If you want to learn how to play like BB King, there are a few things you need to master. Last week, Joe mentioned vibrato and today we will talk about his box. If you play this over a blues tune, it is impossible to get away from sounding a little like BB. The scale is a very distinct part of his sound and style. The lick we will do next week (the opening of Everyday I Have The Blues), will come straight out of this first exercise.
We are going to focus on the top three strings as they will be the most useful. Later on we can expand outside of those. The scale is similar to a major pentatonic, but it is slightly different. You will be playing the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th of the major scale.
To begin, we will just use three notes. The 6, the root (the red dot), and the 2. In my opinion, this is the core of the box. When you get to the 2, the highest of the three notes, bend it up a whole step, to the 3rd.
Now, add the notes on the first string.
Once you’ve played around with it, play over a backing track. The way to figure out what key you were in is where the red dot falls. Below is a chart with all of the notes on the second string. A is the 10th fret, E is the 5th fret, etc.
That is a good place to start. If you’re feeling adventurous, add this note (blue/teal color) when you land on the four chord. It will sound nice and bluesy. You can also bend to that note instead of fretting it.
This week’s lesson comes from the famous tune “I’m Tore Down”, appearing on Freddy King Sings (he changed the spelling to Freddie later in his career) and written by Sonny Thompson.
Now that you have had a chance to listen to the song, we’ll look at the lick about 18 seconds in. Next week, you can tackle the run at the beginning of the tune. This is a pretty straight forward lick using the D Minor Blues Scale. First, bend the note F (13th fret, 1st string) up a whole step. Next, release the bend and do a run down the scale until you hit the F an octave lower than your starting note, and bend this note. After the bend, you will end the run on D, the 12th fret of the 4th string.
Here is the lick slowed down (the lick is played twice in the video).
Here is the lick sped up.
Your goal should be to execute the lick with Freddie’s recording. Can you play it so in sync with the recording that you cover him up? Try using the lick in a different key, change the rhythm, repeat something, etc. Combine this with the lick you did last week and see what happens. Ideally, you will begin to interpret it your own way, and you will start to sound like you interpreting Freddie, then eventually just sound like you. Listen to how Clapton interprets this lick, about :20 in to his recording.
Now that we have the basics out-of-the-way, it’s time to start learning some blues. The first lesson we will post on this blog is from Freddie King‘s tune “If You Believe (In What You Do)” You will be studying the first lick in the tune.
This is a very simple lick, using the F minor blues scale. The bend on Ab (1st fret of the 3rd string) is important. The lick won’t sound the same without it. Here is the tab.
It is written in 12/8 and the lick starts on the 3rd beat. I love this lick because of the way Freddie uses quintuplets (fitting 5 notes into one beat).
Here is the lick slowed down.
Joe doesn’t use his pinky when he plays this, but you could if you wanted to on the 4th fret of the 2nd string(Brendan usually does). However, you need to be able to get your ring finger to that note in the blues scale if you want to bend it. Your choices are either use both fingers, or use your ring finger all the time. Do what feels most natural and comfortable to you. Most of the great blues guitarists rarely (if ever) use their pinky when they play lead.
Here is the lick at full speed
Now, you need to practice playing it with the Freddie King recording. As soon as you are comfortable doing that, begin working it into your own solos. Base a solo around this idea, using it verbatim and then add to it. Change the rhythm, repeat some notes, experiment, but mostly have fun and make music!