A couple weeks ago, fusion guitarists Tom Quayle & David Beebee released a new guitar app called Sølo.
In this review, we’ll cover:
- what it does
- why you might want that
- a brief tangent about “easy”
- who this is for
- what they did well with Sølo
- what still needs work
- what I think you should do once you buy Sølo
Impatient? Skip to the TL;DR
What does the Sølo app do?
First things first, their promotional videos explain the basics a helluva lot better than I can.
Plus this one is only 60 seconds long:
👉 The Sølo app shows you a chord symbol and asks you to play a specific chord tone (root, 3rd, 5th, etc) from that chord.
👉 Sølo listens to your playing, and doesn’t move on until you’ve played the correct note.
👉 From there it moves on to the next chord tone. Once you’ve correctly played each of the notes Sølo has asked you to, it moves on the next chord in the song, and repeats the process.
(The progressions are taken from real songs, mostly jazz standards.)
Why would I want that?
Because most of us guitarists treat soloing like an adventure in geometry—playing the standard blues box, getting stuck there for years, and mostly relying on luck to play well.
Badass pros don’t do this. They “play the changes”—they’re hyper-aware of the chord changes, they know which notes sound best over each of those chords, they’re crafting lines that land on those exact notes right at the moment when the band changes to a new chord, and they’re doing this all at an intuitive, almost unconscious level.
While this is hard to learn, you can learn it—it’s not some superpower you have to be born with.
Sølo makes learning this significantly easier by:
- thoroughly teaching you the guitar neck
- using “intervalic functions” (which is the best way to understand playing the changes)
- reducing the friction that gets in the way of doing the actual work, and
- allowing you to fine-tune the difficulty (which makes it easier to nail the practicing sweet spot of “difficult but not discouraging.”)
Of course “makes this significantly easier” is not at all the same as “makes this easy.” Learning to play the changes is going to be hard no matter what, but…
You don’t want “easy” anyway
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”
That’s the ad Ernest Shackleton posted to recruit men for his Antarctic expedition.
Quite the contrast from so much of the marketing that surrounds online education these days: “With our course, it’s easy! Anyone can do it!”
I myself have been guilty of this. *cough* Effortless Ear Training *cough*
But “easy” is a trap. Avoid it.
You don’t want something to be easy. There’s no transformation in that. The hard things have to be hard in order for them to work.
“There’s no way around it: to get a new life, you’ve got to trade in your old one.”– Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son
Instead, you want someone who will get you pointed in the right direction, then minimize the complicated & annoying things that stand between you and doing the hard work.
Who is Sølo for?
Every guitarist & bassist can benefit from using this app. Probably singers and piano players and (if they add support for transposing instruments) horn players too.
Who is Sølo not for?
Well, if you’re looking for a magic bullet, this ain’t it. (But of course nothing else is either.)
If the idea of showing up to do a little hard-but-effective practice each day is scary to you, you can skip the Sølo app.
- There is absolutely nothing else on the market that addresses this need.
- For a v1 app, this is really well executed. They probably could’ve launched a buggier version months ago and had the same positive reception.
- It’s scalable to your current level, almost ridiculously so. From “play the root note of this chord” to “play the notes of the third mode of the melodic minor scale in this prescribed random order,” this is the rare thing that’s right for ~everybody.
- There’s an entire library of videos showing you how to use Sølo, and they’re built right into the app.
- The chords are drawn from actual songs. While there are a few exercises (ii-V-I cycling though all 12 keys), there aren’t a lot of purely theoretical exercises. This is great, because guitarists in general should learn more songs.
- If you only have Android devices, you’re gonna have to wait.
- The first batch of songs are very jazz-focused. There’s one blues progression and Hendrix’s Little Wing, but the rest are jazz standards or jazz-focused exercises. I’m assuming they’ll add more songs soon, and I hope they add more simple ones. Maybe they’re just scratching their own itch first, but Tom & David if you’re reading this: we’d love some super simple ones, even two-chord songs like Tennessee Whiskey or Use Me. Some mostly-diatonic tunes with borrowed chords would be a godsend too.
If you have an iOS device, you should buy this app. If you only have Android gear, you should keep an eye out and buy it the second it comes out.
If you use this app regularly, you’re gonna get better at finding your way around the guitar. Like, a lot better.
The “if you use this regularly” is of particular importance here. There are things we know and there are things we do. Most of the progress in my life came from doing more of what I already know works.
Planning on getting the app?
I have something for you.
Recently I joined a tribe of people publishing their writing online every single day. The superlatives I would use to describe it all sound trite: Amazing. Mind blowing. Life altering. Transformative.
But they’re all true. I’m 100% convinced that the future of online education is “sprint learning”—doing hard things with your tribe, making stuff, & shipping the work.
So I’m leading a 30-day guitar challenge. Every day for a month we’re gonna use the Sølo app for a few minutes, record ourselves playing a quick blues solo, and post it online.
You can learn more here.
(To be super transparent: I don’t know Tom or David, and I’m not affiliated with the Sølo app in any way. I’m just really fucking excited about this.)