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Guitar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth

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Guitar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth

Lewis Turner takes us through the techniques of the technically gifted guitarist, Allan Holdsworth.

…try some of his concepts in your own playing; the chord voicing ideas will open up a whole new world for you…

Welcome to the first in a new series of artist profile lessons.  The aim of these lessons is to take a respected guitarist, and have a look at their style, with an outline of their approaches and some licks and lines in the style of that player.  After a quick Facebook poll, the most requested player to analyse was Allan Holdsworth, a nice easy one for me to start with then…

Lewis Turner

Lewis Turner

Mr Holdsworth is in short a phenomenal player.  He is utterly unique in his approach, tone, phrasing and composition.  A master of chord voicing’s, and in possession of the most frightening command of the legato technique.  He has been, and still is at the very forefront of jazz fusion playing, and is often referenced as being an influence to many famous guitarists.

I think its fair to say that he probably appeals more to the hardcore guitar fans out there, Simon Cowell is not going to be knocking on his door anytime soon!  However, by sticking to his guns, becoming an incredible player and writing great tunes, he plays all over the world to sell out audiences.  It gives us all hope that you can make it if you actually work hard and become good at your instrument!

He is a modest man who gives himself a hard time and gets uncontrollably nervous before the start of a show.  He said that he never wanted to be a guitarist, but always a sax player.  I’m sure it’s that vision that has been a big influence on his sound, especially that silky smooth legato.  Check out his website to read his bio and get hold of his albums: www.therealallanholdsworth.com.

Putting this lesson together was quite a task, as figuring out what he is doing was a challenge to say the least!  I have broken it down into three parts;

  1. How he views the fretboard
  2. Chord voicing’s
  3. Lead lines

Viewing the fretboard:

If you look at the sheet below titled “Scale Shapes”, I have taken the concept that he talks about on his instructional video.  This is how he views the fretboard.  He can see any scales/modes/arpeggios in every area of the neck, and prefers the use of 3 note per string shapes as this is easier for legato playing.

I have mapped out some of the main shapes he uses, Major, minor, Harmonic minor, Melodic jazz minor and Whole tone.  There is a lot of information on that page, but try to break it down and visualise each of the 3 note per string shapes, some of which I’m sure many of you will know.  I have also circled the root notes as a reference point, and mapped all the examples in A major.  Incidentally this is also how he constructs chords.  You will never see him play a conventional A major chord in the open position.

When I first watched him I didn’t recognize any of the shapes he was playing.  Allan stacks scale notes on top of each other in various intervals apart, 4th‘s 7th‘s etc, and it’s this approach that gives him an instantly recognisable sound.  Try it with any scale shape you know, stack some note’s on top of each other and see how they sound.  You can get some really cool new sounding voicing’s for your standard chords.  Again you can do this using any scale shape any where on the fretboard, making the intervals as wide (crossing between scale positions), or as close (staying in one shape) as you wish.

Chord Voicing’s:

On the “Lead Lines” PDF page below, I have transcribed some of the chord shapes that he uses.  The first bunch are all from the key of E major, beware some of them contain wide stretches.  This is another trademark of Holdsworth, both in his chord and lead playing.  He uses a smaller scale neck guitar, but it is still achievable on a normal one, just take it easy!  The first audio example I have played all the E major shapes acapella (I did not transcribe the exact phrasing that I played just the chord shapes so you can try your own way of phrasing them), using a clean sound with plenty of chorus and delay.  This is a very big part of Holdsworth’s sound, and gives the chord’s a lush depth to them.

The second batch of voicing’s come from D Dorian (C major).  This time I have used a volume pedal to “swell” in the chords.  Play the chord with the pedal back and then gradually swell it in, combined with chorus and delay gives a very haunting, beautiful sound, and again Holdsworth uses this effect all the time.

Lead lines:

Onto the lead playing.  It was impossible to do the great man any kind of justice here, so I just transcribed a few short licks of his and put them into a very short solo.  The idea is to understand his thought process with regards to the chords he is playing over.

  • Bars 12-13:  This line over the F minor Major 7 chord could be viewed as coming from F Harmonic minor.  However, I think his thought process would more be using C super Locrian (also known as altered, mode 7 of melodic minor) implying a V – I chord movement creating tension before resolving back to the F root note.
  • Bars 14 -15:  Here he is using E flat Melodic minor over an E flat minMaj7 chord.  Once again there are some more “outside” notes towards the end of the line before making a strong resolution.
  • Bars 16 – 17:  First of the killer fast legato runs!  Over this B7#11 chord Holdsworth uses the B Whole Tone scale, which is a favourite of his.  The run finishes with some beautiful note choices and subtle use of the whammy bar, another trade mark of his.  It’s important to note that no matter how outside or crazy his lines get, he always manages to land on the most perfect notes at the end.
  • Bars 18 – 19:  A slower line here using D Dorian over the Dm7 chord.  Note the use of the whammy bar raising the notes slightly by lifting he bar up.  The phrase ends with a typically wide stretch.
  • Bars 20 – 21:  A big stretch this one, with string skips and played very fast.  He takes the intervals of a minor 3rd followed by a tone on the 5th string and repeats the pattern on the 2nd and 1st strings, whilst holding the bar so he can then scoop into the 15th fret on the high E string, (Scoop, is when you dip the bar slightly before playing a note, play the note and then bring the bar back up).  Finishing with a C minMaj7 arpeggio, before resolving to the Major 7th of the G Maj7 chord, good luck with that one!

Playing in the style of Allan Holdsworth could be a life’s study.  What I have tried to do here is give you some insight into the way he plays.

As with all these things it’s important to learn from the player not just try to copy them, no one wants to be or hear a Holdsworth clone, partly because no one will ever become close to the master. Try some of his concepts in your own playing; the chord voicing ideas will open up a whole new world for you.

After all that I’m off for a cup of tea and a lie down, any other suggestions of players to analyse will be most welcome.  Maybe someone a bit easier next time, Buddy Holly anyone?…

Resources for this lesson:

Resources for Guitar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth – © Lewis Turner
Download PDF Guitar Jar Lesson – Allan Holdsworth Lesson: Scale-Shapes (2Mb pdf)
Download PDF Guitar Jar Lesson – Allan Holdsworth Lesson: Lead Lines (3.1Mb pdf)
Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth – Chords (1MB MP3)

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Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth – Volume Swells (1MB MP3)

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Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth – Lead Lines – Example (1MB MP3)

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Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Artist Profile: Allan Holdsworth – Lead Lines – Backing Track (1MB MP3)

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All content © Lewis Turner – For more information about Lewis Turner, please visit:

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About the author:

Lewis Turner is a highly accomplished guitarist, with years of performing, recording, session and teaching experience. Lewis performs all over the UK and abroad with various bands as well as Theatre, TV and Radio work

1 Comment

  • Hey Lewis, thanks a lot for this lesson, it was really useful to me. Best regards!!!! keep on!!!

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