Allan Holdsworth's "secret" scale is one of the ultimate examples of 'outside' playing - here's how to use it

Instructor Juan Antonio has shown us how to wrangle Joe Bonamassa’s blazing pentatonics and spice up our electric guitar playing with a Plini and Steve Vai hack.

Now he’s back with a lesson on Allan Holdsworth’s “secret” scale, which he identifies as the third mode in French composer Olivier Messiaen’s famous modes of limited transposition system.

“This is one of the scales that Holdsworth likes to use that sounds a little bit more outside of that normal scaler diatonic type of sounding range,” Antonio explains.

(Image credit: Juan Antonio)

“It’s a really good tool to sort of sound like Holdsworth in different sections.”

The mode, Antonio continues, is a nine-note scale that is “almost like a crossbreed between the whole tone scale and the augmented scale.”

Looking at the intervallic construction, it reads 1, 2, flat 3, 3, flat 5, 5, flat 6, flat 7, 7.

“There’s just a ton of different chords that you can play this scale over,” Antonio says, adding, “I actually like to apply this scale more like a tension-building concept. So in my case I like to apply it over vague or stagnant type of harmonies.”

(Image credit: Juan Antonio)

He continues, “Another thing about the scale is that it’s actually very symmetrical. It repeats itself every major third. And that’s going to come in handy when visualizing it over the neck.”

Antonio ends by demonstrating some of his favorite and most common fingerings for the scale.

“But I urge you guys to apply different permutations to it,” he says.

For more from Juan Antonio, head on over to his YouTube channel.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.