Guitar Instructor Lick of the Week 09-28-2010
Posted by Michael Mueller on September 28, 2010 at 7:55 PM
For many years, whenever I played blues, I relied way too heavily on the minor pentatonic and blues scales, not to mention a handful of my own stock licks. Then I'd hear a B.B. King solo and wonder how he could make the blues sound so sweet. Turns out, B.B. was playing notes that many beginner and even intermediate guitarists don't know are allowed in a blues solo. Basically, the King of the Blues was combining the Mixolydian mode with the blues scale, to create the hybrid blues scale. In music theory terms, it simply means adding the major 3rd, 6th, and 9th intervals to the blues scale, so that you get a nine-note scale that, in the key of C, looks like this: C–D–Eb–E–F–Gb–G–A–Bb.
You can hear King's use of these "major" notes throughout his repertoire, but one of my favorites is his solo in his 1966 slow blues "Sweet Sixteen." To illustrate, I've combined several of B.B.'s signature moves in this week's lick.
The lick, which is played at a tempo of dotted quarter note=60 bpm, starts in the Albert King box of the C# minor pentatonic scale with one of B.B.'s sweetest sounds—substituting the major 3rd (E#) for the more commonly heard minor 3rd (E). And the pull-off from the 4th (F#) to the major 3rd is an essential B.B. move, as are the consonant whole-step bends to the 5th (G#). After pausing for a "breath," the lick jumps up to the "B.B. box" for a gritty 1-1/2 step bend followed by a fiery descent down the box pattern before nailing the root (C#) with some buttery vibrato. The final stab of the high-octave root note and subsequent slide down the neck might not look like much, but when you hear it, you'll recognize it as one of B.B.'s favorite tools.
Rather than use this as one big lick, play around with the three components separately, incorporating them into your own lines, and you'll soon find yourself out of the dreaded minor pentatonic rut.