Allan Holdsworth is of course famous for his fantastic chord voicings and use of extended chords. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to take a standard and try to play through it with the type of chords that Holdsworth might use, so I took the song Days Of Wine And Roses and went through that applying chords and voicings with that in mind. The music of Allan Holdsworth is of course not based on the same type of harmony that you find in a jazz standard, and in his chord vocabulary there are many different types of voicings. The ones I chose to focus on in this video are the more open chords that are spread out over several octaves. Since the music that Holdsworth plays is also a different harmonic language my chord choices are a bit different.
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Updated: Oct 15, I want to start by saying the point of this lesson isn't to show you a bunch of "Holdsworth" voicings and then have you use them exactly the way he did, no, the point of this lesson is to try and shed some light on the "bigger picture" approach that "Allan" used when thinking about scales and chords, hopefully, this will inspire you to experiment and maybe start to see and think about things differently than you currently do.
You should experiment with these voicings, use different roots, move voices around and try and use them in your own way. After all, I would imagine no one would encourage that more or be happier about you doing that than Allan himself.
All of these voicings were extracted straight out of Allan's tunes, so they are actual voicings that he played; they are not voicings, " In the style of " they are ACTUAL voicings. I watched videos for as many of these as I could to make sure I was fingering the chord the way Allan did. I did, however, move some of them to other string sets so you will occasionally see the same voicing played multiple ways.
You should keep in mind that these voicings have been extracted from many different tunes; they are shown here for the most part out of context. I have transposed many of them to a different key. This leaves all the voicings as accidental free and as simple as they can be. If there is an accidental, then we have left the key, and the chord is coming from a different key or mode.
For example, if a "Minor" voicing contains the notes "D B F A," "Dm6" then we are still in "C," and the scale the chord is coming from is most likely "D Dorian" or "D Melodic Minor" this is of course just two possibilities.
This is pretty basic jazz harmony, so hopefully, this makes sense to you. Also, the "Dominant" chords have alterations, so the voicing could be coming from a multitude of scales; "G Super Locrian", "G H. Diminished", "G Whole-Tone" etc. A few of the voicings in this collection could be derived from "Messiaen's 3rd Mode of Limited Transposition" as well, and I tried to make a note of this when possible. I hope you can get something out of it. For example one of my favorite voicings in this collection is a typical "Dm7" Root Position "Drop 3" with the "9th" added the "5th" omitted and the "3rd" moved from the 3rd string to the 2nd string, but it's still just a "Drop 3".
It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that unless you just want to impress your girlfriend because, I'm sure she cares. Changing the voicing in this way creates an "m2nd" interval between the "F" the "3rd" of the chord and "E" the "9th" of the chord. This is also one of the reasons why when you watch him play chords, his hands look like for lack of a better word so alien. He's trying to get a particular sound though not impress you with his ability to stretch his hands.
The first chord in this example is just a root position "Drop2", the second chord is one of "Allan's" voicings all he did here was change "G" the "5th" of the chord to an "A" the "6th" of the chord. Giving the chord more color and is a much nicer sounding voicing, but it is still just a "Drop2" chord. I want to use the "3rd" voicing in this measure to try and illustrate how taking chords out of context and trying to name them as individual entities after a musical statement has already been made can be rather challenging, especially when you view voicings the way "Allan" does as just being part of a scale or "family.
I like to think of what "Allan" calls "members of a family" as "Intervallic Structures," I dive deeper into this later on. The "3rd" chord in "bar 3"is another one of "Allan's" voicings, here he changes "E" the "3rd" of the chord to "D" the "9th" of the chord and "B" the "7th" of the chord to "F " the " 11" of the chord and again creates a more colorful nicer sounding chord. Trying to see each chord as an individual entity can make for some crazy looking and sounding chord names.
You can do it that way if you want or you can take the big-picture approach as "Allan" does. Taking the big-picture approach you would see the chord symbol "CMaj7" and then react by just pulling from the "harmonic palette" or "vocabulary" that you have in "C Lydian" all the notes from "C Lydian" sound great over a "CMaj7" chord and all of the voicings in this example can be seen as coming straight out of that very mode, but again when you extract them things can start to get pretty "iffy" pretty quick.
Is the "3rd" chord in bar "3" a "CMaj7" based chord or a "D7" based chord? The answer is, it depends on the context. Try and keep that in mind when going through all these voicings. It just goes to show how not just these particular voicings but all voicings can be used, seen, heard, and interpreted in a multitude of ways. Don't get too hung up on the names; just find sounds you like and figure out as many different ways to use them as you can. Finding multiple ways of using voicings that you already know and have in your arsenal is a great way to expand your harmonic vocabulary.
Change the root, move some voices around and see what you can come up with, be creative in the end isn't that what it's all about. Getting into the theory of "Drop 2", "Drop 3," "Spread Triad's" etc. I might dive into it in a future lesson, but that information is abundant if you take the time to "Google" it. And you really should look into it before diving into these voicings; it will make your life and your understanding of these voicings much, much more manageable. I will, however, touch on "Intervallic Structures" or "Sound Families" a little bit as they are a considerable part of Allan's voicing palette.
An "Intervallaic Structure" is when you take a set of "intervals" and a "string grouping" and then walk the combination through a given scale, for example, the "Major Scale" or the "Melodic Minor Scale. By continuing this process, we end up with seven voicings, all relating to the first chord and scale family. These should be played on all possible string sets; this is just one example.
Playing these when the root is "E" will create a "Phrygian" sound playing them when the root is "F" will create a "Lydian Sound" and so on. If this doesn't make sense to you, you might want to "Google" "Modes" and do some research on them, but that is outside the scope of this lesson, good luck!
Doing this can make the naming of chords a little tricky, though. If you named all of these as separate voicings with "C" as the root, you would end up with voicings that do not contain the "3rd" or the "7th" of the chord. These are the defining notes of a chord; they determine whether a chord is Major, Minor, or Dominant. That would give you a "C6sus4add9" that's an overly complicated name in my opinion.
Again, just like in our previous example this all comes back to "context. The objective should be to see a simple chord symbol like "CMaj7" and know all the possibilities that are available for you to use. It's a bigger picture way of thinking. If your ear is good and you have any sort of musical sensibility and creativity whatsoever, you will be able to use this stuff in a musical and creative way.
Let your ear be your guide. In Ex. Hopefully, by now, you are starting to see just how "Holdsworth-ian" sounding this approach is. You can check out some of those examples below Ex.
In this example, "Allan" verbally calls out the chord changes in their most basic form "Major7", "Minor7," etc. He is just pulling from his "palette" and "harmonic vocabulary" that he has for each chord. I usually like to break things down into their purest form "Maj7", "min7", "Dom7," and "Triads," then pull from my "palette" or "harmonic vocabulary" and try to make melodic connections.
You go through all the different chords and you see what you have in terms of your vocabulary and then when you put a song together you can mix and match all the different sounds.
That's kind of the process for me. My brain still wants to account for the entire triad though so we need to figure out where the "G" is coming from. Let's keep digging. So in his head If there is anything in his head , true fans will get that. Probably why it's so difficult sometimes to decipher what's going on harmonically in his lines, he is drawing from multiple sources at once and is just mixing and matching scales.
If you transcribe enough solo's from greats like "Bird," "Trane," etc. This is just the way my brain accounts for the "C," it has to be coming from somewhere.
He may be thinking about it entirely differently; this is just my interpretation. You should try and make sense of it for yourself. As the saying goes and as I've clearly shown here "There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Allan talks about his approach to scales and chords pretty extensively in his "REH" video here are a few quotes:. Because at that time I was thinking more in positions, I would practice them without realizing I was really just playing the same scale starting on a different note. I would also see a chord shape, and then on the next page, the same shape with another name. I realized then that guitar chords generally only contain four different notes.
This makes the naming and clarifying of chords on guitar a little more ambiguous. So it seemed to me, because of the very nature of the guitar, I could view this very differently, more from an overall picture. And I think of a four-note chord for example, which most guitar chords are, as just being four members of a family. I see it more as being the families that change; you change from one chord to the next.
So, I just think of chords as being based on scales, so I try to hear the scale-shapes move, you know, from one family to the next as the chords go by. I see a scale family from the lowest available note to the highest available note on the instrument. A name is only a means of identification and communication, but in my case, identification only.
I do not think of a scale as having a beginning or an end, a bottom or a top - just a sound. The name I give is for identification only and not for signifying any particular root. I do not give a seven-note scale, seven different names.
However, it is very important to hear and remember how each scale ''sounds'' starting from each and every one of these individual notes. I feel harmony should be mobile, so as chord sequences go by, try to hear these as a whole ''sound families'' moving, instead of the four or five notes of a particular chord. In the example above, you will see a few of my favorite voicing from the collection. I want to get a little more into chord symbols, naming chords, and how convoluted it can get, especially when they are taken out of context.
The first chord is shown here the way I think about it as a "Cm triad" over an "E" bass note. If you make "E" the root you could call it "EmMaj7 5" and see it that way, you could also view it as "EMaj7 5 9 no3rd , Ooops, sorry there is a typo in the chord symbol above, the " 5" should come before the " 9", forgive me father for I have sinned. In the second measure, you will see another chord with all the same notes as the previous chord but voiced differently and with an "F " added. This is an overly complicated fairly convoluted way to think about it, in my opinion, though.
So, depending on the root, how the chord is functioning and what scale you choose to use I prefer to use "Messiaen's 3rd Mode" starting from "C" or "E Harmonic Mino. From the example above, you can see how convoluted it can get when trying to name some of these voicings. Again, I want to stress how important it is NOT to get too caught up on the names of these chords. Chord symbols aren't meant to be literal, in most instances, they are just meant to convey a basic representation of the harmony so that the artist can then interpret it in his or her own way.
In my first draft of this lesson, I was second-guessing and overthinking how to name a lot of these from the start because I knew no matter what I named them someone was going to have something to say about it.
Allan Holdsworth Chords on a Jazz Standard – Advanced Modern Chord Voicings
Tuesday, 29 January Allan Holdsworth Chords. Holdsworth is known for his legato lead lines but his chord use is equally interesting. Holdsworth is known for his unusual chord voicings that often involve large stretches and his approach to using chords: rather than following diatonic chord progressions, Allan approaches chords as groups of notes that imply a certain scale, thinking of chords as belonging to a certain key, which imply a given diatonic scale. You can then play any note that is diatonically correct for that scale that sounds good.
Allan Holdsworth Chords – Voicings and Inversions
Allan Holdsworth is famous for his very beautiful but also quite difficult and advanced jazz chords. I then go over how to invert them and demonstrate how you can generate more great chord voicings from this material. Taking a voicing and inverting it is probably the most efficient way to find more chords and it is also a great exercise to check or improve your knowledge of the fretboard. The focus of this lesson is on the larger voicings with 4 notes spread out over 2 octaves.