WisBusiness: So-Lo Guitar hopes to bring fun back to learning how to play

By Katie Ernest

Red, green and yellow notes flew across the television screen as fingers strum to match the rock song’s tempo. When his 14-year-old student saw Milwaukee entrepreneur Brad Rake coming, “his shoulders drooped and he reluctantly put down the guitar controller,” Rake said.

“He confessed that he played Guitar Hero for over 10 hours a week,” Rake said, “and only practiced his guitar an average of two hours.”

And thus, the idea for So-Lo Guitar was born.

Designed as an interactive game, So-Lo Guitar would allow players to transition to playing a real guitar.

While Guitar Hero simplifies the fret board to five colored keys, So-Lo Guitar would be the first system to electronically incorporate half-note intervals along the neck of a standard guitar. There would be a drop-down screen where you can see what you’re actually doing on the guitar, Rake said.

A unique pick board would also be attached to the So-Lo Guitar, allowing students to simulate strumming guitar strings. “It’s a little more complicated than Guitar Hero, because eventually you have to move across the strings,” Rake said.

“The intent is that the fret and pick attachments would be easy to add and remove, taking less than five minutes to change,” Rake said. The final design is still in process, and likely will be refined many times.

So-Lo Guitar would be the first product for the soon-to-be patented technology. However, the software could be modified to work on any string instrument ― even a piano.

This interactive software is already in the billion-dollar video game industry, Rake said, but exists separately.

So-Lo Guitar’s most intense competition would come from personal games for Playstation, X-Box and Wii. However, Rake intends to form strategic partnerships with one more of the companies that develop these games, and believes product licensing would be a distinct possibility.

The highest rated system, Learn and Master Guitar ($200), uses DVDs, CDs and computer instruction. Basic computer systems like GuitarMentor.com cost $50 or less.

Complete with software and guitar interface, the So-Lo Guitar system would retail for around $200. The So-Lo Guitar system would be geared for beginners, able to advance through levels within the game.

“As a student and a teacher for many years, the hardest part (of learning guitar) is the beginning,” Rake said, “and it’s also the most boring part.”

Rake has seen 90 percent of people quit at the first level of learning, because it’s not enjoyable.

“Traditionally, there is too much mundane music theory along with the physical techniques of playing notes and chords before it becomes fun to play,” Rake said, “particularly for the younger students between 9 and 15-years-old.”

It is important to note that So-Lo Guitar would still use traditional music theory, Rake said, and would not radically depart from the basics.

“The greatest vision for So-Lo Guitar is that it’s an entirely new way to learn how to play the guitar,” Rake said.

“I envision that internet downloads, DVDs, CDs and MP3 songs and lesson material will quickly expand into the traditional method of guitar instruction,” Rake said.

So-Lo Guitar would also supplement private instruction, Rake said, and make the most dreaded part of learning cool.

“Schools will likely embrace the opportunity to offer So-Lo Guitar as the newest and most effective way to learn guitar,” Rake said. “It is very likely that significantly fewer new students will quit.”

With video games, “no matter how good you get you’re not a guitar player – you’re a Guitar Hero player,” Rake said. After using So-Lo Guitar, “they’re still a basic player, but they’re playing and having fun.”

Ernest is a beginning level Guitar Hero player, and a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.