B.B.KING
Before tackling this course, you should be comfortable with all the material from Minor & Major

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!

     

Lesson 11: The Idea

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:

  • 1. The dominant 7th chord that is moving between the 1, 4 and 5 in the key.
  • 2. This progression is 1 /// 4 /// 1 /// 1 /// 4 /// 4 /// 1 /// 1 /// 5 /// 4 /// 1 / 4 / 1 / 5 /
  • 3. As these chords move, B.B.King is known to move positions with them, keeping things nice and simple. For example, in the key of G blues, we start on the 3rd fret for G7, then move to the 8th fret for the C7 (4 chord). We literally move the same shape.
  • 4. As we move to these positions we use our arpeggio shape to target chord tones.
  • 5. Finally, to “colour” these arpeggio shapes and make it more interesting, we also use the major and minor pentatonic in the key of G (G major and G minor). You therefore need to know these pretty well across the neck!

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.

Lesson 12: Lick 1 & 2

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:

    Challenge.

  • For each lick, try to work out what the last note is in relation to the arpeggio. Is it the root, major 3rd, 5th or flat 7th? This will help you find patterns in the style.

Lesson 13: Lick 3 & 4

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.

Lesson 14: Lick 5 & 6

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.

Lesson 15: Lick 7 & 8

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.

    Challenge.

  • Now you have a few licks using this theory, try to apply them in your own order and in another key. Dan gives you an example at the end of the video, but creatively it’s up to you to push yourself and see what you can get out of it!

Materials: Interactive Tab & Backing Tracks

Below are the materials for this group of lessons. Click on the tab icon to open our super cool interactive tab player (this will allow you to slow down the tab and play along with the video). Alternatively, jump straight in with the backing tracks below. Good luck!


Ready to move on? Remember to check out every lesson in this unit first – then try the next unit...

Four O'Clock Blues

For our final section we will be putting all of our theory and new skills together in a great blues piece. The track is in a slow 12/8 time signature, which is more traditionally called a “slow blues” and features all the best of B.B.King.