Big Beatles fan since around 1966....most of their songs are mini lessons in music theory and arrangement.
Guitar Chords - Beatles songs
If you play guitar in a band it's really important to know some Beatles songs - especially for wedding gigs. For songwriters too, learning as many as possible will help you develop your own writing and arranging abilities. Here we are looking at an early Beatles song that shall remain nameless! Let's just say, it's the one with French lyrics.
Music Theory section:
This song has many changes of key, although it's arranged here in D minor. Mostly, the song changes between D Minor and D Major, and there is also a brief change into Bb. This key changing keeps the chords sounding interesting and unpredictable. If you want to play along with the original recording, use a capo in fret 3 to change the key to Fm.
Make sure you follow the signs - x means don't play this string, O means open string. The 6 vertical lines are the strings.
The intro chords are two strums for each chord, as shown in the diagram. Keep the open D string going as a pedal bass note, and the only moving note is the one on string 3.
The verse starts with the D chord - you could use the common-or-garden D shape, but this one is nice and bright, and has the melody note at the top - useful, because this sounds great played as a chord -melody piece.
The Gm7 chord is played with a half barre, and the thumb covering string 6, the lowest sounding string. Again, you could use a standard barre chord.
The B chord shown is B diminished. Diminished chords are usually found in jazz tunes, especially early 1920s and 1930s tunes by the greats, such as George Gershwin,Irving Berlin, Cole Porter.
So when The Beatles use these chords, they are referring back to the songs of The Great American songbook, and continuing in a noble tradition. In songs like Honey Pie and When I'm Sixty-Four, there is s strong element of pastiche, which is enhanced by the use of 1920s instrumentation, such as clarinet.
More chord types
The Beatles were very fond of the A7 sus4 to A7 change, used very widely in their songs. This chord progression usually resolves to D major, though it can also resolve to Dm.
The Bb chord is a Bb maj7. You could barre this chord, but it's a bit difficult to do that without getting unwanted buzzes. Here the chord progression is called a ii - V - 1, one of the most common in all music, but especially in jazz. The name comes from the intervals in the chord changes - in the key of Bb, the ii chord is Cm, the V chord is F7, the 1 chord or home chord is Bb.
Blackbird uses 10th intervals, chords that are reminiscent of Bach pieces. Played with a fingerpicking style, it's one of the most effective and catchy acoustic songs from the White Album. In the key of G, you can play the open G (3rd string) after each chord shape.
Sgt.Pepper and Best Beatles Songs
The BBC has shown a great documentary on the songs of the Sgt.Pepper album, by composer Howard Goodall. Very interesting and informative analysis of their songwriting methodology and well worth watching.
It's a bit futile to try and pick the best Beatles songs, as there are so many choices.
- Hey Jude is one of the easiest if you play it in D
- Here Comes the Sun (Capo at fret 7, in key of D)
- Strawberry Fields
- Penny Lane
- We Can Work It Out
- Here, There and Everywhere
- Norwegian Wood
These are some of the most beneficial to learn on guitar, and they are all really popular choices for most gigs.
The Analogues are a Dutch band who recreate Beatles albums with amazing skill and commitment. Look them up on Youtube, and learn a huge amount about the Beatles' use of harmony and arrangement, all played on original instruments, or very close examples.
Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on October 15, 2013:
Hi Johnny - you're welcome. Many of the Beatles songs are mini music lessons!
johnnycook from United Kingdom on October 13, 2013:
Thanks Jon. Really useful.