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  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • b.b.king

    Lick of the Week: Thrill Is Gone by B.B.King

    by Simon James

    B.B. King is widely regarded as the official King of Blues, so no study of Blues Guitar can be complete without a thorough knowledge of his playing style and repertoire. In the Lick this week we will be looking at the intro to one of B.B. Kings signature tunes and biggest hit Thrill is Gone from the 1970 Album Completely Well.

    The playing style of B.B. King has been widely analysed over the years and his trademark single note fluid runs have been massively influential upon an enormous number of guitarists particularly Eric Clapton. He is well known for soloing around a Minor Blues Scale and borrowing notes from the Major, resulting in a kind of Mixolydian Scale. He often uses string bends but they are usually very subtle, bending mostly using 1/4 tones and rarely more than a 1/2 tone.

    He is one of the most well regarded exponents of the Free Hand or Hummingbird vibrato technique, whereby the vibrato is created by only holding your finger on the fretboard when sounding the note and moving your whole arm.

    Finally, no effective study of any material by King can be complete without effective uses of dynamics to create contrasts in the phrases. This is done by controlling the attack of the pick and also by varying the picking technique. Flat picking works when playing loud and angling the pick to 45 degrees so that you hit the string with the side works well for playing more softly. Aggressive flat picking down strokes are commonly used when playing at full strength as are staccato notes.

    When learning licks and solos by B.B. King it is essential that you incorporate all of these techniques and listen very carefully to the original recording. Without this king of phrasing you risk losing out on all of the emotion and expression that have come to make B.B. King one of the greatest Blues players of all time.

    Thrill Is Gone Tab and Notation

    The album version from which this lick is taken is a 12 Bar Blues in Bm, although often this tune is played live in A min. There is a slight variation in the form whereby at bar 9 we play at #V chord followed by a V in bar 10. The form is as follows:

    B minor blues  

    We begin the intro with a B played on the first string with vibrato. Notice the staccato note on the fourth beat. We then come down the Minor Blues scale, starting with a 1/4 tone bend on the D on the first string. The Blue Note (F) is played with a 1/4 bend from the E on the third string. This run is played with a flat pick but notice from the recording that it tails off with a slight diminuendo towards the end of the phrase. Try angling your pick to mark out the shift in dynamics.

    As we change to the IV in bar 5, pick up the Dynamics again by playing at medium strength and again try and incoporate some free hand vibrato when playing the long notes. The second part of this lick is a common method of phrasing used by B.B. King featuring a chromatic run up from the D to the F with a perfect 3rd borrowed form the Major scale and a 1/4 tone bend to the F before returning to the E. Again tale off the end of the phrase by varying the strength of your attack and by angling the pick.

    Notice how the final phrase begins on the fourth beat of bar 8. Having dropped the attack write down the contrasts is set up at this point for the climax of the sequence over the last four bars. Pay attention to the use of accents and the staccato note in the phrase over the #V chord and notice how the lick becomes more aggressive and abrupt as it develops. Again it drifts off towards the end leaving a kind of emptiness before the progression begins again with vocals.

    b.b.king thrill is gone tab and notation  

    B.B. King used many guitars early in his career but eventually settled on a Gibson ES-355 or a 345. It is the 355 that is used on this recording together with a now discontinued Gibson Lab Series 2x12 combo. His tone is always warm and slightly driven with very little added effects. The key to learning the phrasing of B.B. King is picking up on the vibrato, the dynamics, the picking techniques and keeping everything simple and minimal. Ensure that you listen closely to the recording as you work your way through this one.

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