This blog shall analyze how Paul McCartney used Bouree, open strings, multiple time signatures and a unique index finger strum to create a modern guitar classic.
Written by Paul McCartney but credited to Lennon/McCartney in true Beatles style, Blackbird has become almost compulsory for the acoustic guitarist to get their teeth into. The most important influence from a guitar point of view is Johann Sebastian Bachs’s Bouree in Em.
So before we start picking Blackbird apart, let’s have a listen to Per-Olov Kindgren playing Bouree in Em.
This is a world famous piece written for Lute (early version of the guitar) and dates back to the 1700s, over a century before the guitar was even invented.
However, the lute is a close cousin and Bach wrote many pieces that can easily be adapted for the guitar.
The compositional technique used is called ‘Counterpoint’ which means that two melodies move against each other, the bass goes up when the top line moves down for example.
Bach was the master at this so lots to learn from him. Sheet music for this stuff is available everywhere, simply google it and you shall be on your way.
Blackbird by SpyTunes
Spytunes version of Blackbird should be a note for note replica of the original. Played by Guru and sung by the biggest Beatles fan we ever met; Paul Cullum, this version combined with the Etude in Acoustic Finger Style Guitar should guide you to how to play it yourself.
Blackbird use counterpoint but with a twist, the picking pattern is unique, only seen being used by Donovan before McCartney brought it to the masses. Let’s take a closer look.
The picking pattern combine two different techniques throughout. The first plucking technique using thumb, middle and index finger is used during the majority of the parts supporting the vocal melody.
The second strumming pattern is the unique index finger strum, use the second video in the playlist for a close up of this technique.
The interesting thing about these two patterns is how the strum answers the vocal.
It is not until the last vocal line of the verse “… you were only waiting…” that the strum is supporting the vocal.
The open G-string is used throughout Blackbird giving the piece a ‘drone’ effect. Since chords are named by intervals in relation to the root the function of this open G changes.
Over the A shaped G chord at fret 10 the open G functions as a root.
Over the Em the G is now a m3rd, over the C and Cm it is the 5th.
It would be a good idea to work out what function the open G has throughout in order to understand this type of drone technique to a larger extent.
Throughout Blackbird you’ll find different time signatures appearing.
The most obvious one being the verse that starts in 3/4 for a bar, changing to 4/4 immediately.
This 3/4 time for a bar concept appears several times throughout but there is also a 2/4 bar so use the Guitar Conspiracy DIY TAB sheet to fully grasp the structure.
Blackbird is mainly a piece in the key of G but it does modulate to F and C in the chorus.
The modulation is tricky to fully understand, to get it you would need to see it as if in three keys; G, C and F.
Once you worked out what each keys chord would mean you can start drawing your own conclusion.
This type of modulation is extreme and the use of the same picking technique as in the verse makes it feel natural. This type of concept is well worth using; change something (in this case the key) but keep something else (the picking pattern).
Again we can see how in order to create a hit it does need to be inspired by something to feel as if we’ve heard it before, but also break new ground and be different. Blackbird certainly does this very well.
Until then, keep practicing.