What You Don't Know About the 'BB King Scale'

This little trick could save your life on-stage when you need that authentic Blues sound...

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There's something that BB King did to the Minor Pentatonic Scale that very few guitar players fully understand. And, what you don't know about this little trick could save your life on-stage when you need that authentic Blues sound...

B.B. King is considered by many to be the most influential guitarist ever. From Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Gary Clark Jr., every blues-rock player of the last 50 years owes a debt of gratitude to the King every time they lean into a single-note solo.

In fact, the legendary Buddy Guy believes B.B.’s influence is so vast that his name should be engraved on every electric guitar!

Of the many signature elements that comprise B.B.’s sound, the one most often cited is his penchant for zeroing in on a specific pattern of notes and strings when playing in a given key. The pattern, which is played primarily on the top three strings and forms a visual “box” shape on the fretboard, has become affectionately known as the “B.B. box.”

In this blog post, I’d like to outline the pattern in a few positions and demonstrate some licks that navigate through his unique scale pattern to create some cool B.B.-style solo licks and phrases.

BB King Scale: Music Theory

BB uses the "Minor Pentatonic a little differently than most. Essentially he takes the standard "Minor Pentatonic" and replaces the "b7" tone with a "Major 6" tone.

- Example using the tonic note of "A"

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BB King Scale: "Neck Patterns"

Most often, BB King’s use of this restructured Minor Pentatonic shape places the tonic note on the second B string, (generally fretted with the index finger).

Scale TAB - Figure One:

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FIGURE 1: Shows how the six notes that make up the “B.B. box,” can be played in the key of A in the 9th and 10th position. But, in FIGURE TWO we expand the lower register range.

By staying in position, the "BB King" Scale can be played into lower register string sets. In Figure Two we take this pattern into a lower 5th string tonic at the 5th string's 12th-fret.

Scale TAB - Figure Two:

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Watch the Video lesson to learn MORE...

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The Author: Andrew Wasson (GIT Grad.), Ultimate Guitar's "Top Contributor"

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    CurlOfTheBurl
    Interesting, I've never heard of this one before. I guess it's kinda like the dorian without the 2nd or 7th in it. 
    Panasonic3
    Dorian Pentatonic!
    ErnestoFidel
    Actually - why not?
    DWAUME
    Feel free to call it that, but you probably won't be able to popularize the term, so you'll have to explain what the dorian pentatonic is whenever you talk about it.  You'd probably be better off calling it the B.B. King scale