I remember listening to Holdsworth play when I was a kid—with complete disbelief at what I was hearing. The speed and the wide intervalic playing was simply amazing. Obviously, it was a combination of his incredible knowledge and technique. The technique was what really grabbed me, rather than the theoretical side of his playing, as I was simply to young to grasp the complexities of his musical knowledge. Traditionally, we are taught to play scales and runs using a combination of two and three notes per string. I'm not saying that this the secret to his playing—not by any stretch of the imagination.
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Allan Holdsworth had one of the most distinctly original voices of any guitarist. While some aspects of his music and style have been assimilated by admiring musicians, many facets of his playing remain shrouded in mystery.
His deep harmonic language, exemplified by his chord voicings and compositions, as well as his unique approach to melodic improvisation, have not been so readily imitated. Such voicings are quite common, not only on guitar, but also on piano and as harmony for horn sections. Before we investigate drop voicings, look at the closed voicing in Ex.
Simply put, a closed voicing is when the notes are placed as closely as possible to each other within an octave.
This Fmaj7 voicing is quite comfortable under the fingers, but most closed voicings on guitar are extremely stretchy and often very difficult—if not impossible—to play. Each of these are named for how they differ from a closed voicing. For a drop 2 voicing, we start with our closed Fmaj7 voicing and drop the second note from the top C down an octave Ex.
Since the 5 is the lowest note, this creates a 2nd inversion Fmaj7. To invert a voicing, move each voice to the next chord tone. I needed to move each note from Ex. Follow the same process of dropping the specified note or notes down an octave, then invert if necessary for the other chord types. Another technique for generating Holdsworth-style voicings is to take one note of a seventh chord and move it up or down within the key.
These voicings often contain beautifully dissonant seconds within the shape. A byproduct of this process is that many voicings become difficult to name because not every note in a typical chord is present. The Fmaj9 chord is technically an Fmaj9 no 3 , but rather than fretting about extremely precise chord symbols for ambiguous voicings, it can be more beneficial to go with a chord symbol that points clearly to the bigger picture of the overall tonality.
Holdsworth was a fan of not only using seconds in his voicings, but also minor ninths check out measures 6, 7, and 9. Due to the skipped strings in many voicings, strumming these chords with a pick creates many problems with unwanted open strings, so a fingerstyle approach is recommended. Click here for Ex. The next few examples are essentially demonstrations of how Holdsworth organized scales on the fretboard.
Although Holdsworth did frequently use wider stretches, he also incorporated string skipping and position shifting to create more interesting lines. You will notice that the notes on the 2nd string of the example begin on D, and not E, which would be the typical note that 3-note-per-string pattern would start on.
This change was done to create symmetry with the fret pattern of the 6th string. However, rather than playing only two notes per string, this pattern uses three notes on each string. It creates a repeated unison note at each string crossing. Unisons across the strings is a device Holdsworth frequently used, which is an emulation of the repeated notes a saxophonist can get with alternate fingerings. Saxophonists John Coltrane and Michael Brecker frequently used this device in their playing.
The second phrase incorporates skipped strings to the 3-note-per-string pentatonic pattern. The string jumps cause one note to be skipped over at each string crossing, creating much wider intervals and breaking up the predictability of running straight up a complete scale.
We start on D, but skip a few notes within the scale to preserve a symmetrical feel. This alternating pattern of larger leaps with notes only half-steps apart again creates a far more interesting pattern than simply playing the complete scale ascending and descending.
The lick is made up of ascending perfect fourths, again using unison notes across neighboring strings. No matter how wild a solo line may be, it always lands on a logical note when the harmony changes. Be sure to always include the landing note at the end of any lick as part of the line.
Jeremey Poparad is a guitarist, bassist, composer, teacher, and recording engineer from Akron, Ohio. He performs in jazz and rock bands, classical ensembles, and musical theater pit orchestras.
Jeremey leads and composes music for the progressive rock band, Axon-Neuron, in which he plays 9-string guitar. For more info, as well as free transcriptions, visit www. Guitars Bass Amps Pedals Players. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation. More videos from Premier Guitar. Allan Holdsworth: — Get our email newsletter! Rig Rundowns Most Recent. Rig Rundown: Eric Krasno. Rig Rundown: Emily Wolfe.
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