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#1
So im just starting to get into blues guitar and i have fallen in love with bb king and his slow mellow style. I wanted to know what scales he builds his licks off of so i can learn and get into that style of guitar.
#2
BB uses major, minor and pentatonic scales..and many licks built from these scales..check UTube on his style..there are many lessons from good players..also check out Albert King and Freddy King...

learn some of the history of the blues..go back to its early roots..delta blues to big city blues Chicago in particular..as many of the early players influenced most if not all of todays blues players..the list of top blues players is quite long but hearing many of them you begin to hear familiar riffs, runs and tag lines that the early pioneers developed..
play well

wolf
#3
B.B. mainly used pentatonics. I haven't studied his work particularly closely but I remember being told he had a habit of switching from major to parallel minor or vice versa over IV chords, but I'd need someone to confirm me that.
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#4
BB King is a great example of capturing the authenticity of the notes and channelling something inside you without all technical and theoretical stuff. A right brained player in a left brained world. I watched a documentary on him, "The Life of Riley", and there's not a more humble and honest guy playing the guitar IMO.

I used to NOT be really into it the style, but I started listening very deeply to some Johnny Cash. Very very simple stuff he's playing. Yet every note he plays just seems so clear, authentic and intentional a single note can convey a lot of meaning. I really like that. Cash and King are playing from the same place IMO.

Anyways, Blues is pretty simple and basically just the same song, but it has subtlety to it that can be difficult to connect with at a certain level of perfection. He's known for playing in the "BB Box" which is really just a guitar position in the Blues scale. There's all kinds of ideas you can play over Blues ... Pentatonic Minor, Major; Mixolydian Mode; Diminished. You can play with the changes or through the changes. A lot of the trickery can involve building up tension by playing outside and resolving at *just* the right moment on a very inside, chord tone. But that's not strictly Blues by any means.

In short, I'd say what BB King is mostly playing is just a mix of Blues Scale and chord tones. But what he's doing is more art than science.
#5
I did start learning the minor pentatonic scale and i have been trying to figure out the theory behind it and right when i start figuring it out the major pentatonic and major and minor scales start to confuse me.
#6
If you listen to BB you will hear he has beautiful ways to merge from minor to major. I think that is a huge part of his sound.
#7
The theory *is* sort of confusing when its blues in a major key and you're playing the minor pentatonic over it. Minor over a major key? What's that all about? In fact, if you just blindly use the scale without knowing where you're at in the progression, it can sound not so great.

Well that minor 3rd of the minor pentatonic doesn't really act like a minor 3rd. It's more of a #2. Over the I chord you don't really want to hang on it. When you hit it it really wants to resolve up a half step (to the major 3rd of the I chord which is always a pleasing kind of resolution) or half step down (also good basically acting as a 9th to the I chord). Over the IV chord the it's the b7, over the V chord it's the 6. Much better to hang on it over those.

Another really nice use of that minor 3rd is in a diminished 7th arpeggio which would be the 1-b3-#4-6. Run a few notes of the diminished 7th arpeggio or a sweep of those notes and then resolve to a chord tone. Very nice.
Last edited by edg at Aug 28, 2015,
#8
The theory is tricky, because blues has what I think of as the ambiguous 3rd interval - the emphasis in a tune can shift from major to minor. So the Cm pent works with CM chords. What i haven't figured yet is why a CM pent wont work with a strongly Cm melody.

Once you get used to the pent scale you can use them as stepping stones to other things. For example, I find the key of a song from the pents I can fit to it by ear, and I think of the other common Western scales and modes as notes added to a pent.
#9
you guys are over thinking it. i kinda doubt BB or any of the other original blues guys gave any of this a second thought. does the note sound good in the song yes or no all the thought that's needed.
#10
^^^^ I'll never know how much I agree with that, because I had some theory drummed (more like beaten) into me from piano lessons in my pre-teens, and I didn't actually start playing scales of any kind until about 35 years after I took up guitar. I think some grasp of theory helps you to use the pents as a development tool, but the actual playing becomes pretty instinctive once you can do it - like a lot of other things.

I'm trying to remember without Googling it, but I think that BB King had a good grasp of theory. - But I'm not suggesting he used it to develop his style, that sounds very instinctive.
Last edited by Tony Done at Aug 28, 2015,
#11
Quote by monwobobbo
you guys are over thinking it. i kinda doubt BB or any of the other original blues guys gave any of this a second thought. does the note sound good in the song yes or no all the thought that's needed.

I call that reinventing the wheel, to be honest. B.B. predominantly used pentatonics and blues scales, no doubt he learned his note choices from those who inspired and taught him. Yes it's ultimately about what notes sound good, but using pentatonics is a good way to begin to get a feel for what works where, at least as a starting point before you introduce outside notes. Starting out with a style just by learning what note sounds good in the song is going to be a very slow way to learn.
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#12
When i really have a good grasp on the scales themselves how do i really start to create licks? did you guys just start playing things with a blues style in mind and eventually got somewhere or should i learn licks and mix them up and combine them to create something for my own?
#13
I just noodle along with pents, sometimes with added notes. I have no fixed licks, and nothing scalar is ever played the same way twice. OTOH, I'm not a very good scalar player, and I had been playing chord-melody for about 35 years before I started playing blues-type leads.

Why not just try noodling along with some backing tracks or You Tube vids, and see how it goes? FWIW, one of my favourites is Elvis Costello's version of "the Weight", a live performance version on You Tube. - It has a lot of potential for lead improv.
#14
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the standout signature of BB's style....His killer vibrato. If you don't get that....
#15
Quote by K33nbl4d3
I call that reinventing the wheel, to be honest. B.B. predominantly used pentatonics and blues scales, no doubt he learned his note choices from those who inspired and taught him. Yes it's ultimately about what notes sound good, but using pentatonics is a good way to begin to get a feel for what works where, at least as a starting point before you introduce outside notes. Starting out with a style just by learning what note sounds good in the song is going to be a very slow way to learn.


you're missing the point. none of the old blues guys knew diddly about theory. they were showed things and went from there. theory is great but it can get in the way as well. my point is that they didn't spend any time worrying about whether what they played was "correct" but rather whether it sounded good. sure trial and error is slower but it's also a learning experience. those guys learned what sounded good and when to use it as they went along. i'm sure if you examine many of the older songs that from a "theory" standpoint incorrect notes were used but who cares.

now of course these days it is much easier to learn the basics of theory and apply them to blues. obviously this is probably the better way to do it as long as you don't get to hung up on it.
#17
Quote by The Backslider
Piffle


thanx for that informative statement. care to back it up with something.
#18
Quote by monwobobbo
thanx for that informative statement. care to back it up with something.


How about you back up what you are saying....?
#19
If you want to sound like B.B King, and fully understand his playing; then just transcribe his records... Learning scales is just what it is. Which is learning scales. I wouldn't even think in terms of scales it's just going to make your playing sound weak, repetitive, and mechanical. I can't deny that even if you're not thinking in scales you're still playing scales, but the most important thing is to think in sound when it comes down to being musical..
#20
Quote by The Backslider
How about you back up what you are saying....?


not going to spend a bunch of time looking for interviews. if you've ever read any interviews with any of the blues guys from the 30s-60s you'll find almost invariably that they all say they didn't have a clue or knew very little about what they were doing. guess there weren't many theory classes taught on farms in the deep south back then. .
#21
Quote by monwobobbo
not going to spend a bunch of time looking for interviews. if you've ever read any interviews with any of the blues guys from the 30s-60s you'll find almost invariably that they all say they didn't have a clue or knew very little about what they were doing. guess there weren't many theory classes taught on farms in the deep south back then. .



I agree the majority of the blues players back in the day didn't know a grain of theory.
#22
Quote by Black_devils
I agree the majority of the blues players back in the day didn't know a grain of theory.



More piffle.

"And the reason I mention the chord C is because you don't have any accidentals in it. So if you want to make a dominant 7th, you would say C, E, G, B-flat. But the C still would work, even in B-flat, because it's the second or the ninth. So anyway you look at it, you get a good whole note buddy, and hold on to that one. And when you can get your mind straight and start thinkin, Oh, they're back in the tonic key now. " - BB King
#23
Quote by The Backslider
More piffle.

"And the reason I mention the chord C is because you don't have any accidentals in it. So if you want to make a dominant 7th, you would say C, E, G, B-flat. But the C still would work, even in B-flat, because it's the second or the ninth. So anyway you look at it, you get a good whole note buddy, and hold on to that one. And when you can get your mind straight and start thinkin, Oh, they're back in the tonic key now. " - BB King

That quote means precisely sod all without a date, though.
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#24
Quote by K33nbl4d3
That quote means precisely sod all without a date, though.


Yet more piffle.

Why don't you guys just admit that you think that all great blues men are poor uneducated fools who simply have some innate gift but don't really understand what they are doing?.... which is piffle.
#25
Quote by The Backslider
Yet more piffle.

Why don't you guys just admit that you think that all great blues men are poor uneducated fools who simply have some innate gift but don't really understand what they are doing?.... which is piffle.


first off no one said they were fools at all. nor did anyone say "all". as far as education they obviously learned to play but just because they learned the names of the chords doesn't mean they were well versed in theory at all. sure BB may well have learned a great deal over the years but many did not. as K33 said without a date your quote may not be valid. you find me a interview etc where say Son House of Robert Johnson talks about theory and then we'll talk.

dude we're not the ones that need to admit we're wrong at all. read what was actualy said and don't twist it to fit your myoptic view. oh and piffle such strong language what are you 12
#26
Quote by monwobobbo
you find me a interview etc


No, you find them and then find just how wrong you are. I don't believe you even know what "music theory" is, believing that it requires "formal education".

Here is a start: Did Howling Wolf study music theory? (formal education even....)
#27
"Some genius with four Ph.D.s in music theory might never be able to do in a lifetime what Lightnin’ [Hopkins] did in a minute—tell the truth." - BB King
#28
Quote by The Backslider
No, you find them and then find just how wrong you are. I don't believe you even know what "music theory" is, believing that it requires "formal education".

Here is a start: Did Howling Wolf study music theory? (formal education even....)


last time i looked music theory was all about educating musicians on the inner workings of how music is put together. many blues players learned about what chords went together for the "blues" but had no idea that it was a 1, 4 , 5 progression or what exactly that meant. they just knew the progression as taught by another.

Howlin Wolf was had very little formal education but much later in life did manage to get a GED (something i'm not to sure you've managed). i can't find any reference to his having learned anty actual music theory.

that quote from BB you posted pretty much proves my point. you do understand what it's saying right?
#29
Quote by monwobobbo
last time i looked music theory was all about educating musicians on the inner workings of how music is put together. many blues players learned about what chords went together for the "blues" but had no idea that it was a 1, 4 , 5 progression or what exactly that meant. they just knew the progression as taught by another.


No, music theory is about understanding how music is put together, which does not require formal education.

Again you are saying that most bluesmen were dumb f**ks who did not have this, which is piffle.

Now you say that they didn't even understand progressions. Are you racist or what is your problem?
Last edited by The Backslider at Aug 30, 2015,
#30
Quote by monwobobbo

that quote from BB you posted pretty much proves my point. you do understand what it's saying right?


Yes, it's saying that Lightning Hopkins understood (theory) his music better than you ever will.
Last edited by The Backslider at Aug 30, 2015,
#31
Quote by The Backslider
No, music theory is about understanding how music is put together, which does not require formal education.

Again you are saying that most bluesmen were dumb f**ks who did not have this, which is piffle.

Now you say that they didn't even understand progressions. Are you racist or what is your problem?

B.B. King and his contemporaries and precursors grew up on plantations. That's not racism, that's biographical fact. The access they had to musical education was their acquaintances and, by B.B.'s time, the radio.

They weren't dumb, they were brilliant; they created a huge amount with little access to the knowledge that has backed up the creativity of classical composers and more recent musicians.

This is a really basic fact about the USA in the early 20th and late 19th centuries: There was very little opportunity for black people to attain any significant level of education, much less in music.

Your statements have gone from just-about justifiable to inane at this point. Music theory is the academic study of music. The early bluesmen knew what they were doing, but no, they absolutely did not have access to that academic side of it. At this point I'm fairly sure you're just trying to bring the semantics into question to make your point seem less factually incorrect, but the semantics aren't in question.

Learn the difference between intelligence and knowledge, for one thing, then actually try to get some evidence for what you are saying.

Oh, and please stop saying "piffle" like it bestows some extra degree of understanding upon you, because if it had you'd have conceded the point by now.
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Aug 30, 2015,
#32
Quote by The Backslider
No, music theory is about understanding how music is put together, which does not require formal education.

Again you are saying that most bluesmen were dumb f**ks who did not have this, which is piffle.

Now you say that they didn't even understand progressions. Are you racist or what is your problem?


wtf is your problem? i never said any one was a dumb fvck. racist? really dude. my only point was and remains that many of the old blues guys had no formal training in theory nor gave it a second thought. blues is way more about feel and way less about theory.

we don't agree on this that's fine it's a discussion board. although i was tempted to just write you off as an idiot i looked at your other posts and see that you've been playing for a long time and seem to know a few things. well so have i. guessing we're about the same age.

i'll be sure to ask my brother in law if i'm racist (he's black and a great guy). if that's not good enough for you i'll check in withmy sister in law (she's chinese). watch what you say as it makes you look like a total douche bag. i'm almost never offended by what people here say but this time i am a bit. you don't have to like me or agree with what i say that's fine but lets not get personal
#33
^^^^^ I think some of them had access to and understood theory. It has been speculated, for example that Mississippi John Hurt learned his alternating bass style from the music method books that were popular around the turn of the century. Apparently many of his songs can be found in these books.

Here's something relating to BB King's musical literacy:

https://www.guitar.com/articles/king-blues-conversation-bb-king
#34
Quote by K33nbl4d3
There was very little opportunity for black people to attain any significant level of education, much less in music..


You know, you really should start thinking about what you write.

Education does not need to be formal in order to be education. Their musical education was very strong and in general far stronger than the average whitey.

I bet you know very little about English grammar, but can speak perfectly well and understand how sentences are put together correctly, even without formal education. You understand the theory of language, even though you could tell us very little about it in a formal way.
#35
Quote by The Backslider
You know, you really should start thinking about what you write.

You're being far more condescending than you have any reason to be.
Quote by The Backslider
Education does not need to be formal in order to be education. Their musical education was very strong and in general far stronger than the average whitey.

That's fair; the impression I get from interviews such as the one Tony Done just posted, however, is that much of the understanding B.B. had was essentially acquired through the simple process of gaining experience through years of playing (though obviously he had later worked on expanding that in a more deliberate fashion), at least once he had the basics down from the likes of Bukka White. Clearly none of the blues greats were using trial and error. Honestly at this point I do think where we disagree is largely a matter of me (and, I think, monwobobbo in his original post) meaning something altogether more narrowly defined with the words "music theory" than what you use it to mean, which I think is what you're getting at here:
Quote by The Backslider
I bet you know very little about English grammar, but can speak perfectly well and understand how sentences are put together correctly, even without formal education. You understand the theory of language, even though you could tell us very little about it in a formal way.

Not that it has a particular bearing on the dispute, but I'm a language student, and I adore analysing what I write or say in any language, in any context, so...
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Aug 30, 2015,
#36
Quote by Tony Done
^^^^^ I think some of them had access to and understood theory. It has been speculated, for example that Mississippi John Hurt learned his alternating bass style from the music method books that were popular around the turn of the century. Apparently many of his songs can be found in these books.

Here's something relating to BB King's musical literacy:

https://www.guitar.com/articles/king-blues-conversation-bb-king



good read. again i never said that none of the older blues guys didn't know theory just that many did not. BB makes it pretty clear that as he went along he did end up learning some thoery. hey so did i. also again i'll stress that personally i think playing the blues well is far less about theory and way more about the feeling put into it. playing like BB can't really come from a vid or a book. just my opinion.
#37
even in isolated situations the "old blues guys" may have absorbed some 'theory" by playing with other musicians that may have pointed out the names of chords etc..early jazz guitarists absorbed theory that way and many studied music Charlie Christian is a prime example..on the other end is knowing theory internally (having a great ear) earoll garner wrote the song "misty" and in interviews admitted he did not know how to "read" music..but he knew theory..listen to his playing..with many rock guitarists it seem to be a badge of honor if you don't know theory..and many young players site named stars as their heros because they don't know theory (which is hard to do today) most of the super stars that are said not to know theory or anything about music for that matter remind me of a due of south American guitarists that were on the "tonight show" years ago..and they played some fantastic stuff..and johnny carson asked them "..how did you learn to play like that.." and they replied.."..we found a guitar in the jungle.."

I knew some theory before I studied music..I didn't realize it was "theory" but Im sure some of you can relate to that fact..so in retrospect..it begs the question..how did those early guys even know how to tune a guitar or form chords...maybe they found some guitars growing in the swamps..
play well

wolf
Last edited by wolflen at Aug 30, 2015,
#38
Quote by wolflen
even in isolated situations the "old blues guys" may have absorbed some 'theory" by playing with other musicians that may have pointed out the names of chords etc..early jazz guitarists absorbed theory that way and many studied music Charlie Christian is a prime example..on the other end is knowing theory internally (having a great ear) earoll garner wrote the song "misty" and in interviews admitted he did not know how to "read" music..but he knew theory..listen to his playing..with many rock guitarists it seem to be a badge of honor if you don't know theory..and many young players site named stars as their heros because they don't know theory (which is hard to do today) most of the super stars that are said not to know theory or anything about music for that matter remind me of a due of south American guitarists that were on the "tonight show" years ago..and they played some fantastic stuff..and johnny carson asked them "..how did you learn to play like that.." and they replied.."..we found a guitar in the jungle.."

I knew some theory before I studied music..I didn't realize it was "theory" but Im sure some of you can relate to that fact..so in retrospect..it begs the question..how did those early guys even know how to tune a guitar or form chords...maybe they found some guitars growing in the swamps..


theory started with someones ear. i mean it just wasn't made up one day just cuz someone was bored . obviously they were taught how to play and learned what the chords were (to some degree). as for tuning well that again was done by ear or off a pitch pipe or tuned to a piano. guessing that it was far from perfect. having an inate sense of what works musically is something i would hope that musicians have and for the most part the potential listener as well. that really is what theory is all about.
#39
Quote by monwobobbo
i'll stress that personally i think playing the blues well is far less about theory and way more about the feeling put into it. playing like BB can't really come from a vid or a book. just my opinion.


I agree entirely, it is much more about feel than theory, especially electric blues, but they shouldn't be treated generically (not necessaril by you ) as musical illiterates. After all, the first time the word "blues" was seen in print was WC Handy's sheet music for "St Louis Blues in 1914.
#40
Quote by Tony Done
I agree entirely, it is much more about feel than theory, especially electric blues, but they shouldn't be treated generically (not necessaril by you ) as musical illiterates. After all, the first time the word "blues" was seen in print was WC Handy's sheet music for "St Louis Blues in 1914.


not treating anything generically at all. again not saying musically illiterate. what i am saying is that most at that time didn't think of the music in terms that are associated with theory. such as 1-4-5 progression or i want to do this tune in perfect 4ths etc. blues was taught at the time more like a language (which was theory even if they didn't know that). so not illiterate but not educated in the accepted terms of the time (or now for that matter). not a matter of the "right" way or the wrong. learning is learning in the end.
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