Pull a lifetime of licks out of six simple notes.
• Create simple and meaningful blues phrases in the style of B.B. King.
• Understand how to emphasize chord tones over a blues progression.
• Learn how to use repetition to build tension in your solos.
Riley B. King (aka B.B. King) is known the world over as one of the greatest blues musicians in the history of the genre. His tone, attack, vibrato, phrasing, stage presence, and human spirit offer plenty to emulate and learn from, but there’s an ace of a scale hiding up Mr. King’s sleeve, and this lesson will reveal this barely discussed, yet very useful concept. This scale is especially valuable if you’re a blues, rock, jazz, funk, or country guitarist looking to discover a new world of licks.
The first thing you should know about the “B.B. box” shown in Ex. 1 is that it fits uniquely over dominant 7 chords and progressions, but use it with caution over chords in minor blues tunes. This scale produces an interesting flavor you’ll hear not only in King’s music but also in the licks and riffs of Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, and Eric Clapton, among others. In modal terms and typical blues-rock situations, a dominant 7 chord progression begs for a Mixolydian-based scale treatment. As you will see, things are a bit different when using King’s scale.
Now that you’ve learned the scale’s basic fingering, you should notice how good it sounds by simply playing it ascending and descending over an A7 chord (Ex. 2). Be sure to add some smooth vibrato on that final note.
As you can see and hear, this scale is very user-friendly. Once you’ve become acquainted with this scale, you’ll eventually find your fingers reaching for licks, patterns, and phrases that you’ve never played before—and you may wonder what you ever did without it. Use the first note on the 2nd string as a guide to help you move this scale into other keys. Wherever you place this root note (shown in red in Ex. 1) dictates the key you’ll be playing in.
As you play through this example and get a feel for the fingering and sound, be aware that we’re technically flirting with an A Dorian tonality over an A7 chord. For those of you playing along at home, that’s technically a big no-no in traditional music theory terms, but in the rebellious world of blues and rock music, a skilled soloist can make those “wrong” notes sound legendary. It is interesting that this scale really sings against dominant 7 chords and progressions, but it sounds a little sour against a standard minor blues.
After all, this is technically a minor-sounding scale (with an obvious b3) and it features a distinctively Dorian sound. So why does this scale not really work over a minor blues?
One reason this scale works better over dominant chords is the appearance of the natural 6 (in this case, F#). It works fine over an Am7 chord but when the IVm chord (Dm) rolls around, the rub between the F# and F is a bit jarring. In a dominant-sounding situation the IV chord contains an F#—much better.
Whenever you’re playing over dominant-flavored blues changes, you’ll find that this scale is very handy to have in your bag of tricks, and it’s a great “cut-and-paste” option. The scale is especially useful when improvising an extended guitar solo and you suddenly run out of ideas.
To expand this scale even further, you can add the B.B. King-approved chromatic note b5 on the 1st string. This creates a jazzy flavor and really adds a touch of class when used tastefully and targeted wisely (Ex. 3).
Now that you have a grip on playing this scale, try learning some licks to really get an idea of where this scale can take you. To get the ball rolling, play around with these three licks in Ex. 4, Ex. 5, and Ex. 6.
The next step of really expanding the application of this scale would be to navigate through a blues progression and target the specific notes relative to each chord as they appear. Start by locating and understanding the function of each note over the IV and V chords.
As you’ll find, each of the three root notes from the chord progression (A–D–E) are present within this scale, which makes it easy to use over the entire 12-bar blues progression. Play through Ex. 7, Ex. 8, and Ex. 9 to get a feel for how to zero in on specific chord tones.
Finally, here's a backing track in the key of A to help work out some of these ideas.
As you continue to play with this scale, incorporate more pentatonic ideas. Pretty soon you’ll be connecting licks all over the neck. Heck, if B.B. has been using these ideas since 1937, it should take you a good long while to wear them out. If it’s good enough for Mr. King, it’s good enough for all of us.
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DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
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- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
For part two of our crash course in harmony for bassists, we’re talkin’ triads.
As bass players, our job is often to indicate and support what is happening rhythmically and harmonically in the music we’re playing. And to do that, it’s important for us to understand the basics of tonality and how it works. In fact, every bass player must have a strong knowledge of harmony to do their job correctly. This month, we’ll continue last month’s harmony crash course with some more ways to brush up on your ear skills, in italics below, so you can do your low-end job effectively.
The basic building block of harmony is the dyad, which gives us our basic intervals. But the basic building block of tonality is the triad, a grouping of three or more tones (root, 3rd, and 5th) that give us the four chord qualities—major, minor, diminished, and augmented—which you’re probably already familiar with.
Just as with intervals, we should train our ears to recognize chord qualities instantly. Start with two qualities (major and minor). Once you can identify those two correctly about 95 percent of the time, add another. Keep going until you can identify all four qualities consistently.
Another great exercise is to take a melody (either major or minor) and convert it to the opposite quality. Start out with something you know well, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” This may take a while at first, but the goal is to keep on doing these until you can convert most stuff on the fly instantly.
“This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.”
Each chord quality has its own distinct sound, but major and minor are related, and both feel very grounded. Because of the 5th in each, our ears can easily hear which note in the chord is strongest (the root), which gives major and minor a sense of gravity. This feeling persists even if we change the order of the notes (invert the chord).
Have a friend or an app play inversions of major or minor triads. Find the root of each chord by singing it. Work towards being able to identify these triads in root position (root in the bass), first inversion (3rd in the bass), or second inversion (5th in the bass).
Pay attention to bass lines that land on a root, 3rd, or 5th on the first beat of the bar and then practice coming up with your own examples.
Diminished and augmented triads are much more ambiguous. Without a perfect fifth (diminished has a b5 and augmented has a #5), no tone in particular sounds strongest. Thus, both chords lack gravity. In fact, to most of us, every tone sounds equal, like being lost in the woods where every direction appears the same. Both seem to want to move towards something else more stable. When this occurs, it gives a sense of release, or resolution. This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.
The top part of a dominant seventh or V7 chord is a diminished triad. For example, a C7 consists of the notes C–E–G–Bb. If you remove the C, we’re left with an E diminished triad. This is where the moving sound, or the desire to resolve, comes from. The important takeaway is that we’re making something very stable—a major chord—and making it less stable when we add the b7, because of the diminished sound, which in turn sets up the need to resolve.
Listening for V–I: On a guitar or keyboard play any major chord, then add a b7 (transforming I to V7) and try to hear where the progression “wants” to go next. Move to the new key (a fifth down) and repeat. After twelve V–I progressions you’ll arrive back at the original key.
The Dominant Gateway: On bass, try playing a walking bass pattern over the cycle of fifths, strategically using a b7 to move to the next key. This foreshadowing is a great voice-leading skill.
That's all for our crash course in harmony. If you take your time with these exercises, you should notice not only your ears improving, but your bass playing too!