A-one, a-two -- guitar virtuosity Ratings: Several publishers offer instructional software for Eric Clapton wannabes


So you wanna play rock guitar?

If the crackdown on online guitar archives such as OLGA continues, instructional software might be the only way for would-be Eric Claptons to learn new chops on their home computers.

But that's not so bad. Music instruction is a task well-suited to the PC. Your computer never gets tired of showing you a scale or a lick, and it doesn't charge you extra if you need more time to nail it down.

In fact, most programs cost about the same as two hours with a private instructor. And you can sit down with your digital teacher whenever it's convenient.

Most guitar tutorials come in two flavors: those that focus on songs and those that focus on music theory. You'll have to choose which is more important.

Whichever you chose, you'll find that the best software tutorials play to the eyes and ears: They employ video clips, an animated fret board that shows you exactly where to put your fingers, and the actual musical notation. Most display music in both standard and tablature form, a convenient shorthand for guitarists who can't read staff music. You'll also find perks such as built-in guitar tuners and metronomes.

As a 12-year veteran of garage bands, I was a bit skeptical at first, but I tried a half-dozen programs designed for every level, from beginner to advanced. Most were good - some were great. Here's what I found:

Play Rock Guitar, Windows 95, 4 picks (Play Music Inc., $49.95) ****

As instructor Keith Wyatt says in his introduction to this CD-ROM, "The best way to learn rock guitar is by playing songs." And Play Rock Guitar has lined up some classics as textbooks examples - "Crossroads" by Clapton, "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix, "Freeway Jam" by Jeff Beck and "Black Magic Woman" by Santana.

Unlike other tutorials, which teach watered-down versions of popular tunes, this one teaches the real thing. So be warned - Play Rock Guitar and its companion, Play Blues Guitar, aren't for beginners (Try the company's Play Guitar CD if you're a newbie).

Wyatt is an accomplished musician who dives into the sublime technique of the guitar gods by walking you through the theory and fingering of each part of a song. Video clips and animated fret board (with a novel choice of overhead, facing or left-handed perspectives) help nail down the tricky passages.

When you're ready to see how the song comes together, click on a button to see Wyatt and his band jamming on a smoky stage before an altar of stacked Marshall amps. If you've got the guts, you can make Wyatt's lead guitar go mum, so you can play guitar god instead. Instructional software doesn't get much better than this.

Information: 800-887-7529 or www.playmusic.com.

Classic Rock Guitar Volumes 1 & 2, Windows 3.1/95 and Mac OS 7, 4 picks (UbiSoft Entertainment, $59.95) ****

If you've ever wanted to be a jukebox hero, the Classic Rock Guitar CDs are for you. Designed for intermediate guitarists, they teach beautifully arranged rock on an acoustic guitar. Volume 1 contains eight classics by artists such as Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Volume 2 adds seven Beatles tunes guaranteed to make you the life of the party.

The cartoonlike graphics are slick and help keep the mood light - they almost make you forget that learning can be hard work. The screen layout is professional and intuitive, with video clips, animated chord diagrams and scrolling notation visible at a glance. A nice touch: Move the cursor over a chord diagram and click to play it; move it over the video and it magnifies the instructor's finger work.

Classic Rock reviews essential techniques from palm-muting to flat picking, but not in detail. For a serious discussion, look elsewhere. If you want to have fun and add great tunes to your repertoire, it's a good choice.

Information: 800-824-7638 or www.ubisoft.com.

G-Vox Guitar 101, Windows 3.1/95, 2 picks (G-Vox Entertainment, $49.99) **

Guitar 101 is billed as a ground-up tutorial for beginners, and it does start at the very beginning. Lesson 1 is how to hold your guitar. While the visuals are stunning and the content solid, instruction moves at a glacial pace. Aggravating the problem, the CD lacks example songs that are fun to play and tie together new concepts. Each lesson's drills and quizzes do help budding guitarists nail down one concept before moving to the next. But newcomers may soon tire of all the hard work and look for a way to play hooky.

G-Vox also publishes four Guitar Songbook CDs, which contain tunes by artists such as the Police, Santana, B. B. King and Clapton. But these lack the polish and depth of the better programs. If you want to hook your guitar directly to your computer to record your songs, check out the $100 G-Vox Guitar, a magnetic pickup that translates your notes into MIDI format.

Information 215-922-0880 or www.gvox.com.

Blues Guitar Explorer, Windows 95, 3 picks (Explorer Music, $59.95) ***

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