We show you how to play like BB King with our BB King Guitar lesson. Here are 7 (quick) BB King guitar techniques and playing habits every fan and Blues guitarist should know. 

Do you want to sound like BB King, play like BB King or at least utilise some of his playing habits and those classic BB king guitar techniques that are instantly recognisable?

We're here to help!

With the help of Leigh Fuge over at MGR Music, we've rounded up 7 instantly recognisable BB King guitar techniques and guitar habits that every Blues guitarist should know. We discuss the BB Box technique, the classic BB King style turnaround lick and of course, the BB King "Butterfly" vibrato technique.

Watch along with our 7 handy tips, tricks and techniques video and start adding those BB king guitar habits into your playing.

As always, we can't promise you'll play as well as the King of Blues legend, but you can certainly use this BB King guitar lesson to add that signature flair to your own music.

Let's begin...

BB King's influence has been felt through the ages with players like Eric Clapton, John Mayer and Kenny Wayne Shepherd professing their love for BB’s playing and unmistakable style.

His playing, although firmly rooted in blues, has an obvious influence from Jazz as his arrangements aren’t typically Blues shuffles.

Aside from learning the guitar techniques in this lesson, it’s worth noting that a huge part of BB King's guitar style is based around his phrasing and the space he plays with. He prefers to let the guitar breath and plays with a vocal fluency.

So relax, and don't cram too much into your playing.

The 7 Key BB King Playing Habits

In this guitar lesson, we'll be looking at the following 7 BB King Guitar habits :

  • Using Minor & Major Pentatonic Scales Together
  • The BB King 'BB Box' Method Explained
  • BB King Style turnaround To End A Blues Progression
  • Resolving Lick - Find The Root Note
  • BB King Vibrato Technique - The BB King Butterfly
  • High Slide-outs
  • Outside "Jazzy" Notes

We recommend following on with the video below

BB King Guitar Technique #1 – Combining Major and Minor Pentatonics

Video section: 0:36

All the examples in this BB King lesson are in the key of B and one thing that you’ll see a lot in BB’s style is the mixing of minor and major pentatonic scales in the same lick.

This is the B Minor Pentatonic you should use:

bb king b minor pentatonic

This is the B Major Pentatonic:

b major pentatonic

Spend a little while playing them side by side to see which notes are the same and where you can cross over between the two.

BB King Guitar Technique #2 – The BB Box Method

Video section: 1:58

The BB Box is a 5 note phrase that sits in the 3rd shape of there the Major and Minor Pentatonics cross over.

This is a small box pattern that BB King played in a lot and it great for melodic, vocal like licks.

BB King Guitar Technique #2 – The BB Box Method

This is a vital BB King guitar habit and technique you should know, should you want to sound like BB King. It's also a LOT of fun to use!

BB King Guitar Technique #3 – BB King Style Turnaround Lick

Video section: 3:07

This BB style turnaround lick is great for opening or closing a track and is a unique BB king guitar technique that you can hear on many of his songs.

The first bar starts on the 4th beat, BB would often do this to cue the band into the 1 beat which his when the double stop triplets begin.

BB King Guitar Technique #3 – BB King Style Turnaround Lick

BB King Guitar Technique #4 – Phrases that Land on the Root Note

Video section: 4:47

This BB King style lick contains 2 similar phrases that both land on the root note of the key, which in this case is B (The 12th fret of the B string).

Doing this gives the lick a feeling of resolve and closure. It also emphasises the key that you’re playing in. This lick is based around the BB Box position.

BB King Guitar Technique #4 – Phrases that Land on the Root Note

BB King Guitar Habit #5 – The BB King "Butterfly Vibrato"

Video section: 7:02

BB King has a very unique vibrato style. This involves taking your hand off the neck completely so the only contact point is the finger that is fretting the note.

Check out the Youtube video for some best practises on how to achieve this "Butterfly" vibrato technique. 

BB King Guitar Habit #6 – High Slide outs

Video section: 8:36

BB King would often add these high slide outs in the middle, or at the end of his licks. This guitar habit is the same as Trick 4, except you’ll notice the slide outs added on the end.

In this example, the 2 higher notes that you play are just a high B note, but any pentatonic note will work in their place.

BB King Guitar Habit #6 – High Slide outs

BB King Guitar Habit #7 – Outside "Jazzy" Notes

Video section: 9:38

One really recognisable BB King guitar habit was his use of outside "Jazzy" notes. BB King would combine the Major and Minor pentatonics as well as add other outside notes to create some jazzy tones that would really stand out in the mix. This BB king style lick idea combines Major and Minor but if you play it over a minor blues, it gives a definite jazzy flavour.

There is also another outside note (the 6th fret on the B) which is neither major or minor, it’s a b5 note. When you slide this back into an expected note, it creates a small feeling of resolve. Try it out!

bb king outside jazz notes

About The Author:

This lesson was brought to you by MusicTeacher.com, written by experienced guitar teacher Leigh Fuge. Leigh works as part of a community of guitar teachers based across the UK. We are delighted to announce that students based in Cheltenham will now be able to attend lessons at the Guitar Lessons Cheltenham hub. To find guitar teachers local to you, as well as online guitar lessons, simply visit the MusicTeacher.com platform.

If you enjoyed this article and video, don’t forget to check out PMTVUK on Youtube for more guitar lesson videos.