Axe of Creation: Loss of a Titan – Allan Holdsworth

I hope everyone is doing well! This past weekend the music world lost another titan. Allan Holdsworth’s impact on the guitar world is immeasurable. Holdsworth was able to push the harmonic boundaries into alien territory. While his music is not my forte, Holdsworth still had on impact on my playing. So this week, let me share with you a concept I learned from Holdsworth to help shape my writing.

A New Perspective of a Whole.

The one thing that really stuck out to my about Holdsworth was not his blazing legato skills, but his approach to chords and fretboard vision. Holdsworth tended to view the fretboard in its entirety, not in scale shapes or patterns. He would’nt break down a Key into modes or scale pattern but pull from every available note within the key, creating dense chords and fluid voice leading. So let’s sequence up some chords scales a la Holdsworth…

Ambiguous Chord Scales

To start, Holdsworth worth wouldn’t just play your standard chord scale, he would use ambiguous and unique chord voicings then sequence the chords up some scale tone at a time. Below we’ll find two examples of this in the Key of D. In both examples, you’ll notice that we ascend up the D major scale on the 3rd string or “g” string. The first example uses a power chord or 5th and the second changes this to a 4th. Both have an open sound which helps the ambiguity.  As we sequence the scale, we discover some new shapes taking place. I have purposefully left out the names of these chords. You can analyze them but they way Holdsworth approaches these chords is that they are all available at any time. They represent the key of D, in a sense.




Stretch of Hands and Harmony

Now, we are talking about Holdsworth here so, we need to make ourselves uncomfortable physically and harmonically. Let’s take the same approach but let’s use the Altered Scale rather than the Major scale. We’ll base this off of the A Altered Scale, which allows us to really stretch out the harmony creating, in essence, the sound of A7alt, the Dominant Chord of D Major. The Altered Scale gives us an A7 triad plus the b/# 5 and b/# 9. The intervals of this scale are as such: R b2 #2 3 b5 #5 b7. That is a lot of uncomfortable options and voicings, opening up many doors of creative usage and voice leading. Again, I want to stress that Holdsworth would create ambiguous chord voicings from pulling all available notes. The created a lot of push and pull (tension) and was a far departure from just playing “the changes”.


Holdsworth was an amazing player who stretched the bounds of harmonic structure and technique. I hope you enjoyed this small peek into what I found influential in Holdsworth’s playing. Next week, we return to our regular scheduled program, Drop D Part 2. As always, let me know what you come up with. Till then, I’ll see you next time. 


Gregory Arthur is Axe of Creation, a Gear Snob, and a Father of Two. He challenges you to become uncomfortable with yourself in attempts to gain a new perspective. Never give your energy away to what you’re not. Focus on what resonates within you and bring forth in creation. 

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