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Gamifying Guitar Tuition

By on June 14, 2011

William Kriski is a software integration specialist and a guitar teacher. Combining the two, he’s made Online Guitar Coaching. He has over 29 years of guitar playing and teaching experience, his YouTube videos have over 1,300,000 views and Will is fully accessible online to all his pupils. Here he talks about gamifying his teaching system.

Recently I decided that gamification might be useful for my online guitar lesson site for a variety of reasons – to increase engagement, motivate learning and increase eventual sales. So I called a variety of gamification software companies and did demos and initially settled on Big Door. This is because they offered a quick and easy way to get going via their MiniBar, and secondly it was free. Other companies are charging transactions fees for API usage, and Badgeville currently charges around $6000 a month as a starting fee.

With BigDoor’s MiniBar, right out of the box you are able to award points for checking in, liking a page, sharing a page on Twitter or Facebook, and with a little tweak that they provide, Disqus comments. It’s very tightly integrated with Facebook which is great for social sharing. They are busy working on consulting projects and have added new features such as Deals and Quests. (Unfortunately, at the moment this isn’t available to the general public but you are free to write your own code using their API. I look forward to new features that Big Door will provide over time and they’ve been incredibly helpful to me getting their MiniBar set up.)

My gamification objectives

For my guitar lesson site I had a few goals:

  • Increase engagement, motivate students to learn and stick with the guitar, and train them to gather and spend points,  as I recognize the huge market for virtual currencies and micropayments.
  • I wanted to protect content so that users would have to have a certain amount of points to view or unlock content, and the concept of levels made sense in the education field, since it provides structure and you need to gain knowledge and skills in order to reach higher levels of playing ability.
  • I also wanted the ability to have users buy points using real money. Since my site is built on WordPress my usual process is to search for a plugin that will do what I need.

Fortunately I found the CubePoints plugin which allowed to implement what I had in mind. CubePoints has a points system. You can award points for various actions such as registering, logging in, commenting on posts. You can call them whatever you want, XP, Points, Reward Points, Guitar Bucks, you name it.

Social aspects

Students get points for inviting friends, there’s a leaderboard that shows how they compare to other students. Currently it is not integrated with Facebook or Twitter, although someone has provided a solution in the forums. You can also donate points to other users (if you feel they have been helpful, for example). There is also a poll integration so you can poll your users, and they can see the results of everyone’s votes.

Virtual Currency

Students can ‘top up’ (ie. buy) points using Paypal. The motivation to buy points in my case is that you need a certain amount of points to access content or get freebies (free webcam guitar lessons, free guitar courses, etc). So you can gain points the slow way by doing various things or you can buy points instead. You spend points to unlock content or you can give goodies to those with a certain amount of points.


CubePoints has a modular design making it easy to add new features. I recently added the ability to protect a portion of a page (good for teaser content) rather than a whole page. So someone might be able to see the video lesson but can’t see the sheet music, for example. Someone else wrote a module that allows you to give points for new forum topics and replies (using Simple:Press forum). The developer just added a new feature to get points for watching YouTube videos as I requested. This increases the YouTube views and encourages students to learn.


I use the concept of quests or challenges which are more fun to do than assignments. In this case I manually update the points for certain quests – such as uploading a video to YouTube of their playing (as a video response to my video lessons), or transcribing a piece of music, since these events happen outside of the scope of the website. I even will give points if someone has graphical/web design skills to help with the site, although this is not directly related to learning guitar.


With many free WordPress plugins, support can be an issue. I talked to the developer recently and he’s in the Singapore military and only home on weekends, so you don’t get a great response at times. Also there is no separation between points and currency, but you can set a price per point. So out of the box you have to spend points to access protected content and I imagine some people won’t want to spend points because it will reduce their status. I have worked around this by adding a ‘protect page’ module. This module allows you to restrict access based on a certain amount of points, but you don’t deduct points for accessing it. So the basic conflict is that some people might not want to spend their points.

With the recent Amazon cloud failure, and companies going out of business you have to think about the dependencies that you might have using 3rd parties. While there are always dependencies, over the years I’ve usually opted for as much control as possible. After one week of using Cubepoints, I’ve already seen an increase in registrations and comments so I’m excited about the possibilities!

About William Kriski