It’s been two years since we covered FourChords, the Finnish app that encourages beginning guitarists by breaking down songs into simple, easily-playable arrangements. There are plenty of details in the original story, but as a quick recap: FourChords makes it easy to play music by visually guiding users through songs’ basic chords, lyrics, and timing. So what’s been going on with them since then? A lot.
When we originally wrote about FourChords, the app was only live in Finland. But since then they’ve been hard at work gaining international traction and have passed 1,500,000 plays from their extensive songbook. The app was recently featured in Apple’s App Store globally, which resulted in a 1,000-2,000% increase in downloads, boosting their presence in markets where they were already active, plus introducing FourChords to markets where they previously had no downloads.
One of the reasons they’ve been able to find international success is through a number of strategic partnerships that help increase their visibility. A few weeks ago, the UK celebrated National Learn to Play Day, an annual event in music stores and venues across the country that encourages people to pick up an instrument and learn to play. FourChords teamed up with the event organizers and gave away 10,000 free songs within their app to aspiring guitarists. The offer didn’t last long: eager learners snapped up all of the downloads within 5 hours. Paula Lehto, the CMO of FourChords, explains, “Over 80% of guitar beginners give up within 6 months, but with FourChords we help them to play their favourite songs almost immediately and keep them playing. Learn To Play Day is a fantastic event which we’re thrilled to be involved in and which shares our key objective – to get people playing, and enjoying, music.”
In another music education partnership last June, FourChords became the first app developer member of GAMA (Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association), a trade association dedicated to expanding the guitar industry largely by supporting guitar education initiatives. GAMA has been focusing heavily on promoting guitar education in schools, and with the attractive interface and ease-of-use that FourChords provides, the app could be the perfect tool for music educators to teach the next generation of young Bob Dylans. Kids are often impatient and easily discouraged by traditional learning methods, but a fun, colorful app has a way of catching their attention and keeping them interested while learning.
Since last summer, FourChords is also working with JustinGuitar.com, one of the internet’s leading guitar instruction sites (130+ million views and 25,000 unique visits daily). Chord charts usually aren’t enough for someone that has never played before, so a series of JustinGuitar videos are available to watch within the app, providing a more hands-on experience for users that need a little more guidance. Between the video tutorials and the individual songs, FourChords provides a solid foundation for people not quite ready to shell out the money for in-person lessons.
One of the newest features, released in conjunction with Learn to Play Day, is the ‘strum-player,’ which helps teach common strum patterns in the songs. It’s a smart addition that will help beginners get more out of the app and reach the next step in their playing. Trying to learn the timing of upstrokes and downstrokes can be frustrating for inexperienced players, but the JustinGuitar.com strumming videos--along with a vizualization for each individual song--will help students nail both the chords and the strumming.
After testing out the app myself, it’s easy to see why FourChords is such an attractive way to learn. Sure, it’s not going to turn you into Slash--and it’s quite limited for people who already have some experience playing guitar--but the service is meant to help users make that first leap into playing. As FourChords’ download numbers continue to rise, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 80% failure rate of beginning guitarists begins to drop, thanks to the app’s help.
Ben Norris is the Founder / CEO of The Peddle, a Helsinki-based company that provides native English language services to startups across the Nordic and Baltic regions. He moonlights as a contributor to ArcticStartup.