Author, Joe Elliott
Written by Joe Elliott, and updated June 24th, 2023
Joe spent 30 years playing professionally in Los Angeles as a guitarist, musical director, and composer in a variety of music settings including network TV, movie soundtrack, studio, concert and club venues. In 2010 he left Los Angeles and moved to join the rich music scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
This is a collection of scripts from YouTube reels by Joe Elliot, who started Fretboard Biology guitar program. Joe is an excellent teacher, author, and musician. Checkout his program and enjoy the valuable knowledge he provides here on becoming a better guitar player and performer.
Read more: Details of Joe's Program
Be Aware of Your Time
Be aware of your time feel when you play. Nothing is more telling about how developed a musician is than how good their time is. Less developed players tend to rush and crowd their notes together.
More experienced players are in control of how they play relative to the beat. They’re able to lay back, relax and play like they’re on cruise control but they’re also able to play aggressively without losing control and rushing.
The first thing that stands out for me if I walk in a club and hear a guitar player or any musician for that matter, is how good their time is.
Record yourself often so you can hear how good yours is. Always work at being in control of your time. It really makes a difference.
Making the Changes
Most guitarists learn to solo by wandering around the scale of the key. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s a great way to start. But at some point, you’re going to hear somebody hitting a lot of sweet notes and you’ll wonder how they found them. Chances are, they are ‘making the changes’, as we say.
‘Making the changes’ means the some of the notes you use in a solo belong to the chord played at that instant in the song. Arpeggios are a common way we find chord tones, but you don’t have to be an arpeggio wizard to start making the changes.
Even if you just target one chord tone on the first beat of each chord in your solo, you’ll go a long way toward sounding like you’re ‘making the changes’.
A lot of people associate this as a jazz-only thing, but it’s not. Many Blues, Country and Rock players can ‘make the changes’. It just requires a little knowledge of the notes in each chord and some exploration and planning on the fretboard. Most blues players target specific notes on some chords. These are chord tones most of the time.
A good classic rock example of making the changes is the solo on ‘Hotel California’.
The idea of making the changes is worth checking out.
Preparing for a Gig
Band leaders and band mates really appreciate it when you’re prepared for the gig. Sure, there are times when you can’t prepare because you get a late call and have to either wing it or read it, but when you have time to prepare, do it.
It pays benefits far beyond that immediate gig. Not only will you play THAT gig better, but you’ll also build a reputation for being someone who the others can count on— and that means they’ll call you for more gigs.
At a recent soundcheck for a David Sanborn gig I did, Dave gave the band one of the best compliments at the soundcheck anyone can get from a leader. He said he felt like he could trust us and that’s what a leader, and all of us for that matter, are always looking for in a band.
We want to trust that our bandmates are prepared, will stay in their lanes, listen to the rest of the band, and be aware of where the music may be going organically.
Being prepared not only means to know the parts, but to also have the right sound. Don’t forget that part. So, like a good scout – Be Prepared.
Keeping Your Chops Up Between Gigs
There’s a feel to my chops when I’m playing a lot of gigs that can’t be replicated by just practicing. Both practicing and performing are important, and one without the other leaves me feeling imbalanced, both physically and psychologically.
I get really uncomfortable if I’m not playing gigs or practicing. But if I don’t gig for a week or two, I try to incorporate things in my practice to mimic the physical and mental experience of a live show.
Some of this may be my own psychological idiosyncrasies on display, but I’m sure I’m not alone. In between gigs:
I try to play solos that are finite in length to tracks that simulate the structure we often find on gigs.
I try to play constant rhythm guitar feels that maintain my endurance because one of the worst feelings on a gig is to run out of gas after 3 minutes of a 6-minute song, while playing a 16th note rhythm guitar part.
I usually sit when I practice but stand on gigs. That makes a difference. So while I’m doing these little simulation exercises, I stand.
These are just ideas that work for me. Find what works for you.
Have You Ever Tried a Stereo Amp Set Up? Experiencing a stereo guitar sound for the first time is pretty amazing. It can transform a tiny pinging guitar tone into a bulldozer. You need two guitar amps, not just two speakers.
Here's the basic set up:
After your signal goes through your pedal board, split the signal with a “Y” adapter or you can come out of one of your pedals that splits the signal like a stereo chorus.
Once the signal is split, one line goes to amp #1 and the other goes to amp #2.
But put a delay pedal before amp #2 and set it so it’s mixed 100% delay, and 0% the original signal.
Set it for a very tight delay, like 10 milliseconds or so which is tighter than a slap back delay. The result is the main sound comes from amp #1 and the delayed sound comes from amp #2.
You immediately have dimension. And with overdrive, the sound gets thick in a good way. Clean sounds can shimmer, especially if you use a stereo chorus to split the signal.
All you need is 2 amps, a delay pedal, a splitter and 4 cables. Give it a try.
Line Check and Go
No matter the level of prestige of the gig, there will be times when there is no sound check. You’ll go on stage with no idea of what the balance is like, much less the acoustic characteristics of the stage and venue. Don’t whine—just deal with it.
If you have a say in the creation of the set list, the best way to deal with this situation is to make the first song one that allows everybody in the band to find their place in the overall sound. That means choose a song that’s not the hardest to play or most complex or loudest.
It could be a song with a comfortable groove and tempo and not a lot of intricate lines or figures. It’s essentially a mini-soundcheck song.
It’s amazing how much quick ‘sound-checking’ you can do in a 4 minute song.