In this free guitar lesson, I have another installment of How Does This Song Work featuring “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King. You get to know this song’s key, chords, and chord progression, as well as the different ways you can approach the solo.
To get my sound for this song, I’m using a semi-hollow Epiphone Dot guitar and I’m playing through a Fender Tweed Deluxe Kemper amp profile. For effects, I’m using delay and reverb.
The Thrill is Gone Chords
The music centers on a Bm chord and it mostly uses chords out of the B minor scale. The chord progression follows a 12-bar blues form.
The Thrill is Gone Chord Progression
Now let’s talk about the relationship between these chords. To do so, I’m going to simplify the chords for a minute by playing a plain G major and F#m at the end of the progression.
Now, taking a look at the whole progression from the beginning, you can think of the relationship between these chords in two ways. First, you can see them as coming out of the D major scale. Second, you can think of them as being in the B minor scale.
If you think D major (play through the harmonized D major scale), then Bm is chord vi, Em is chord ii, G is chord IV, and F#m is chord iii. As you can see, these chords fit together well because they are related. They all come from the same parent scale, D major. This is what I teach in my theory course, Fretboard Theory Volume 1.
Now, even though these chords come out of the D major scale, the music centers on the sixth scale degree, B. This creates the sound of B Aeolian mode, which is otherwise known as the natural or relative minor scale.
If you think of these chords as coming out of the B minor scale, then the numbers change. Bm is chord i, Em is chord iv, G is chord bVI, and F#m is chord v. This is a more correct way to think about the music because your ear hears B as the primary pitch and everything else in relation to that pitch. In other words, B to E is a fourth, B to F# is a 5th, and B to G is a b6th. This is what I teach in Fretboard Theory Volume 2.
Now let’s talk about the Gmaj7 and F#7 chords I initially played. Gmaj7 is a G major chord with an added major 7th. Nothing unusual here. Gmaj7 is still diatonic, meaning it’s still a chord that naturally occurs in the parent scale, whether you think D major or B minor.
But the F#7 chord has a note that is out of place, A#. Our parent scales contain an A natural. A natural makes the F# chord minor. A# makes it major. So, where does this note come from and why does it fit so well in the music?
It comes from the B harmonic minor scale. This scale is played by raising the 7th degree. The 7th degree in the B minor scale is A. Raise it to A# and you create the B harmonic minor scale. In the B harmonic minor scale, the 3rd in the 5 chord, F#, changes from minor to major. Playing the 5 chord as major creates a stronger harmonic push to the tonic chord, Bm. Playing F# dominant 7 instead of a plain F# major chord intensifies this push. This idea, called “dominant function,” is borrowed from the major scale where the 5 chord naturally contains the notes of a dominant 7th chord. See Fretboard Theory Volume 2 for more on this topic.
There is one more thing to add to the F# chord to complete the chord changes. You initially play F#7sus4. This chord is made by raising the major 3rd, A#, up to a 4th, B. When I start from the Gmaj7 chord, the changes sound like this. The F#7sus4 adds more color and movement to the changes.
The Thrill is Gone Guitar Solo
Now let’s talk about the solo. There are three scale options to consider when you add lead lines to this song.
- The B minor pentatonic scale. No surprise here. It’s an obvious choice. The minor pentatonic is a simple pattern, it works over the whole progression, and it’s what you hear B.B. King use in the original recording.
- The B minor scale. Since these chords are from the B minor scale, you can play a full B minor scale over them. To play the B minor scale, use D major scale patterns but begin on B. Or you can add 2nds and b6ths to the B minor pentatonic to create the same pattern.
- The B harmonic minor scale. In this case, you don’t want to play B harmonic minor over the whole progression. The raised 7th, A#, will clash with most of the music. The time to play harmonic minor is over the 5 chord, F#. Return to natural minor or the pentatonic afterward.
This concludes my free lesson on “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King. Now you know how this song works, how you can approach it as a lead guitarist, and how you can make use of the harmonic minor sound.