My old guitar teacher used to tell me horror stories of having to learn guitar solos in the days of vinyl. For those of you who are vinyl collectors and enthusiasts, I’m sure you cringe at the thought of constantly moving the needle back and forth on the record, changing the speed and messing up the calibration to get the record to play slower. While we have come far from our days spent scratching up records (not in the good way), learning guitar solos can still be quite a feat. Even with the advent of the YouTube cover, and the various programs available that slow down music to a learnable pace, mastering or even studying a solo is still a task that requires patience, a keen ear, and a slow hand (no pun intended). The age old art of pausing, skipping around and slowing down a track to learn a guitar solo is still the the ruling class here, but the folks at Slowhand are trying to streamline the process, and make a once tedious and painfully repetitive feat just a little bit easier to bare.
Slowhand is the name of a new guitar learning software, currently in production by Mastermind Design. While that may sound like a marketing firm full of out-of-touch old men trying to cash in on the guitar game, the exact opposite is true. The captain at the helm of this ship, Bob DeKett, is a bona fide gear nut and a serious guitar player. Bob and his team set out to fill a hole in the market by providing something that most guitar learning software hasn’t touched: integrated control.
With the help of the Slowhand foot controller, learning complex solos and difficult passages is both intuitive and efficient, providing a level of control that never requires players to take their hands off the guitar. Within two uninterrupted hours of firing up Slowhand, I was able to master the first solo to Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” which, as I’m sure many know, is a complex and challenging solo to master. With the help of the foot controller, I was able to slow the tempo, zoom in to specific parts of the video, and create loops of different sections of the solo, splitting a daunting task into more manageable pieces.
Before I spoke to Bob about his product, I took his foot controller and software for a test run. I’m no stranger to the tedium of the old “pause, rewind, repeat” technique, and anything to help me learn solos more accurately and intuitively is heartily welcome in my book. Initially, there were a few hiccups getting video to play, but Bob and his team were right there to help me figure it out (Apparently, the “K-Lite Codec Pack” is needed for this software to run properly, which one should download before they install the software). After that, I had a good few hours to really dig into this software. There is not much of a learning curve if you are used to using these types of programs, and I really loved the great level of control and general “feel” of this software. It feels good to use, and it makes learning solos a little less tedious.
While Slowhand is still in it’s infancy, helmsman Bob DeKett has big plans for this software, and I spoke to him about his influences behind this project, his inspiration for it, and his big plans for the future.
Tone Report Weekly: Why did you decide to create Slowhand?
Bob DeKett: I first got the idea when video and DVDs hit the market in the mid ‘90s. I attempted to make a foot controller to take the place of the hand remote but it was too expensive and there was no transparency between the technologies so I put the idea on the shelf. I was working in the video game industry at the time and over the subsequent years I followed the advancements in video and audio. I left the video game industry after 26 years, started MasterMind Design and took my idea back off the shelf.
TRW: What does Slowhand offer that other software of its kind does not?
BD: Slowhand offers a very user-friendly interface and is super simple to use, but very powerful. With Slowhand you can not only create Projects with Loops, but you can also zoom, pan, and slow down the video and audio (while it all stays in sync and pitch). You can also build a custom Project using Loops from other Projects you’ve created. This is especially cool for teachers who want to build a lesson plan with a variety genres of music using various loops from different performances. A big feature is the ability to download pre-made and already created Projects to your device from within the app. You can also use the Upload Tool to upload Projects that you’ve created to share with other Slowhand Users. This Upload and Download feature in Slowhand is something no other software program has or does. We also have patents filed for Slowhand as well as the Slowhand Controller Pedal.
TRW: Do you perceive a hole in the market of guitar learning software that was plugged by Slowhand?
BD: [It’s] not so much of a hole as a different and better way for people to learn how to play an instrument. This is the age of video and there are hundreds of thousands of music performance videos, lessons and tutorials existing, so it makes perfect sense to provide a tool that makes any video a personalized lesson where the user can learn at their own speed.
TRW: Tell us a bit about the plans for the future of Slowhand.
BD: We will be releasing Slowhand for the Mac in June or July, followed by the iPad version. The biggest news is we will launch the Slowhand Community, also in the same timeframe. The Slowhand Community will be the go-to place online for musicians, music students and teachers who want to learn and teach their favorite styles of music. In the Community, Users can download Projects created in Slowhand by other users, and also users can upload their Projects which they’ve created. Thus, the content will always be increasing daily or even hourly.
TRW: Is there anything in the near horizon we should be looking out for from Mastermind Design?
BD: We will be exhibiting at Summer NAMM in Nashville at the end of June, where we’ll be debuting Slowhand for the Mac and also showing the interface for the Slowhand Community. We’ll have some cool announcements as well in the pipeline as well, but you’ll have to wait for them!