Acous­tic styles

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

The Fab Four weren’t all about Hofner, Gretsch, Rick­en­backer and Epi­phone electrics. Stu­art Ryan ex­plores The Bea­tles’ acous­tic mo­ments.

While the suc­cess of The Bea­tles un­doubt­edly lies in their melodies and lyrics, it’s easy to for­get that be­hind it all was an en­gine room fea­tur­ing three gui­tarists with unique styles. When these styles com­bined with the song­writ­ing tal­ents of John, Paul and Ge­orge, the re­sult was mu­sic that was stag­ger­ingly well rounded. Imag­ine the Fab Four on stage and you prob­a­bly pic­ture Paul and his Hofner bass and Ge­orge and John with ei­ther Gretsch or Rick­en­backer. How­ever, at var­i­ous points in the his­tory of the group each of the three wrote and per­formed on acous­tics. In this ar­ti­cle, we will aim to bring out key facets of each player’s style, plus unique and idio­syn­cratic touches that meant that the acous­tic was a pow­er­ful writ­ing tool in each of their hands.

Paul’s acous­tic play­ing of­ten fea­tured a ‘thumb and strum’ tech­nique – he would pick a bass note with the thumb and follow this with a down-up strum with the first fin­ger. In this way he was able to cre­ate strong self-ac­com­pa­ni­ment pat­terns that cov­ered both bass and chord du­ties. This may sound sim­ple if you al­ready have a well-es­tab­lished fin­ger­style tech­nique but it may be tricky to break out of the ‘right’ habits in or­der to em­ploy this un­ortho­dox style. But one of the pos­si­ble ad­van­tages of this way of play­ing is that the first fin­ger strum gives a strong per­cus­sive qual­ity to your play­ing, which makes for some great rhyth­mic dy­nam­ics (Yes­ter­day, for ex­am­ple). How­ever, Paul was also in­flu­enced by Scot­tish folk gui­tarist Dono­van, who showed all three Bea­tle pick­ers some clas­sic fin­ger­style ap­proaches. Paul’s el­e­gant, al­most Baroque play­ing on Black­bird has been on every as­pir­ing fin­ger­picker’s per­for­mance wish list since it was first heard, and for good rea­son. The use of wide in­ter­vals (10ths) cre­ates a full ta­pes­try of sound that’s not at all muddy, and the com­bined pick­ing of bass and tre­ble strings makes for a great piece of fin­ger­style gui­tar that could have stood on its own as an in­stru­men­tal.

John was more tra­di­tional in his ap­proach em­ploy­ing more of a‘p’ ‘i’ ‘m’ pick­ing pat­tern. Again, the in­flu­ence of Dono­van was strong and in John’s play­ing you will of­ten hear the al­ter­nat­ing bass pat­tern beloved of every fin­ger­stylist – lis­ten to Ju­lia to hear this ef­fect and learn to mas­ter it too. John was also adept at fleet pick­ing hand pat­terns, again as ev­i­denced by Ju­lia. If you are new to this style start slowly to build up strength and speed. In ad­di­tion, lis­ten to his solo per­for­mances and you will no­tice how strong the rhyth­mic el­e­ment is – the gui­tar is there to ac­com­pany the voice but it is also the rhythm sec­tion and if that falls apart, all is lost. John can also be heard us­ing a ‘thumb and strum’ ap­proach al­though it seems that he would usu­ally pluck a bass string with the thumb and then use a re­laxed brush down the string with the pick­ing hand ‘ima’ fin­gers.

Ge­orge is of­ten thought of as be­ing the con­sum­mate gui­tarist within the group and in­deed there is a so­phis­ti­ca­tion and melodic con­tent to his gui­tar parts – check out the chord pro­gres­sion to While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps (es­pe­cially the acous­tic ver­sion on An­thol­ogy). Ge­orge also used some great de­vices to make his gui­tar parts re­ally stand out – not least his use of a capo at the 7th fret on Here Comes The Sun. This gives his gui­tar sound a rich, sweet tone that stands out in the mix and adds an­other di­men­sion be­yond open-po­si­tion play­ing. Ge­orge’s ap­proach of­ten fea­tures jazz in­flu­enced pro­gres­sions and melody within his rhythm play­ing –Here Comes The Sun for ex­am­ple, which also in­cludes odd time sig­na­ture pas­sages.

I hope you’ll en­joy this glimpse into the styles of the three gui­tar-play­ing Bea­tles; hope­fully it will help you when you come to learn their orig­i­nal parts, cre­ate ar­range­ments of their pieces or even write your own ‘in the style of’ pieces. Have fun!


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