Learn to Play: The Bass Techniques of Paul McCartney

How Paul McCartney began playing bass is a rather common story among bassists. Initially a guitar player, he switched to the four-stringed instrument to fill a spot in his band. And with the Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass he made famous in hand, McCartney elevated the role of the bassist in traditional rock groups with his innovations in both melodicism and identity.

Today, Reverb's Jake Hawrylak is digging into those innovations, breaking down and teaching a few of his favorite basslines from The Beatles' and Paul McCartney's catalogs.

Jake kicks off today's lesson with the first track off of 1966's Revolver, "Taxman." Jake likes to turn to this bassline because in it, you can hear the influence of players that McCartney was most inspired by. Its bridge part, for example, full of fast and funky 16th notes and octave jumps, calls to mind bassists like James Jamerson of The Funk Brothers.

Next, Jake moves into the group's 1967 single "Hello, Goodbye", which he chose not only because it's a fun bassline, but because it highlights McCartney's prowess as a songwriter. "This song really showcases to me Paul's awareness of the role of the bass in a band—not just to be supportive, but, at times, to help propel the song along," Jake explains, demonstrating how the song begins with whole notes before the drums kick in, and after they do, drives the song forward with eighth notes.

The last Beatles song Jake teaches is "Something" from 1969's Abbey Road, before transitioning to McCartney's later band Wings. Jake looks at three Wings songs: "Silly Love Songs" off of '76's Wings at the Speed of Sound, the disco-inflected "Goodnight Tonight" single from '79, and that same year's "Arrow Through Me" from Back to the Egg.

As Jake explains, McCartney's later work with the Wings highlights his sense of humor in a way that his music with the Beatles didn't always communicate, which helps makes these lines extra fun and engaging to learn. Be sure to follow along with the video above and the tablature below, and let us know which bassist you'd like to see Jake teach next in the comments below.


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