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  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • albert king

    Born Under a Bad Sign: 3 Essential Albert King Blues Licks

    by Simon James

    Albert King is one of the most influential Blues players to have emerged. In this lesson we will look at a few licks and phrases from one of his biggest hits Born Under a Bad Sign.

    This is a great tune from which to work on your Blues phrasing as King plays simple licks and short phrases that focus more on tone than speed and act as a neat accompaniment to his vocals which means you have to keep the licks aggressive and precise when you jam along to the tune. He makes good use of the Minor Pentatonic Scale, both in the first box position and in his trademark second box position.

    One thing you may want to work on in this lesson is to practice playing with your thumb and fingers rather than a pick. King was adept at playing in this way, which is one of the reasons that his tone and delivery are so effective. So to really come close to nailing that trademark Albert King sound it is well worth giving this technique a try. There is also, as with any good Blues repertoire, a decent helping of string bending to work on!

    Standard Blues Variation

    The form of this number is a variation of the Standard Blues Form. Instead of playing 12 bars we will only play 8, beginning with four bars on the I, one bar on the V, one on the IV, one on the I and one on the V. You could say that we begin on the first four bars of the standard form and then jump to the last four bars. Notice also that there is no shuffle, all of the 1/8 notes are played straight with a strong back beat on the 2nd and 4th beats. This gives the tune a more Motown feel.

    Lick 1

    The first lick is in the second box position of the minor pentatonic and as you listen to more of his improvisations you will notice that this is one of his most commonly used positions to play in. Notice how the lick is only three notes and is played at the end of the first bar with a staccato note on the E before playing a 1/4 note on C#. When returning to the E bend the note but only very slightly, perhaps nothing more than a 1/4 tone. Often King plays huge 3 and 4 tone bends, but in this instance the bend is extremely subtle adding nothing more than a touch of warmth to the lick.

    Lick 2

    The second lick is a fine example of using a Blues phrase to mark a chord change. Here we are changing from the I to the V, whereby the lick begins halfway through the second beat of bar 4 with a brisk descending minor pentatonic run. I use alternate picking here between thumb and index finger, which allows for the lick to be played fast as well as trying to pick up on some of the nuances of the style of Albert King. Notice the staccato note at the end of the run and the rest which lets the lick bounce into the two note chord slide into the V chord in bar 5.

    Lick 3

    The third lick is another brisk phrase involving a descending pentatonic run. Begin with a full tone bend halfway through the first beat of bar 7 and be sure to really warm it up with some free hand vibrato if you can manage it. Then come down the pentatonic scale from the C# stopping just before the fourth beat to play a semi tone bend from the F# to the G. Notice here that there is no return bend, simply carry on the run from the F#. This, again, gives the lick a typical Albert King bouncy feel. There is a neat change to and from the E and C# before completing the phrase on the G# to match the chord change.

    albert king born under a bad sign tab  


    These three licks crop up throughout Born Under a Bad Sign along with a few variations, so when you practice turn up the recording really loud and try jamming along. The alternating between vocal lines and guitar phrasing really encourages you to keep the phrases short and sweet. It is important to note that King used to play a right handed guitar upside down and often used alternative tunings. This potentially provides an added obstacle to really master his blues phrasing. In this arrangement everything has been noted in C# Minor Pentatonic position and I have attempted to try and keep everything as close to his way of playing as possible. The licks will point you in the right direction, just remember that only by practicing consistently and jamming along will you really be able to pick up on the subtleties of the phrasing of Albert King and the other blues greats.

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