The Albert King Style is deceptively straight forward but also hard to replicate convincingly. This is due in part to the fact that Albert King used an unconventional tuning and strung his guitar upside down. This means that if you wish to follow what he was doing it presents problems when playing with conventional tunings and strings.
In the main Albert would be using the first minor pentatonic pattern which I refer to as the G Shape minor pattern. This is not that difficult in itself but Albert usually bends the b3 of the minor pentatonic to the iv or even the v of the scale. This is where complication arise because you are using the 1st string. Even if you use what is known as ‘the Albert Box’ which incidentally Albert rarely used it can be even more difficult because you are then executing the bend @ the b3 with your first finger. Note that the ‘Albert Box’ is actually only a latter adaptation which allows you to easily access the notes with which Albert King is associated with. It is doubtful if Albert actually used this box / position as much as is actually made out because there would be very little advantage to do so because he would be forced to execute his most popular and favoured bends from the b3 to iv and v scale degrees using his first finger. I doubt that even the mighty Albert King favoured this finger for bends. However instead of bending the biii note it is still possible to get the feel of the Albert King Style using the ‘Albert Box’ this is because many of the bends on the biii were prebends starting on the iv & bending up to the v so the ‘Albert Box’ allows you to do this by simply bending a full tone to v from that position. Slightly cheating but gets the job done. It might be better to refer to this box shape as the ‘SRV Box’ because it is the position most used by Stevie Ray Vaughan when he wanted to make riffs in an Albert King Style. SRV made convincing Albert King phrases using the ‘Albert Box’. Take a listen to ‘Crossfire’ by SRV for example.
Albert though was able to execute these bends with relative ease because they were on the 6th string at the top of the fretboard and he was using a pulling down motion opposed to the pushing up method that conventional strings are forced to use. One way around this is to use both the ‘Albert Box’ & what I call the D Shape minor pentatonic box. This is the position where Eric Clapton might play his riffs in an Albert King style. By using the D Shape minor pattern the bends that Albert King commonly executed are available on the 2nd or B string in Standard Tuning. It is easier to make these bends with this string rather than the first string. Use the Albert Box and the first finger to just fret the b3 note to play without bends and use the D Shape minor pentatonic box to complete the compound bends on the b3 as required. You could use the G Shape pentatonic box playing these bends as Albert did but often Albert would be playing in Keys of G minor or Bb which is quite high (towards the nut end of fretboard). This makes in more difficult but easier for Albert because his guitar was tuned 3 fets lower so he had to play 3 frets higher (a movement away from the nut towards the centre of the guitar) than it actually sounded this actually made the bends much easier for him and more difficult for us to follow.
If you really want to use the same shapes as Albert King then I would suggest you tune your guitar to at least one semitone lower than standard tuning (Eb). Better still would be 2 semitones lower than Standard Tuning. So only one semitone lower than which Albert was reportedly playing in. Even just one semitone gives a slight advantage to string benders because the tension of the strings will be lower the further away from each supported end of string you play. There will also be less tension on the strings at lower tuning. Now to play in Keys associated with Albert King example G minor you would be starting to play in the G Shape minor pattern @ fret 4 or G #. This simple action will will move us away from the nut of guitar slightly towards the middle of the fretboard. For songs in Bb play from fret 7.
Albert King’s genius lay in his command of rhythm not necessarily in his note choices or use of scales
Albert King was a master of rhythm which he used to construct his lines. Often he would repeat parts of phrases over and over again which became his trademark motifs. In both 12/8 time & in 4/4 time he was in absolute control of his rhythmic phrases putting stresses on just the right notes and often emphasising these with bends. Some of his rhythmic choices involved some quite unusual compound timings some of which involved tuplets & playing 4 or 5 1/8th notes in place of 3 in 12/8 time for example. Some of these I will give you on pdf. All in all Albert was a master of rhythm against which he played his ubiquitous minor pentatonic scale with a set of bends and compound bends to create a perfectly unique style.
Something A King might do-vrs5 is based on and reflects Albert King’s approach to rhythmic phrasing in 12/8. It demonstrates Albert’s use of complex rhythmic structures and use of tuplets etc.
What you can learn from Albert King
Well you can certainly learn a great deal about musical rhythm from Albert King and about how to phrase your musical statements. Whether you choose to play in the same relative positions as Albert King or use alternative positions as discussed above. The secret is to play everything very slowly at first until you understand how each phrase works and where the stressed notes occur. Give each note as much expression as you possibly can. Learn how to emphasise the key notes in the phrase. Take each phrase( musical statement) one at a time and practise getting it right before you move on. I will be providing you with a few of his key/trademark statements and showing you where he puts the emphasis in his musical statements. Once you get to understand these you can go on to make your own in a similar fashion. Studying Albert King’s style will give you a thorough grasp of both 4/4 time & 12/8 TIME and show you many possibilities of using these. Many blues and rock players have been influenced by his style of playing and he is widely regarded as a forerunner in these styles. You can hear his influence in many songs still up to the present day.
IMG-AK 3 above is in Standard Tuning and uses the Keys of Bb and G which are 2 of the Keys that Albert King favoured most. The last phrase is in Key G and shows you an example of the problems that you might have have playing in this Key in Albert King Style. The difficulty is the bend on the 1st string which is quite difficult @ fret 6. The next image gives you an alternative method of playing this bend in a different position. You might find it easier to play Albert King Style in this position since it is easier to make the bends required. The position is a D Shape Minor Pattern from my C-A-G-E-D system.
Here is the audio to accompany the examples given.
To end here is the examples written out for an alternative tuning of 2 semitones/ one tone lower than standard tuning. which gives you the chance to play in a position more like but not exactly the same as Albert King. See how much easier it is to play in Key G using this Tuning.
To be honest I still find the Key of G awkward to play well in even with the guitar tuned 2 x semitones lower. It’s probably the idea of bending the high E string up 2 tones from bIII to IV to V and putting so much strain on the thinnest of the strings with possibilities of string breaking that makes me think that the alternative position of D minor pattern is better. It seems easier for me at least to control the string bend.
Great Albert King songs that use the Key of G are ‘Blues Power’, ‘Personal Manager’ and ‘I’ll Play the Blues for You’.
The key of Bb doesn’t present so many problems whilst using minor pattern 1 (which I prefer to call the G Shape minor pattern). Playing between fret 6 to 9 it is far easier to make the bends on the first string.
Here is another example of a great phrase. This is played in Key G Standard tuning.
Here is a piece called ‘A King can Funk’ based on the Albert King Style using many typical motifs.