So You Wanna Learn to Play Guitar (pt.XVIII.2)

B.B. King

In this latest entry, our guitar teacher Jason M offers his in-depth insight on Blues Guitar, inspired by greats like B.B. King:

Now you’ve probably had your own path of music that you’ve been following since you were born and hopefully there was something magnetic about why you enjoy what you do and you thrive off that completely.

I mentioned some of my blues influences last time, and before I talk about the actual music itself I’d like to bring up the individuals.  Let’s start with someone like B.B. King.  My dad is still a huge B.B. King fan, he’s been to the shows, listens to the CDs or cassettes, tunes into the blues station on the radio, and when he’s on T.V. he still watches him.  Now what makes B.B. King or any other bluesman a great artist?  Let’s take what we know and figure out how to learn more ways to find out how to get their sound.

The Guitar: Everyone should know that B.B. King plays a guitar named “Lucille”; a Gibson semi-hollow body with 2 “f-holes” for extra blues tone.

From there you discover what kind of amps he used/what kind of pedals he likes/ and where he prefers his settings when he plays.

Now to go a little deeper without getting personal… what gives B.B. his sound?  So you’ll start to listen and discover that not only does he trademark a signature “A blues pentatonic” in 8th position, but with one single note… a single decending string slide from the 8va area on the high E you can tell it’s B.B. King, or atleast someone trying to play like B.B. King.  Another thing you might notice is that he doesn’t sing and play at the same time.  It’s (line, lick, line, lick, line, lead, line solo etc…)

If you’ve made it this far; now you can look into see more about who the artist likes… is he a fan of Clapton, does he like Buddy Guy, who were his primary influences, who was influenced by him?  Those kinds of questions will help broaden your perspective to find more music as well as newer or older artists.  It doesn’t really end…

Deeper perspective; B.B. King articles/biographies/books/ and columns are out there.  You can actually learn how to play like B.B. King…. from B.B. King.  A few years ago he had his own column in Guitar World magazine, and it’s true you can use that same resource to get complete transcriptions of his stuff.  A common beginner mistake, which isn’t necessarily a mistake is to try and figure out how to play a tune without hearing it first by reading the transcription.  (I’ve discovered how to play songs I didn’t know before and years down the road I finally heard the song on the radio and was like “ah, I’ve known that riff for 10 years… that’s how it goes”) So what I suggest, and this is how I’ll support the record industry is to go out and buy the CD… you’ll never get the same experience through a download.  Ok, so let’s say now you got the CD and you have the transcription… you’ve got the chords located at the top of the page, you know his scales he uses, you’ve got his tone.

From there, there are a couple more things you can look at.  Who transcribed them?  Was is Jeff Perrin or Andy Aledort?  A lot of times the person that transcribed the material has reference notes available before the transcription that can help you get the strum pattern; be it “medium-shuffle” where an 1/8 and a quarter note has a triplet feel or a “down down up up down up” pattern.  Often they’ll include a box scale pattern you can use to play that A minor pentatonic blues scale in 8th position.  Even some secret tricks the artist has used where the standard chords notated are actually played inverted for example.  From there transcriber will often breakdown the modes/notes played with some interval theory as well.  Study that stuff.

Last and not least is take a look at the record label B.B. is on.  Is he on Geffen, has he always been with Geffen?  Who else is on Geffen?  What label was he on before then… you’ll discover her started off on Crown records and from there you can look to Crown Records to find similiar artists that you might enjoy as well.  Record labels like to maintain a diverse but similiar quality that can help you branch from there.

It might be fun just to start rockin’ out to B.B. once you have your music on and guitar plugged in.  But here’s a head’s up if you have the transcription: learn to read through it with the song going before your 1st attempt playing it.  This way you’ll be ready for the changes and will be able to follow through and anticipate the changes and see the techniques involved.  Either way, just have fun and enjoy rockin’ out to some seriously great blues.

Jason M
Jason M


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