30 November 2008

Allan Holdsworth

On the 16th (that’s two weeks ago to you and me, Russ), a hearty gang of peeps and I went to Yoshi’s to see Allan Holdsworth with Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson. Obviously it was great of course as you’d expect, but it was also verrah interestoing. Wackerman made what I thought was a strange mistake at the end of his first solo, apparently getting a bar ahead of the rest of the band! He had to do a loud snare count-off to get people back in synch, and then he was visibly upset. Holdsworth just gave him an eyebrow. It was cool, though; everyone was doing very well. On his next solo he was flawless and thus happy again.

Al lent me his Holdsworth instructional DVD which I highly recommend. It's a great in-studio concert with that same band, mixed in which Allan talking about the tunes and about his own personal music theory lessons. (The disc has an iPod-grade movie as a file as well as a PDF of the lesson booklet! Sweet.) Holdsworth claims that it’s best to figure out by yourself how chords and scales work, in your own way, but he also admits that you end up with personal terminology that nobody else understands. So in these lessons he has to translate his terms into standard terms, and it kind of gets in the way. There are two reasons to learn music theory, (1) to understand how stuff works and (2) to communicate your ideas to others, and a homebrew theory does not work for (2). It’s also more effort to achieve (1).

Although I disagree with his approach, I can’t argue with results, and the results are total fusion goodness.

One cool thing from the video is he spends some time on synthetic scales, including this weird one:

E – F# – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – C# – D – E

It’s surprisingly flexible, including a straightforward (ha ha) use as a sort of bi-tonal blues (E and B♭ major blues; C# and G minor blues).

Currently listening to: The grinding of my laptop’s cooling fan


  1. Thanks for writing about Allan. I think that the scale you mention is a mode (the second) of what's often called "bebop major": R-M2-M3-p4-p5-M6-m7-M7-

  2. Hi Tzad, it sounds like we're talking about different scales. Holdsworth's scale has two sequences of half-tone, half-tone, half-tone.

    Wikipedia calls your scale bebop dominant (bebop major is a differnet mode of the same sequence of intervals): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebop_scale

    Basically I consider the names of scales only barely standardized, and therefore close to useless. Arg! :)