Review: Study with Adam

World-renown fingerstyle guitarist Adam Rafferty recently hung out his virtual shingle as an on-line guitar teacher. His well-thought-out website offers step-by-step video lessons on many of his popular arrangements and originals, a chance to interact with and receive constructive feedback from Adam, and a treasure trove of opportunities to learn and grow as a guitarist and arranger.

As a teacher that meets in person with students I was a little dubious of how much value could be offered via a website that – at first glance – offers prerecorded lessons, but after spending some time exploring (SWA) I was really impressed with how much thought was put into the design of the site and how much care Adam takes in creating meaningful interactive content for it.

On the site, you’ll find over 23 hours of video providing instruction on professional-level songs, techniques, and concepts to help improve your understanding of harmony and groove. If you’ve ever seen any of his other video lessons, you’ll know that Adam thoughtfully prepares these videos and presents everything you need to know in very concise way that’s easy to follow without ever letting things get overwhelming or boring. You also get a feel for why he chooses certain chord voicings or fingerings as he goes through the material. Videos are rated by difficulty so you’ll know a little about what to expect and most pieces are often broken into small, manageable segments. There’s also a detailed audiobook and accompanying PDF “How to Arrange for Solo Guitar” that delves into Adam’s approach and provides players with several methods of creating their own arrangements and even some instruction on jazz improvisation if that’s an avenue you want to explore. New content is added about every six weeks and there is a poll where users can let Adam know what they’d like to see a lesson on next.

One thing you won’t find on the site is guitar tablature for Adam’s arrangements of popular songs. Unfortunately, guitar tablature requires print licensing so lessons are taught strictly by rote in order avoid copyright infringement. Some of the newer lessons on SWA include occasional onscreen chord diagrams or PDF “help files” containing tips and tricks and blank TAB lines to scribble in the fingerings of the melody or other notes for your own personal use. Also, note that if you want to learn any of Adam’s arrangements of Stevie Wonder or Jackson 5 tunes they are only available on his DVD packages and they do include licensed tablature booklets. You can find them here:

One of the most popular features of the site is the ability to upload a video of yourself performing for Adam to review and offer constructive feedback. Adam is really devoted to keeping up with this and recently reported that in 2016 he watched over 280 student uploads. It’s important to note that users do not have to record a piece from Adam’s repertoire to participate in this exchange. Of course, many players do submit video covers of the material presented on the site but others will upload pieces by other well-known guitarists or even their own arrangements. A response is given by way of another video from Adam discussing what elements of the performance were good and which need improvement. Adam’s advice is always thoughtful and encouraging but contains concrete observations and specific, personalized suggestions of how to improve.

For me, this is a key hidden value of the site: watching other guitarists perform for Adam and receive feedback is very often just as instructive as receiving a critique of your own. It’s essentially a digital master-class where all the students can learn from observing one another.

The only criticism I could possibly make is that although the website has a “community” section for members to connect, it’s not particularly robust or intuitive. However, a private Facebook group for SWA members more than makes up for that and anyway, you should be practicing – not chatting!

I highly recommend Study with Adam for any intermediate to advanced fingerstyle guitarists who want to widen their solo repertoire, improve their arranging chops, and deepen their groove. SWA also offers several subscription options that are all very reasonably priced and all feature a 14-day free trail so you can take some time to be sure the site is right for you. Go check it out!

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