tecHnique focus scales
Holdsworth was a radical inventor, not just in brewing methods and guitar systems, but with every aspect of music. When he was a teenager, while most budding guitarists were happy with a box position and a couple of chords, Holdsworth decided not to accept the traditional scales, but start again in a way that made sense to him. What that meant was to personally discover what scales could be built from the 12 notes in an octave, by literally writing out every possible combination. To help explain his approach, imagine we labelled the 12 notes [0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-E-T]; a five-note scale could be [0-1-2-3-4] or [0-1-2-3-5] or [0-1-2-3-6] and so on and on, to create 792 unique scales (there would also be 924 six-note scales, 792 seven-note scales, 495 eight-note scales and so on). Holdsworth calculated 100s of scales in his ‘phonebook of hell’ and worked through them, rejecting ones that were “too crowded” to find the ones that most appealed, gave them his own naming and notation system, and worked them out in every position of the neck. Holdsworth has listed his ‘favourites’ (a few of which are ‘rediscovered’ conventional scales) but he also used many that do not have conventional names, and some spread over more than one octave. These scales are used as the basis of all his ideas, so we will do the same here, but using the conventional naming system for convenience. What is extraordinary is that he didn’t separate the modes and would just use the full range of the guitar for every scale (“family”); the root and conventional resting points do not apply and you can hear this as fluidity in his soloing and chord construction. The scope of this article doesn’t allow an in depth analysis, so I’ve just selected two (Major and Melodic Minor) and hinted at some of the others in the examples; but I encourage you to explore ‘the phonebook’ further.