While iLife '09's GarageBand comes bundled with 9 free lessons on guitar and piano, Artist Lessons, with famous musicians, cost $5 a pop to download. So what does that money actually get you?
It should be noted that no Artist Lessons come free with iLife '09. So if you want Sting to teach you the way of the guitar (and I mean, who doesn't?), you'll need to purchase his lesson through the GarageBand Store. That's not actually synonymous with the iTunes Store, as it works completely through GarageBand (which redirects you to the web). iTunes never actually enters the picture.
The downloads are sizable. Sting is 600MB, which shouldn't be so surprising as multiple angles of high resolution video appear in two stitched-together 16x9 frames (32x9). (Unfortunately, there's no angle for Sting's butt.)
And my favorite part about the GarageBand store might be that it's not "Roxanne" that you are downloading. It's "Sting" that you are downloading. I've got you now, Sting!
The basic Artist Lesson comes in three parts: Learn Song, Play Song and Story. With Sting, you get two versions of Roxanne to learn (beginner and advanced levels). Through Learn Song, Sting gives you a brief rundown of each chord. Play Song is just a straight play-through of the song itself. And then the Story is just Sting talking about his inspiration behind the music, as if Sting could ever just talk.
In terms of actual time spent, that's:
Beginner Lesson: 8 minutes
Advanced Lesson: 4 1/2 minutes
Beginner Song: 3 minutes
Advanced Song: 3 minutes
The Story: 5 minutes
Glancing at this lesson outline, you see that it's not super long. The whole thing is about 24 minutes in all—if you go through basic and advanced levels. But what Apple did to expand this content is within GarageBand's new Learn to Play interface. Some very well-thought options really stretch the lesson's value beyond Sting's charm.
Whether you want to look at realtime frets on a virtual guitar or just follow along with various notations (simple chords, chord grid, and TAB), you can really get in there and match the lesson to your training preferences.
Then you can do some other neat things to expand the content through integrated Practice Tools, including changing the playback speed so you can take your time with the chords (this option ditches Sting's melodious vocals), work with a metronome, loop passages like the refrain or record your audio straight to the timeline to play back and remind you that, no, you are not Sting.
So is it worth $5? It depends on your perspective. A song runs $1 on iTunes (which most of us consider decent) while a 2-hour movie is $10+. Technically, this is just 24 minutes of content. But given its clean presentation and the real replay value, at your own pace, alongside a celebrity to make it all a little sexier, I'm going with yes.
I was pretty certain the Artist Lessons were just a cheap and trendy Apple gimmick when announced at the Macworld. But there's some real love in GarageBand's Learn to Play interface that is well-suited for celebrities to show up and teach you to jam. Apple hasn't committed to just how many Artist Lessons they will release moving forward, but if they can develop a reasonably sized library of musicians/music, I could see the platform growing into something very, very interesting.