The two guitar courses currently available on MasterClass are taught by two of the most unique and recognizable guitar players in popular music.
And while they share certain elements in common, by and large they are completely different courses.
In some ways, Santana and Tom Morello are perfect foils for each other. If Tom Morello is the down-to-earth working man’s sonic poet, then Santana is the magical, mystical spiritualist of guitar.
The result is two guitar classes that present a very different approach to learning and mastering the instrument. Both courses closely hew to their instructors’ personalities, yet both provide many surprises along the way.
So which one is right for you (or a guitar player you know)? Read on to find out.
Before getting into how the courses compare on specific measures, there are a couple of things to note that apply to both of them.
First off, the core message of both courses revolves around the philosophy and attitude with which you approach playing the guitar. This aspect of musicianship tends to take precedence over technical instruction.
This may surprise some students (especially beginners), but there is a real argument to be made that it’s the superior way to learn versus the “technique-heavy” strategy that many guitar teachers employ. After all, both Santana and Tom Morello would like to help you become musicians, not musical robots.
The second thing to note is this: though you wouldn’t know it by listening to their records or live performances, neither Santana nor Tom Morello is a god-gifted virtuoso. In fact Tom stresses that he had “zero natural ability” on the instrument. Both had to work — and work hard — to develop into the guitar players their fans are familiar with.
This is probably why they make great instructors: they know what it is to struggle. This fact should also give beginners a lot of confidence in knowing you don’t have to be a prodigy to develop into a great musician.
Compare and Contrast
In this section, we’ll compare the two courses on three basic measures: Technical instruction, Philosophy, and Course structure.
As mentioned above, both courses are focused more on the philosophy and attitude of playing the guitar than on technical instruction. However, between the two, Tom Morello’s class offers a lot more in this regard.
In Tom’s class, you’ll learn the basics of music theory. He also gives you a whole bunch of scale exercises to practice — enough to spend hours a day on building up your technique if basic finger dexterity is something you need to work on.
This is one of the biggest differences between the two courses. If you want to know which aspects of music theory to learn, and/or how to build your technical skill to a world class level, Tom Morello gives you a lot more guidance.
With that being said, both courses come with a comprehensive PDF workbook full of exercises, riffs, and lead licks to practice, along with notes on main points from each video lesson. In fact, one neat feature of these workbooks is that they include tablature for everything your instructor (Tom or Carlos) plays in every video, even when they’re just firing off a quick riff to demonstrate a point they’re making. So regardless of which course you choose, you’ll have no shortage of music to practice.
Much of the tablature included in both courses comes from the instructors’ most famous and recognizable songs. So if you’re a fan, you’ll probably learn how to play some of your favorite guitar parts along the way.
Authenticity is a major theme for both instructors. Their primary goal is not to get you to set a world speed record for notes per second (though as mentioned above, Tom Morello gives you some practice exercises that will be helpful if you want to take a shot at that record).
Rather, the main goal of both courses is to give you the tools, mindset, practice pointers, and playing habits that will help you express yourself as uniquely and honestly as possible through the guitar.
Here is the main difference in their emphasis when it comes to philosophy.
Santana wants to help you create a transcendental spiritual experience through the guitar. Much of his instruction is aimed at helping you infuse the energy of your soul into every note you play.
Tom Morello, on the other hand, puts a lot of emphasis on doing away with accepted notions of how you can and can’t play the guitar. This includes making non guitar-like noises by using effects and by exploring unconventional ways to use the instrument itself.
If you’re familiar with the music of Santana and Tom Morello, none of this should be surprising. Again, the courses are very much imbued with the instructors’ personalities.
In a general sense, Tom’s course feels more structured. The individual lessons — and even groups of lessons — are more centered around discrete topics. For instance, the second half of Tom’s course is devoted to four specific study areas, addressed in sequence: Technique, Theory, Songwriting, and Improvisation.
Fun fact: at the height of Tom’s career, he practiced for eight hours every single day, with two hours devoted to each of the areas listed above. Yikes.
In contrast, Santana’s course feels much more free-form and conversational. It comes across like a series of topical discussions as opposed to traditional lessons. Sort of like gathering in a room and listening to the accumulated wisdom of a master through daily lectures and anecdotes.
Both are effective teaching methods, but each one makes for quite a different learning experience.
Each Course is Best For…
If you or the person you’re buying for has any inclination to shred (in case you’re unfamiliar with guitar terminology, that means play really really fast), Tom Morello is unconditionally the right choice.
This is because Tom’s course, as mentioned earlier, includes practice exercises designed to help you achieve whatever level of technical proficiency you desire, along with instruction in how to approach these exercises for maximum results.
This is also the class for guitar players who want to mimic the heavy riffs of bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Tool, and (of course) Rage Against the Machine.
2. Anyone looking for music theory guidance
Though he doesn’t go into heavy detail (which would require a dedicated course of its own — if not several courses), Tom points the learner in the right direction to explore music theory. This is very helpful for someone who has the vague idea that they would like to learn theory but is overwhelmed or intimidated by the sheer breadth of the topic.
I’m using the term beginner loosely here. You could have dabbled in the guitar for 20 years and still be functionally a beginner. “Beginner” is really anyone who lacks the technical skill to consistently bring their musical ideas into reality. If you’re often frustrated by your inability to play the things you hear in your head, you could probably still count yourself as a beginner.
That being said, this course can also make a great choice for an experienced player who wants a fresh perspective on the instrument to reinvigorate their playing. Especially if that player happens to be a Tom Morello fan.
Both the Morello and Santana courses emphasize expressive playing. However, that expressiveness comes through in much different ways.
Santana’s approach to the guitar is — for lack of a better term — more conventional. I promise that’s meant in the best possible way. Whereas Tom Morello urges you to bang on the guitar, fiddle with the switches, add crazy effects, and try to figure out some way to use the instrument that nobody has ever thought of before, Santana teaches you how to cultivate the mental, emotional, and even spiritual state you need to make your guitar playing as beautiful and impactful as possible.
Santana’s approach — which includes teaching esoteric concepts like “how to get inside the note” — is more likely to resonate with people who admire the long lineage of great guitar players in the blues mold. Players like Albert King, Jimmy Hendrix, and Carlos Santana, just to name a few.
2. Beginner to advanced
Guitar lessons are, by their nature, most beneficial to beginners. And even though this course is much lighter on technical instruction than Tom Morello’s course, that’s true here as well. In fact, if every beginning musician started out with this kind of instruction rather than being told to play scales until they drop from boredom, the world would probably be full of much better music.
However, this course holds a treasure trove of insight for experienced players too. Advanced musicians who find themselves going through the motions may find that this course reinvigorates their playing and helps them rediscover what they loved about music in the first place.
3. Anyone more interested in the intangible qualities of music rather than technical skill
Most of the principles that Santana covers are basically universal to all instruments, they just happen to be channeled through the guitar. As Santana himself points out, the only thing people will remember about you as a musician is how you made them feel. This course is all about how to master that art.Carlos Santana Class Tom Morello Class