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Ralph Paul's Secrets to Playing Great Guitar Now
Guitar at About puts this infomercial product to the test

Beginner guitar instructional videos carry a heavy burden: they have to be carefully designed to thoroughly cover all the basic elements of guitar playing. This is a daunting task, as there are so many details that need to be covered in order for new guitarists to avoid learning bad habits.

Ralph Paul's Secrets to Playing Great Guitar Now is one of the latest guitar videos designed to teach guitar from scratch. You may have heard of this video before, via an infomercial that has been run extensively across the United States and Canada. This infomercial includes testimonial from many novice guitarists who got their start via the Ralph Paul video. Intrigued, I made arrangements to get my hands on a copy for review, to find out if the video was as helpful as it claimed it was.

The Concept...

Ralph Paul's approach is certainly unique to any of the other beginner instructional videos I've come across thus far. His philosophy is simple: have the viewer playing guitar within minutes, even if they don't really understand the basics of how a guitar works. The video begins a "five minute speed jump start", in which Paul demonstrates quickly how to play a very simple blues oriented guitar riff. His intent is to have the guitar newbie playing something immediately, hoping this will grab their interest. From years of teaching, I can testify this approach often works... the more "fun" things you give a novice to play, the more they'll tend to want to play guitar.

Paul takes this approach to the extreme, by almost immediately diving into demonstrating what power chords (also called "fifths") are, and how to use them. By contrast, when I take on a new student to teach, it's often several months before I introduce them to power chords (choosing instead to start them with traditional "open" chords). Paul's approach certainly is valid, however, as it does allow novices to begin playing popular songs within hours of starting to play guitar.

The Fundamentals...

In lesson one (of a total eight lessons), Paul outlines the fundamentals of playing guitar: how to hold a guitar, how to hold a pick, and how to strum a guitar. Paul then proceeds to teach tuning, and string names in lesson two. From years of teaching, I think I can safely say this is not enough information for a new guitarist to begin playing. A new guitarist needs to know basic concepts like what a fret is (since the term is referred to repeatedly throughout the video), and where they need to put their finger within that fret in order to get an optimal sound. There are also a few other fundamentals in the video that were perhaps not illustrated quite clearly enough. For example, Paul at one point demonstrates the concept of palm-muting, while the camera zooms in on the wrong hand, thereby relegating the explanation altogether useless. Although these may seem like small grievances, they do make an impact on the quality of the product.

The Content...

$29.95 + $6.95 S/H
What You Get:
video (1 hr)
lesson guides
4 guitar picks
Fender guitar strap

By the end of the one hour video, Ralph Paul has taught the following concepts: power chords, guitar riffs in different styles (country, heavy metal, etc.), open chords (including several 7th chords), barre chords (although, curiously only 5th string-based barre chords, and not 6th string based barre chords), picking patterns, and several strumming patterns. Paul has also included a few "mock" songs (some of which sound like published tunes, but never explicitly say so... undoubtedly for copyright reasons), including a twelve-bar blues pattern.

Conspicious by it's absence was any mention of how to use a guitar amp, or the controls on a guitar. Since Paul plays much of the material on the video with an overdriven sounding amplifier, it would have been nice to give viewers a general idea of how to replicate that sound. Hopefully, in further videos, Ralph Paul will include some helpful information on this subject for beginner guitarists.

The Claims...

As is customary with products featured on infomercials, the claims to the value of "Secrets to Playing Great Guitar Now" are astronomical. The Informercial Index web site states there are eight months worth of guitar lessons contained within this one hour video. This is contradictory with the information presented on the videotape packaging, which more correctly states there are two months worth of lessons on the video.
Some of the testimonials by satisfied customers also tend to be misleading. One enthusiast explains:

"We were quoted sixty dollars a week for lessons, forty dollars a week for the guitar teachers that weren't that good and do the math on this. What's six months times sixty dollars a week? You save a fortune."
My calculator tells me that 26 x $60 = $1560. This does sound rather impressive... that a video priced at under $30 can replace over $1500 worth of lessons. Of course, this isn't true. The numbers themselves are puzzling... there are only eight lessons on the video, which equals two months, not six months, of weekly lessons. Each of these eight lessons are comparable to a well-structured half hour private lesson. Of course prices will vary from location to location, but chances are that good guitar teachers qualified to instruct beginner guitarists are available for as low as $15 per half hour lesson. These modified figures suggest 8 x $15 = $120. The math is really a moot point here, however, as a qualified guitar teacher can never be fully replaced by any instructional video.

The Verdict...

When you strip away all the hype, you'll find "Secrets to Playing Great Guitar Now" to be a learning tool that will undoubtedly benefit some, and probably turn others off. If you don't play guitar, but are interested in learning to play songs like "Smoke on the Water" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit", you'll probably find this video to be a good resource. With some practice, you'll be able to play much of the material Alan Paul covers in the video, and sound pretty good in doing so.

This style of learning isn't for everyone, however. If you only own an acoustic guitar (the teaching style on the video is definitely geared towards electric guitar), or are interested in learning to strum folk songs, "Secrets of Playing Great Guitar Now" probably won't be your best choice for a learning tool.

Buy "Secrets to Playing Great Guitar Now" ($29.95 + $6.95 S/H) at the Informercial Index web site.

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