Fretboard Knowledge - Allan Holdsworth's 10 Most Usable Scales - Infographic

Allan Holdsworth’s 10 Most Usable Scales

admin Scales, 6-String, Standard Tuning, Most Common Scales, Allan Holdsworth

In 1992, REH released a video for Allan Holdsworth. In it, he gave a little glimpse of his process. His way of displaying and treating scales was of paramount importance.

Included with each of the scale diagrams is a list of the Common Chords which can be derived from that scale.

This article is a work in progress and this topic deserves much expansion, which will be implemented gradually. For the time being, please enjoy this initial listing!

Without Allan Holdsworth, this website wouldn't exist.

Scale 1: D Dorian


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  • Allan's symbol: Dx
  • This scale is the second mode of the C Major Scale. Holdsworth actually defined this scale in his video als the "C, Dm, G7" scale. We know that Allan, not unlike Pat Martino, preferred 'conversion to minor' whenever possible so the scale is named not as C major a type of D minor scale, which for jazz-improvisation is actually much more efficient. As Allan said in this 1991 interview: "Basically I have a way of breaking down chords into scales and I usually take them to the nearest relative minor and I work on it from there."

On 13 September 2014 there was a "meet & greet" with Allan Holdsworth in The Cutting Room in NYC. Here, Allan discussed his approach and concepts more in-depth than he would typically do or was known for.

In this 'part 3' of the highly recommended recordings of that meet & greet, he explains how he looks at the notes within an octave as a circle, instead of, say, a row and he showed a graphic of his interpretation of such a circle.

He explains how he arrived at his personal concept of approaching the C major scale from the second degree (the D dorian mode), and using it as a vantage point. The reason for this is that he looked at the circle visualization of the scale and found it to be perfectly symmetrical when the D is at 12 o'clock. This is also how he arrived at his naming convention of the 'x' as the most basic scale type.

So, in a way not unlike Pat Martino's approach, he uses 'conversion to minor', looking at each scale preferably as a variant of the dorian mode.

The practice of visualizing scales in this way comes from Musical Set Theory, as a way to visualize pitch classes, a system that takes a highly mathematical approach to music and is more commonly used in the world of classical music, especially amongst scholars and composers. A good example of this is the Chromatic Circle.

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Scale 2: D Melodic Minor


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Allan's symbol: Dⓧ

Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the D Melodic Minor Scale.


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Scale 3: A Harmonic Minor


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Allan's symbol: A -6

Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the A Harmonic Minor Scale.


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Scale 4: A Melodic Minor #4


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Allan's symbol: A +4

Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the A Melodic Minor #4 Scale.


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Scale 5: G Dominant Diminished - Messiaen Mode M2


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  • Allan's symbol: Goo
  • French composer Olivier Messiaen in his work "The Technique of my Musical Language", presented this scale as the second of seven "Modes of Limited Transposition" (Wikipedia). Thus, it may be referred to as the 'M2'.
  • Formula: 1 - b2 - b3 - 3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - b7
  • Visit the Main Topic for the G Dominant Diminished Scale.

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Scale 6: Bb Jazz Major


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Allan's symbol: Bbɤ

Formula: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 6 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the Bb Jazz Major Scale.


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Scale 7: C Jazz Dominant


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Allan's symbol: C7ɤ

Formula: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the C Jazz Dominant Scale.


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Scale 8: B Bebop Dorian


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Allan's symbol: Bxɤ

Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the B Bebop Dorian Scale.


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Scale 9: A Bebop Melodic Minor


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Allan's symbol: Aɤ

Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 6 - 7

Visit the Main Topic for the A Bebop Melodic Minor Scale.


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Scale 10: The Tcherepnin Scale - Key of C - Messiaen Mode 3


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  • Allan's symbol: Cooo
  • Formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 3 - #4 - 5 - b6 - b7 - 7
  • Visit the Main Topic for the C Tcherepnin Scale
  • French composer Olivier Messiaen in his work "The Technique of my Musical Language", presented this scale as the third of seven "Modes of Limited Transposition" (Wikipedia). Thus, it may be commonly referred to as the 'M3'.
  • Rick Beato on the Modes of Limited Transposition.
  • Here's a (crude) clip of Nelson Veras during a clinic at the Conservatory of Amsterdam expounding on improvising with this scale. And here.
  • This scale is also called the "Tcherepnin scale", named after Russian composer/pianist Alexander Tcherepnin who was among the first to use it. (Wikipedia)


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Be sure to purchase an official copy of the Allan Holdsworth DVD!