of players. The goal is to make you “a well-rounded guitarist who can confidently improvise, create your own sound, and jam with other musicians.” The course is presented in a book like format, with clearly written text, diagrams, audio, play-along tracks and exquisitely produced videos.
By the later sections of the course you’ll be immersed in more advanced topics like using different modes, mixing techniques to make solos more interesting and playing extended chords.
Although the course covers a lot of ground you will always know where you are with the site’s navigation and design always illustrating your progress. Next Level Playing is divided into 7 levels, which become progressively more challenging. You are free to set your own pace, but the site discourages you from jumping around and moving too quickly.
Learning guitar is hard work and real growth takes time. There are mini-tests at the end of each section to evaluate yourself. Throughout the course you will encounter numerous challenges and goals for that particular section, which help you see whether or not you’re on the right track.
Another thing Paul gets right is including a downloadable workbook for every level. Although a talented video creator, he recognizes that students can’t absorb everything from videos. Information presented in videos sometimes evaporates as soon as the video stops. To make the lessons more permanent you have the workbooks to study and refer back to.
As mentioned, Paul has three different courses for sale. If you find that Next Level Playing isn’t for you, refunds are available, or you can ask to switch to one of the other courses.
Next Level Playing and Guitar Wisdom take very different approaches to learning guitar. But the goals are the same: to teach you guitar by making sure you know what you’re doing.
If you’re treating yourself to some guitar lessons this Christmas, or someone is gifting you a membership, either of these sites would be a great choice.
Regardless of who you follow online, it’s always going to be up to you whether or not you stick with it. If you’ve found an online instructor that keeps you coming back for more then you are more likely to stay motivated and connected to the material.
Coincidentally, as I was writing this newsletter, Paul Davids posted a collaboration featuring Tomo Fujita on his YouTube channel. Check out 10 PRO GUITARISTS SOLO OVER THE SAME TRACK and see them both in action. It’s a fun video that shows the mutual respect these teachers have for each other.
Have a Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year.
I will see you again in the new year.