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In this article I'll be giving you a Musical U review, a membership alternative to the highly effective Train Your Ears software, and asking: can this membership site really help you increase your musicality?
In short, Musical U is a membership containing video lessons, tests, and a busy community. It’s run by Christopher Sutton and his team, and aims to have you playing music by ear, improve your rhythm and more. They cover all the essential topics of musicality.
As always, I like to offer a hands-on review. That means we’ll be looking at the specific content offered, what it helps you achieve, how much the membership costs, what members get access to, and more.
At the end, we will also weigh in with our verdict.
If you’re ready, let’s have a look inside Musical U.
So, what does Musical U offer? What do you get access to when you join the membership?
In this section, we’ll be looking specifically at the offer.
Aim Of The Course
There are plenty of providers offering music education.
Musical U separates itself from the crowd by teaching the inner skills that help you gain confidence in your ability and allow you to express yourself freely on your instrument.
These skills are applied to playing by ear, improvisation, composition, and more.
Musical U also states that, while courses are great, because they often lack a personalized plan and generally don’t offer support, they can fall short for music students. These are the exact pain points they address within their membership.
This isn’t to say Musical U membership doesn’t come with training. Far from it. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
When you sign up for Musical U membership, you get access to roadmaps. Depending on what you want to achieve now, you’d choose a specific roadmap. These include:
- Playing chords by ear
- Playing melodies by ear/intervals
- Playing melodies by ear/Solfa
- Getting rhythm
- Learning to sing
- Learning to improvise
If you aren’t sure what to focus on right now, no problem. The membership gives you access to community and support, so that you are guided every step of the way.
Now for a look at the training modules. Here’s a basic overview of what’s offered (we’ll be getting into more specifics later):
- Chord Progressions
- Playing By Ear
Under each module, you will find multiple lessons guiding you through these skills.
Although Musical U training modules do cater to just about every instrument, they focus primarily on guitar, piano, and bass.
Instrument packs are also available as an optional upgrade. This is helpful when you’re working specifically on guitar, piano or keyboard, bass, or vocals, and want to develop your skills on your instrument at a deeper level.
Price Of The Course
Musical U membership is available at a flat fee of $29.95 per month.
No long-term commitments are required.
If you’d like to gain access to Instrument Packs for additional training, you can add it to your membership for $10 per month.
Musical U is both a membership and a course. And many courses available these days are exactly that.
Of course, how the coaching or training is delivered, the actual contents or material, instructors, and other nuances always vary.
So, in this section, we’ll be looking at the deliverables in more detail.
Format Of The Course
Once you’re logged in to Musical U, you are presented with a dashboard.
The dashboard features six elements prominently:
- Member profile. Here you can see your username and points you’ve earned within the community (gamification to help you stay engaged in the learning process). You’ll also see links to log out, view/edit your profile, and notifications (e.g. private messages), if you have any.
- Get started. New members are encouraged to take four steps – set a vision, make a plan, join the community, and start a progress journal. At each step, you will find helpful videos guiding you through the process.
- Community. Whether you’re looking for accountability, support, or insights into the training modules offered, members are encouraged to join in on the discussions. This panel displays links to new discussions, as well as discussions you’ve started, subscribed to, or replied to.
- Plans & progress journals. This panel will show what training plan you’re following, as well as any progress journals you’ve created. The progress journals help you dive back into modules wherever you left off.
- Modules. This panel shows what training you’ve completed as well as current progress.
- Instrument pack. Instrument packs are available as an upgrade and allow you to go more in-depth with guitar, bass, piano, and vocals.
In addition to these panels, there are also quick links to Home, Training, Community, and Help in the top menu.
How The Course Is Delivered
Musical U membership is a large repository of content, and you basically get access to all of it upon entry (more on this later, as there are some exceptions).
Their training is delivered using a mix of content types – mostly text, graphics, pictures, audio, and video. So, they use a variety of content formats to good effect.
The content types you’re presented with will vary based on the lesson you’re going through, and what is required to get the content across.
Once you’re inside the training modules, it’s mostly self-serve. You can go through the content at your own pace, whenever it’s most convenient for you.
At the end of every training module, however, you are sent over to community discussion. This reinforces the idea that you can – and should – talk over what you’ve learned with others in the Musical U community. This is also where you can get access to personalized help.
Within the community, you can learn from others, get the support you need, and keep accountable to the goals you’ve set. Music can be a difficult skill to master, so additional help is always welcome.
Of course, your plans and progress journals play a part in this, and you cannot begin a module without first making a plan. And, they’ve made it harder for you to start a new module without completing the one you’ve already started.
As noted, Musical U offers quite a bit of training to help their users gain confidence and achieve their goals. Each module is home to several lessons, and the time it takes to get through will depend on the module.
The Pitch training, for instance, comes with five lessons (Introduction, About, Tips, Listen, and Try It).
Between the text, audios, and videos, this module would take roughly 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Of course, this will vary depending on the rate and depth at which you’re studying, as well as how much of the information you intend to repeat to retain more of it.
Here we’ll also take a quick look at each training module and what you can expect to find in each.
The planning module is mostly concerned with helping you set goals and creating a plan for their achievement.
Within this module, you can develop a better sense of pitch.
An interval is the distance between any two notes. Learning to recognize how two notes sound together (or one after another) helps you gain a much better understanding of melody and harmony.
A melody is generally the part you find yourself whistling or humming after hearing a song you like. Much of the time, it’s the vocal part. Sometimes, it’s the lead instrument.
Learning how melody works can help you in a variety of areas, including writing, composing, improvising, and more.
A chord is made up of three or more notes. They are vital building blocks to making music, typically playing a supporting role to the melody or harmony.
Songs are almost always made up of chord progressions, a series of chords that creates the groove and harmonic movement.
Rhythm is vital to learning and playing all instruments. Often referred to as the “beat” of a song, it also outlines the overall tempo of a tune.
Playing By Ear
Although it’s common for musicians to use tablature and sheet music these days, playing by ear is a powerful skill that enables you to pick up new songs and write your own.
Develop your vocal skills and use your voice to develop your ear.
Learn how to improvise on your instrument. Improvisation generally goes hand in hand with soloing or playing lead.
Select Lesson Titles & What They Help You Accomplish
Because we’ve already given an overview of the training programs available, here we’ll only be covering a couple of lesson titles and what they help you accomplish.
With that said, this should give you a better idea of what to expect inside Musical U.
This lesson is specifically about listening to several audio clips.
The goal in this lesson is note recognition – differentiating high notes from low notes, as well as recognizing the difference in timbre (or tone) from one instrument to another.
It helps you understand that even if multiple instruments are playing the same note, there is a difference in tonal characteristics.
The Improviser’s Mindset
This lesson is primarily made up of text, diagrams, and pictures.
The lesson begins by explaining that, just knowing how to play various exercises or techniques doesn't translate to improvisation. First, you must approach improvisation with the right mindset.
You will also learn why making mistakes is a natural part of learning to improvise – not something to be feared.
Who Teaches The Course?
The Musical U training modules are primarily taught by the following people:
- Christopher Sutton, founder and director
- Ruth Power, piano
- Steve Lawson, bass
- Clare Wheeler, vocals
- Dylan Welsh, guitar
Christopher Sutton is the most prominent figure overall, and who we’ll be focusing on here, although we won’t be going into great depth, as you can learn a lot about Sutton on the Musical U website as well.
Sutton has plenty of experience as a musician, having taken lessons for cello, clarinet, piano, saxophone, and electric guitar. He’s also been a part of several choirs and ensemble groups.
As he readily admits, to say he can play the cello or clarinet might be a bit of a stretch, there’s no denying he has a wide and varied experience with musical instruments, including the harmonica. These days, he’s focusing on learning the U-Bass (a ukulele-sized bass guitar with synthetic strings).
Sutton’s musical interests are likewise varied. He’s gone on record to say he enjoys nerdcore hip-hop, nerd rock, chiptune music, punk, ska, epic metal, and more.
The main reason Sutton started Musical U is because even as he practiced and improved as a musician, he didn’t feel like he was at the same level as his peers.
The missing piece, as it turns out, is exactly what he teaches and shares at Musical U – the inner skills.
At first, this sounds like an intangible thing. But Sutton did the hard work of boiling it down to the key principles and lessons taught in Musical U – playing by ear, improvisation, musical confidence, and expression.
Some memberships and courses make it easy for you to find what you’re looking for. Others are needlessly complicated. Of course, there are plenty of shades in between.
There are many factors affecting usability, whether it’s the specific software that was used to build it, how it’s been customized, the order of the lessons, and more.
In this section, we’ll be looking at how usable Musical U membership is.
Members Area Ease Of Navigation
There is no denying that Musical U features a simple, clean layout that shows you exactly what you have access to as a member.
As already noted, the navigation is “bottlenecked” somewhat, encouraging you to finish lessons or modules before jumping around to others. This appears to be an intentional choice, however, and isn’t a flaw by any means.
There are minor shortcomings that could be better. For instance, sometimes when you click “next lesson”, you aren’t brought to the top of the page where all the content is, so you don’t even know where you’ve landed.
Aside from that, we find the membership to be very navigable and intentional in design.
Yes, Musical U does allow for progress saving.
You can mark lessons “complete” as you go, and you will be able to see, from your dashboard, what modules you’ve completed and what you have yet to do.
You can easily skip around from lesson to lesson, though they’ve made it a little harder to jump from module to module (though not impossible).
This is likely a deliberate choice, as Musical U wants you to follow their logically laid out plan to gain the skills you’ve committed to getting.
Participation in the community is highly encouraged, as at the end of every training module, you will be brought to the discussion.
Musical U Membership Review VS Train Your Ears – The Verdict
If you're only interested in learning to play better by ear and you don't want an ongoing price to pay every month, the game changing Train Your Ears software may be the better option for you.
If however you also want to be part of a community of others looking to train their ear, and you don't mind paying more due to an ongoing monthly fee, the Musical U membership could be the right option for you.
With a busy community and learning paths for various types of musicians, it’s not surprising that many subscribers end up staying for months or years.
This can be seen in the community forums where members document their improvement over time.
So that’s my review of the Musical U membership, but what did you think?
Let us know in the comments, what you did and didn’t like about Musical U. And if you've tried any other ear training software, give us your review.