Play blues guitar like BB King

Check out this video lesson with free tab

Image 1 of 6 Play blues guitar like BB King
Over 50 years on from when he started, BB King is an undisputed master of the blues
Image 2 of 6 Play blues guitar like BB King
Example 1: First stating the root note with the trademark fast, shallow vibrato, you then move to a carefully stated descending blues scale passage. Note that whenever a C appears it's usually bent slightly sharp.
Image 3 of 6 Play blues guitar like BB King
Example 2: Using occasional staccato phrasing with contrasting smooth bends, this phrase also features a slow triplet feel in the second bar. This is deceptively difficult to do well, so make sure you really nail the timing.
Image 4 of 6 Play blues guitar like BB King
Example 3: Moving to the D minor chord, this phrase demonstrates how comfortable B.B. is on any register of the fretboard at any time. Having played an almost funky blues lick in the standard position of the A blues scale, he would jump right up to the 17th fret for a couple of cheeky stabs on the root note.
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Example 4: As the chords from D minor back to A minor, we're using the second position of the A blues scale, with whole and quarter-tone bends in quick succession in bar two. This must be attacked with confidence or all is lost!
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Example 5: As the chords reach the turnaround, ready to start the 12-bar sequence again, a simple staccato beginning builds in rhythmic complexity towards bar 4.

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BB King began performing in the 1930s, on the street corners of his hometown Itta Bena, Mississippi. And ever since his big break, playing on a radio show in Memphis in 1948, he has maintained his position as a blues master and has been acknowledged as a guitar hero by his contemporaries.

There are some key points to look for when emulating BB King's style. He often uses a fast, shallow vibrato on sustained notes.

Wherever the 'third' note of the chord appears (in the case of our examples, the third is C) it is bent slightly sharp by about a quarter-tone (half a semi-tone). The effect of this is to bypass either major or minor sounds, giving a feel unique to the blues - later emulated by rock players.

Even though most of the phrasing is derived from the blues scale, BB is aware of the composition of the chords behind him. A fan of guitar players as diverse as T-Bone Walker and Django Reinhardt, he chooses his simple melodic lines to fit the accompanying chords.

Our examples are based around a 12-bar style progression and the phrases are all based around the A blues scale in different positions. You can learn the licks by following our free tab. Avoid the temptation to play these with a rock sound, or it becomes graceless! Use the middle pickup selection with a smattering of overdrive and reverb, but plenty of treble.

If you want more blues lessons then check out our video tutorials on How to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan and our Joe Bonamassa guest lesson.

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