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Fretboard Biology: Comprehensive Guitar Program
Guitar Noises #35: September 29, 2023
Self taught guitarists inevitably have gaps in their playing. No amount of scrolling through videos will fix them all. There’s not enough time to become a well-rounded guitarist with a scattershot approach to learning. Complete guitar training, the kind you have to go to school for, isn’t really an option for most of us. So, why hasn’t anyone come up with an online alternative to the guitar institute?
They have. In a market driven by content creators who often entertain more than they enlighten the timing couldn’t be better.
Fretboard Biology is a no nonsense, no posturing guitar program for players who are ready to take guitar seriously. Guitar for dummies this is not.
Fretboard Biology is the online equivalent of the pro-level training offered by colleges and music schools. It’s a self-paced, self study course that mirrors the curriculum and progression of courses you’d find at a real guitar institute, without having to move to L.A. or Boston.
This is the only program that combines all the benefits of a structured professional guitar program with the low cost and convenience of self-learning. - Fretboard Biology
The course has been online since 2020 and I’ve spent the past few months putting myself through the paces with it. This is not just some simplified impersonation of a music school curriculum. It’s a realistic alternative to studying full-time somewhere like Berklee or Musicians Institute.
What is Fretboard Biology?
Inside Fretboard Biology you’ll find several volumes of comprehensive material to work through. It’s a rigorous course with a clear focus on serious learning. You don’t get to pick and choose the topics or styles that work for you. You are free to study at your own pace, but it’s a progressive course that requires you to go through it in order.
Fretboard Biology is ideal for the intermediate or advanced students who are seeking to understand the "whys" behind music - and all the things that can transform a good player into a great player.
What will you find inside Fretboard Biology?
Fretboard Biology is divided into eight levels, with each level covering roughly one semester of college. In each level there are 10 units. Each unit approximates one week of classes. The units are further split into modules that cover topics like theory, logic, technique, rhythm and improvisation. Everything is tied together so that the theory, technique, rhythm and improv all align into one purpose.
To get into shape as a complete guitarist, you’ll have to work through different styles of music such as blues, folk, rock, country, reggae, funk, R&B and Latin. Rather than teaching flashy licks or quick fixes that paint over your deficiencies, you’ll be trained to confidently play in all kinds of styles and situations.
Who is your instructor?
Fretboard Biology is taught by Joe Elliot, who wrote the book on how to become a professional guitarist - literally. He’s written books for Hal Leonard and ran the guitar department at McNally Smith College of Music where he wrote the guitar program. Before that Joe taught at Musicians Institute in Hollywood where he had a heavy presence both in the classroom and the development of the school’s curriculum. He later served as Musician Institute’s VP of Education, or dean of guitar. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more specialized in this kind of guitar teaching.
Joe has also enjoyed a long career as a session player and gigging guitarist. He’s currently the guitarist in the David Sanborn Band.
Past credentials aside, working through the course it’s clear Joe fully understands all the material, and has honed his craft on how to teach it in a straightforward and useful manner. His no nonsense style of teaching will keep you on your toes. There’s no time wasted learning flashy licks or trying out shortcuts. Fretboard Biology is all about playing the long-game and learning the guitar fundamentals that every serious guitarist needs to have down.
A Smarter Way for Self Taught Musicians
With Fretboard Biology you are working towards becoming a literate musician. You can always become a flashy guitar player if it suits you, but this course is about making sure you can do the heavy lifting. That means you can always play what is needed, whether it’s in service of the song or pleasing the person who’s paying you to play.
Who is Fretboard Biology for?
It’s probably not for everyone.
This isn’t one of those courses you can try your hand at for a few months and then put on the shelf next to all the other courses you’ve tried. Working through Fretboard Biology is a big project that will take an intermediate level player a couple of years to complete.
Joe’s lessons don’t pull any punches, and the most difficult aspect of the course is probably the sheer volume of material you’ll need to learn and practice. However, everything is laid out in such an organized manner that you’ll gradually see that none of the material is overwhelmingly difficult. It all fits together and makes sense.
Regardless of your level or experience you’ll definitely cover new ground. If you’ve been playing guitar for years this will help consolidate your knowledge. If you’re a newer player, and want to learn methodically, this will give you a great road map to follow.
You may approach guitar as a hobby, but there is little doubt in my mind that if you work through this course you‘ll wind up at the level of an employable musician.
With each passing level you’ll gain more tools that you can use in real life working or playing situations. This isn’t merely academic learning. You are learning to do a lot more than simply “get by” on guitar.
Even though there is college level content, we’ve designed the trajectory and paced the material for the average intermediate player who has some performance experience. It’s also very effective for advanced players and pros who don’t have any formal training, but always feel a little insecure about what they don’t know. We have pro players in the program who like that they can be anonymous and still fill in whatever gaps they have that have haunted them for years.
We also want to remain accessible to a wide audience. I loved my 30 years teaching in the classroom. I taught thousands of guitar players and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I have so many former students out there tearing it up.
Fretboard Biology’s goal is to make you a self-reliant guitarist. If you put in the work, after only a few levels you’ll be on your way to achieving these goals:
Demystify the guitar neck
Develop good technique
Play meaningful solos
Play solid rhythm guitar
Understand music theory
Know how to practice effectively
Ultimately, you’re getting a music degree worth of knowledge from an affordable online course.
You can become fluent in another language without studying it for years at university. The same is true with music. You can learn everything the pros know without going to college.
Fretboard Biology is $299 a year. There is a 7 day free trial so you can find out if it’s right for you.
There are no affiliate links in this review. Check out the archives for past newsletters and reviews.
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