Practicing

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Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

Do you find much time to practice?

Yeah. I usually find time in the hotel room when we are on the road. I practice scales, fingerings, chords, exercises. I just generally try to help myself get out of the hole. Recently it hasn’t been so easy to find time because we’ve had so much to do. I try hard to find the time. It usually works out the opposite way: When I haven’t got time, I’m desperately trying to find the time to practice. And when I have the time, I’ll do things like sit around and drink Coors.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar magazine 1974)

Did you practise much?

Not initially, I think I must have gone a year, year-and-a-half without realising that I wanted to play the guitar. I think everybody has that period. It was after that that I started to practise fairly hard - not from a book or anything, just trying to learn to play solos.

What form does your practice take?

I just pick up the guitar and try to improvise, by which I mean think of things before I play them. I don’t want my fingers to take over my mind. I think the best way to avoid that is not to practise things you can already play, but to try to get into things you can’t play, letting your mind control everything. That’s the only practice I do now. I’ve tried occasionally to learn to read - but I can’t. After about ten minutes I find I’m playing, I’m not reading any more.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)

What about your phenomenal technique, did you make a conscious effort to learn to play fast?

Absolutely not. I can understand how it might have seemed that way to some people at a certain point in my life, but it’s certainly never been an important thing. I suppose when you’re young, you tend to waffle more, you know, eventually trying to get it together. But I think my playing has improved over the years, as most people’s does.

It’s just that I understood, when I first started playing, that if I wanted to be able to play what I wanted to hear I needed a certain amount of technique in order to be able to achieve that, otherwise I would only become frustrated. Of course, as the years go by, your technique develops but so does your use of musical language, and they seem to merge more. At some point I might have been more involved in the physical aspects of it, whereas it’s not so physical any more, it’s more of a mental thing. I find that my playing has developed more from thinking about it than playing. The more you have, in terms of physical technique, the more things you are able to do on the spur of the moment - without actually having to practice them.

One of the things I’ve noticed about practicing is that, if you practice, you tend to become good at practicing and I didn’t ever want to do that. I wanted to have the freedom whereby, if I was playing a solo on a certain set of chord changes, I might be able to come up with something new on it each time. Quite often it’s not like that, and you find yourself falling over the same things, which is when I get really depressed. So, basically, the technique is a way of being able to connect my brain to my hands. You don’t start out that way, it’s a far more frenzied thing, and there’s a lot of waffling involved, butt don’t think I’ve been like that for a while now.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

Are you improving all the time?

ALAN: The last two years have been very productive, I have been playing and I’ve been practising and I think I can hear a difference. I’m curious to know what the reaction will be to the new album when the time comes.

Allan Holdsworth (Sound Waves 2012)

How much did you practice when you were first learning how to play guitar?

I practiced every day, pretty much all the time. I didn’t have a particular regime. I didn’t have anyone rapping my knuckles and saying that I had to start at six o’clock and play for four hours. I just picked it up when I wanted, and I put it down when I wanted. Sometimes it would be a half an hour, and sometimes it would be a whole day. And it’s still like that today.

However, sometimes I get to the point where I don’t want to even touch the guitar, and I’ll go for months without playing. And actually I find that really helpful for my playing. It allows me to make connections in my head, rather than on the guitar. It’s like John Scofield once said about that Yellow Pages ad that went: “Let your fingers do the walking.” He used to always say: “Never ever let your fingers do the walking!” Sometimes when you practice a lot, you start doing things that you’ve already done before. It’s inescapable in one way, but on the other hand, sometimes when I take some time off, some of those connections get broken. Then when I get back to the guitar again, except for the first two or three hours when I feel a little stiff, I start making new connections. So I think that it’s okay to take a break once in a while.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - How often do you practice these days?

A.H. - Sometimes I’ll go months at a time where I don’t do anything. Typically I play every day now. Every once in a while I go into a thinking mode, where I’m thinking about it and not necessarily playing it. When you go back to the instrument, it feels a lot fresher that it did before... even though it takes a while to get the connection between your head and your hands together again. Alan Pasqua used to do the same thing. It’s good to think about it.

Allan Holdsworth Jam (Jazziz 1994)

Rough edges aren’t his wont. Holdsworth’s reputation is that of a ferocious player and improviser, but with an exacting and self-critical bent. Would he describe himself as a perfectionist?

"Well, I wouldn’t really describe myself that way, but maybe I am. I don’t know. Once I start on something, I’ll work on it really hard, working ridiculous hours here trying to finish.

"But then there are other times when I just don’t feel motivated. I just lose interest and want to go out on my bike. Quite often, during those periods I’m thinking, "I’m supposed to be a musician. I should be practicing."

Allan Holdsworth’s New Horizons (Downbeat 1985)

At home he continues to practice "unusual scales or anything that I feel I’m really bad at. I practice playing over chord sequences, for example. I want to be able to reach a point where I can improvise without falling back on anything. Because sometimes when you play and you’re in a gig situation, you kind of dry up and you fall back on the things that you’ve learned - all the things that you’ve practiced. And that’s really when I feel bad, because then I’m just doing the parrot thing, I’m not really playing. I live for those few moments when I’m really playing and coming up with new things. "Some guys practice certain things so that they’ll be able to play them on a gig. I never do that because I would feel that I only got good at practicing. That way, I really didn’t learn anything new at all. So when I practice, I try and improvise and play something different on the same theme each time, as many variations as I can think of without ever repeating myself!’

Blinded By Science (Guitar Player 1993)

Allan’s practice routine reveals much about how he develops musical ideas: "There are things I work out away from the guitar, like various scales. I’m not concerned with modes, rather the permutation of intervals that differentiate one scale from another. I never think of a scale as having a set bottom or top. To me, it goes from the lowest available note to the highest on the instrument itself. I get this total vision of the whole neck instead of viewing a scale in a certain position. I like to see all of the notes at once. I think of the scale as a whole family of notes, with chords being parts of that family. If somebody writes a Cmaj7b5 chord, I won’t necessarily play an inversion of that. I play groups of notes that are part of that scale."

Castles Made Of Sand (Guitarist 1987)

Do you practise very much?

Sometimes a lot, sometimes not. I don’t have a set schedule but I usually end up playing at least once a day. Generally if I come back off the road I’m too wasted to do anything. But at the same time I always come back feeling really disappointed in my performance, and kind of look to make the things I did that sounded lame, sound better.

Harnessing momentum (Innerviews 2008)

How do you communicate with the band when you present new music to them?

I just play it for them. I’ll either record it and give them a CD or just play it during rehearsal and make suggestions about how I would like it to go, and that’s basically it. I recently started recording things again, which seems to be a good way of doing things. I also like to write things on the SynthAxe because I can record directly into a sequencer and play it back. It still works pretty well.

Joe Satriani Meets Allan Holdsworth (Musician special edition 1993)

INTERVEIWER: Allan wasn’t barraged with guitar information growing up, you were innovating in a different era.

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " I didn’t think of it as innovation. I was just trying to do something that I wanted to hear. I went through a period of working on the legato style, but at the same time I had this thing in the back of my mind saying, ‘There’s something wrong with this,’ and I’d drift back into periods of trying to play more legitimately---[chuckles]---or what was classified as legitimate in my head, in terms of right hand/left hand. And I’d make recordings like everybody when they start; over a period of yeards I’d go back and find something I did before when I was noodling with the legato thing, and I though, ‘Oh, that sounds okay---maybe I should’ve perservered with that.’ And then I went back to it. And then kept going on that. One thing I didn’t like about the legato technique, that I’ve worked on getting out of ever since, is the way it’s easy toplay notes going in one direction or the other. So what I try to do is limit myself, when practicing, to no more than two notes going in any one direction. It was just to try and---similarly to what you were saying, Joe---break up your way of thinking about it or practicing it. It’s not something that just happens on its own; there’s a real reason for doing it. As far as I’m concerned, there is only melody; one way or another, I guess one man’s meat’s another man’s poison, so one man’s melody is another man’s horror story."

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "You hear all the time people who can play really well; you know the guy who’s practiced and you know he can play, but at the same time you go, "What is it? What is being SPOKEN?"

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "No, there’s other guys, too, that want it bad. I’ve known a few musicians that really want it, but unfortunately---being really cold---it can never be. I actually know some players woh practice all the time and you can see the work, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the opposite of somebody like Gary Husband, a drummer I’ve worked with for a long time. When he takes an instrument that he can’t play, or initially couldn’t play, like guitar, after six months the guy plays incredible guitar, on a harmonic depth you don’t get in that amount of time. I always look for that part of the musician speaking out from inside, rather than the guy that just put a lot of work in. I’d rather have the one than the other. I’m lazy; I know I could be a lot better if I worked harder. I still practice, but I’ve always been the same: I’ll work hard on something, but I just get to a certain point and then go out and have a beer. When I should stay there and work [laughs] The only thing regimented in my life is riding a bike; that’s the only thing that gets an alloted space. The guitar is just whenever I feel like it. And sometimes, when I take time off from the guitar, then when I get back to it, even though my hands won’t work properly for a few days, I’ll feel I’ve accumulated something in the time I wasn’t working on it. ‘Cause sometimes if I practice alot, I find myself doing the same things."

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

What do you practice when you practice?

AH: Well usually I have a lot of things I’ve worked out away from the guitar, you know I work out a lot of stuff off of the guitar and when I get some time, and I’m not feeling too lazy I like riding my bike or drinking beer I don’t practice… (?)

No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)

"I was trying to play something that I heard in my head. I’ve realized that I’ve been doing things a different way because I always wanted to develop my playing logically. For example, when I first started playing I saw guys using two fingers, and though they could play twice as good using two fingers, I knew there was something wrong - it’s a waste of energy. So from the very beginning I practiced using all four fingers on my left hand, and I practiced doing things with silly fingerings to strengthen my last two fingers.

"I practiced scales," he explained, "and realized that I liked that kind of sound. To play more notes on a String, rather than to play them on the next string didn’t necessarily mean that I had to limit myself to playing scalarly up one way, or down one way. I practiced playing scales using all four fingers, starting on F on the low string and finishing up on F on the thirteenth fret without moving my hand position, things like that, and changing positions. I practiced that and started to experiment. The stretching was hard at first, but it’s perfectly natural now."

Patron Saint (Guitar Player 2004)

How much time do you spend with the instrument each day?

It varies. I never sit with it for long periods of time unless I’m recording. I try to play every day, but it may only be for 15 minutes. Then, three hours later, I’ll pick it up again for another 20 minutes.

Have you always approached the instrument like that?

Yeah. I must have Attention Deficit Disorder or something. I get to a certain point, and then I get fed up and go do something else. I have difficulty concentrating on anything for a great length of time. Sometimes, I make the most progress when I haven’t touched the guitar for weeks. If I spend too much time with the instrument I’ll find myself saying, "Geez, how do I stop doing this?" Or, "How many more times are you going to play that line?" So if I don’t touch the guitar for a week-maybe more-the whole guitar feels better.

The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Guitar Player 2008)

Has your approach to practicing changed over the years?

No, it’s exactly the same. I basically have three modes. One is where I just pick up the guitar and noodle around, almost completely brain dead. In the second mode I’m just studying. I choose something that I want to practice—a particular scale or odd fingering or whatever—and I play that and nothing else. And in the third mode I try to incorporate some of those things that I’ve practiced in the second mode into my improvisations. But that’s something that I don’t usually do live, because I’ve found that whatever I’m practicing in the second mode takes about two years to unconsciously show up in my live improvisation, and by that time it’s become so much a part of what I’m doing that I don’t even think about it. Because I think improvising should be just that, an unconscious release of all the things that you’ve learned—but without pushing.

Do you play along with anything while practicing, or just play the guitar by itself?

Both. Quite often I’ll play chord sequences into the SynthAxe’s sequencer and play over them at different speeds.

The Open End (Boston Sound Report 1988)

BSR: Do you have a practice regimen that promotes this type of playing?

AH: No, I just improvise, record what I play, listen to it and be totally depressed by it. I continually try to pick things out that I like and to never do the things that I don’t like. I can never get rid of all the bad stuff- I keep trying.

BSR: So there is no repetition of exercises, or anything like that? When you practice, do you just "play?"

AH: No, not at all. I have a different schedule. Sometimes I just practice, but if I find something new, like a new harmonic thing, or a new scale or something, I will practice that. But that it is totally separate from improvising. I think when you improvise you should be unconsciously releasing all of the things that you have learned in the past. It’s like an unconscious release of all the knowledge that you have accumulated over the years that you have been playing.

I never want my playing to sound like I practiced a certain thing in order to be able to play that one thing. I want to have enough technique so that I can improvise without having to say, "Oh well, every time I do this I must do it this way, because it is the only way I can physically execute it." It has its drawbacks, because sometimes you get into a situation that you can’t get out of - your technique lets you down. I try to break that barrier down so that I don’t have to worry about the technical aspect of it. If you practice certain things, you will become good at practicing them. I don’t want to be good at practicing; I want to learn how to improvise. Obviously, you still have to practice to learn where certain things are on the instrument.

The Reluctant Guitarist (Jazz Journal 1992)

‘I did practice scales a lot. One of the things my dad said was "There’s no point in practising anything in the open position. Don’t play any open strings ever." So I never did. I never learnt a single scale using any open string. I started out straightaway playing all the scales using only the fingers. Immediately then I could play the scales all over the neck

The Sixteen Men Of Tain (musired.com 2000, Spanish language)

Nowadays, how much time do you spend practicing?

Well, I play everyday. Sometimes I only improvise and sometimes I sit down and try to study new scales, new chords, etc. There is so much to learn that my brain hurts, so sometimes I have to concentrate in one thing until I learn it. The beauty of music is that each time you learn something new, a new door is opened and shows you something different that you didn’t know yet. This shows that I will never know everything about music, and that is very beautiful.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

GW: You practice scales using four fingers on a string. What sort of exercises might help those who wish to reach into the uncharted realms of the instrument?

HOLDSWORTH: Well, the only exercise I really did was to utilize all limbs when practicing any given scale or harmonic concept that interested me. As chord changes are going by I like to be able to just look with my eyes at the notes on the fingerboard and imagine what I could play. I’d be looking at the fretboard and listening to a set of chord changes or imagining changes that I need to practice over, and I won’t think about what my limbs can do and what they can’t do. You’re kind of improvising with your head, on the neck, but your limbs are not involved in the process. Then I thought, "Well, to be able to do some of that in reality I have to do something that my hand won’t naturally want to do." So just in order to help myself stretch, I started to practice playing scales with four fingers. That way you can put yourself in different areas of the neck without playing a pattern and then jumping a position; they would all intertwine. That’s all. And all of the study [of] the theoretical side of it, is down to whatever that particular person needs to learn or wants to learn at that time. It’s just an approach to the guitar, that’s all. And that approach is there, no matter what the subject matter.

When I think of chords or scales - and I’m really bad at this, too - or if I think of a chord symbol, it’s a very specific voicing that I’m concerned with. If you saw a chord symbol for a lot of the things I write, it might be a very ordinary-looking chord, but the voicing might be more specific because of where it came from and where it’s going, simply because of the sound that I wanted to create with it. You’re always playing a specific voicing of a basic chord symbol. If I were to solo over that, I’d look at all the notes, determine what I would hear in the scale that would constitute the chord - related to either specific key or a bass note - and then I would just play notes in that scale, tied together. I might not even play any notes that really constituted what someone would think of as that chord symbol.

Whisky Galore (Guitarist 2000)

How much do you have to play to keep your hands in shape?

"The more I play the better, really. But I could practise all day long, then go to the gig and it’s terrible. But you do four or five gigs... it’s almost like you need to be in front of an audience for a few days to open up. If I haven’t played for a while, I’ll get on stage and there’ll be a kind of bottleneck and it’s usually my hands not being able to do what my brain wants them to. At the other end of the tour there’s no bottleneck - there’s just no ideas!"