Run out of ideas? Try Scott Holiday's 'mind eraser' songwriting method

Scott Holiday playing guitar live on stage
(Image credit: DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

We’ve all been there: after playing guitar for some time, a foreboding sense of déjà vu slowly creeps in as we realize we’ve been going around the fretboard in circles, playing the same lick over and over again. And, try as we might, no new ideas come to mind.

This vicious cycle can be detrimental in a player’s quest to break new ground in their guitar vocabulary, and for those wanting to explore new sonic ideas for songwriting, soloing or any other form of guitar playing.

Rival Sons guitarist Scott Holiday knows this feeling all too well – but he’s devised a neat approach that forces him to view the fingerboard in a different light and overcome such hurdles.

In a recent conversation with Guitarist, Holiday was kind enough to divulge details of his enlightening “mind eraser” technique, which he used on Rival Sons' recent album, Darkfighter.

Granted, it’s not the most imaginative name, and you can probably guess exactly how it’s meant to work: effectively, you clear your mind of everything you know, deprive yourself of any sonic safety nets and approach the guitar “from a fresh perspective”.

When asked if there were any approaches that pushed him out his comfort zone on Darkfighter, Holiday revealed, “I use something I call the ‘mind eraser’. I believe you can learn so much that it’s hard to have fun. So I try to flatten everything out and approach writing and guitar from a fresh perspective.”

As Holiday explains, this spans far beyond scales and licks – in fact, the application of the mind eraser method can be used in almost all areas of playing.

“I try to use unfamiliar tunings, unfamiliar modes, unfamiliar scales,” he went on. “Like, ‘Forget everything you know.’ That’s certainly how I approached this record and I find it puts me into different positions on the neck and makes me create different phrasing.”

But why stop there? There’s no reason why the mind eraser approach can't be transferred away from the fretboard. Why not reset the effects on your pedalboard and see what crazy tones can be harnessed from there? 

Or, if you’re recording, why not try a new amp sim or throw some wacky effects you haven’t used before into your chain? That’s sure to inspire some creativity, and might prompt some intriguing playing.

It’s not the most academically informed method of trying to break out the box, but sometimes it’s the simplest fixes that yield the most effective results.

To read the full interview with Scott Holiday, head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Guitarist.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.

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