Allan's advice

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Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

Having been through many ups and downs in your career, are there any shortcuts or tips that you could suggest to aspiring guitarists?

I don’t think so, because I don’t know if there really is an easy way. I think that it means more to learn something on your own. The lesson is more valuable, because rather than just following someone else’s path without much insight, you can understand how you did things. Really search yourself out. Go for the essence of things, and don’t really worry about what others are up to. Try to look at it like, "This is a certain standard, so I should try to be more than that," but without going the same way. You can get to the point you want to reach by following many different paths. I know it sounds ambiguous, but like most people I guess it’s not always easy to explain exactly what I’m thinking. The things that I’d like to do, I’ve barely started.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

What advice would you give to anybody starting out playing jazz, or even to someone who is quite proficient at rock guitar, but would like to extend their horizons?

As I mentioned before, I didn’t really want to play the guitar, I wanted to be a saxophonist and what has come to light for me is that the music is the most important thing; the way you write it, or the way you play it. I really don’t think the instrument has anything to do with it at all. For me the instrument happens to be the guitar, because I’ve played that particular instrument longer than anything else and am able to express myself more easily on it, than say on piano. It’s only as time has evolved that I’ve got to a certain stage -however grim, or good doesn’t matter- it’s just better now than it was a few years ago.

How can people improve their playing?

How to get better is to find out what’s wrong with your own playing and give yourself a kick in the pants! Each night you have to note the points where it was particularly gruesome, or where you did something wrong and just try to rectify all the things that you keep messing up. At the same time try to develop the things that you might be on the right track with.

Allan Holdsworth in exclusive LMS interview ( 2000)

MRJ: Any technical tips for our students?

I’m a pretty stubborn person and I don’t like to ask a lot of questions. (When I was learning)I wrote out all the possible intervallic permutations of the different scales. I put them in a chart. I then began to think about chords a shifting colours. It’s like basic mathematics. It helped me to find my own logic in the naming of scales and chords.

The Open End (Boston Sound Report 1988)

BSR: Is there any advice you would give to young, aspiring musicians?

AH: Do whatever you think you need to do. If you’re in music to make money, try and make money, if you want to be in music to make music, make music. It doesn’t seem to work if you mix them. You get guys who set out deliberately to do one sort of thing, but sometimes it’s hard. I just did it by accident. I really didn’t want to be a musician. The whole thing just sort of came about by accident. We don’t make very much progress over the years, it takes a long time and we keep coming back, doing the same places. Things don’t change very quickly. It gets progressively harder and harder to survive doing it. It’s difficult.