Last updated on November 13, 2019
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge Allan Holdsworth fan, and have studied his approach to scales, chords and music in general for a number of years. Allan was a unique phenomena in the world of guitar playing, yet sadly underappreciated during his lifetime.
I’ve written extensively on Allan Holdsworth’s playing here on the blog and in the book, ‘Allan Holdsworth – A Guitarist’s Guide‘, but what I’d like to do here is shed some light on another way Allan perhaps thought about scales and mapped them out on the fretboard. I touch on this briefly in the book but it really caught my eye again when I was watching him improvise the other day.
Holdsworth is well-known for using 4NPS (four-note-per-string) scale patterns as he demonstrates in his Instructional DVD, which is a great place to start if you haven’t seen it already. He plays an F Major scale starting on the F at the first fret of the low E string and finishes the scale up at the 17th fret (I think) of the high E string. By playing four notes on a string, you avoid scale shapes and getting trapped in them. Now, don’t think this is just for players with huge hands! Your stretch (the amount of frets you can span) is not governed by how big your hands are – it’s how wide you can stretch them. Back at music college I had the amazing Eric Roche for acoustic guitar and music theory. He had very small hands yet was able to pull off incredible stretches, almost turning his hand into a fan. He did this by doing stretching exercises on guitar every day, so don’t be put off if you have small hands (and don’t strain yourself either).
The 4NPS Patterns Allan Doesn’t Mention.
I believe Allan also used 4NPS scales patterns that moved vertically across the fretboard, and could cover a span of 12 frets with just two patterns.
Check out the pattern below. It’s all the notes from an F Melodic Minor scale laid out up past the 12th fret.
The black box is a 4NPS scale pattern that starts on the F on the low E string. We can discard the notes on the open strings because Allan wasn’t a fan of the sound. If you can’t make these stretches, simply move the whole thing up a few frets until you can. This pattern alone covers half the fretboard! The second patterns is as follows:
The second pattern starts on the root at the 8th fret on the A string and covers the rest of the fretboard. The only rule here is that there are strictly 4 notes on each string, even if they repeat. Watch closely when Allan takes a solo and you’ll see him using these patterns with a variety of scales. The advantage here is that you just have to learn the two patterns (actually the same pattern warped by the B string bump in the fretboard) and find the root with your first finger.
Check out the video below of Allan soloing on ‘The Fifth’ and let me know what you think in the comments.