In our third section we will be exploring the exact way B.B.King constructs his improvisation over a 12 bar blues. He is the king (no pun intended) of chord tone soloing! To be able to learn this approach we need to do a little bit of arpeggio study, learning the Dominant 7th arpeggio in one position, as well as combine that with our previous section on major and minor crossover. Click here to check out the Materials Section below to access backing tracks and interactive tab!
We’ll begin by trying to explain how B.B.King uses chord tone soloing, and what that even is in the first place. Here is a basic summary of what is going on:
To learn this idea, we will use a free time B.B.King style improvisation and break down each section. Before we go into that breakdown, though, let’s learn that arpeggio shape. Remember, it is the exact same shape just moved into different positions on the fretboard.
The first two licks demonstrate a great set of ideas over the 1 chord of the blues and the 4 chord. We'll go into each lick in more detail here, and you can find the tab in the Materials Section at the bottom of the page.
Diving into lick 1 we are using the G7 chord to ground us in the correct place. We then use the combination of the G7 arpeggio shape, the G major pentatonic and the G minor pentatonic to create the lick. Try to attribute each note to one of these three shapes, noting that a lot of the notes do crossover. The notes we resolve to at the end of the lick tend to be part of the G7 arpeggio as they are our chord tones. These are therefore the strongest notes to play and one’s we should look out for the most. Here are those shapes for your reference:
Let’s now move onto the next two licks, which once again roll between the root chord and the 4 chord. We will apply the same theory as in lesson 2 to these two licks, so please use those scale diagrams again to work out the notes.
Notice how in the first lick we find ourselves literally running down the G major triad (not even the dominant 7th). This is a trick often used by B.B.King, and sounds great surrounded by the pentatonic notes. A final thing to notice here is that when we are playing over the 4 chord, in lick 4, we use the 8th fret on the B string a lot. Over the C chord, this acts as the 5th, which is a strong chord tone. Then, as the track subtly returns to the 1 chord, we stick to that 8th fret as it now acts as the root. This is, again, a lovely trick that B.B.King uses a lot.
We now move on to the next two licks. Lick 5 is another example of the 1 chord, whilst lick 6 is our first look at what to do over the 5 chord.
When we hit the 5 chord in lick 6, we are now using our D7 arpeggio as well as the G minor and G major pentatonic. This gives us a fantastic range of notes to choose from, and can help us produce some very unique lines over that 5 chord. Here are those shapes.
It's time for the last two licks. Lick 7 is another great example over the 4 chord, combining the C7 arpeggio with the G major and minor pentatnoic in that part of the fretboard. The final lick is then a cool little turnaround idea that B.B.King uses, making sure to finish on the D (3rd fret B string), as this is the root of the 5 chord.