Learn to Play: The Beatles' "Michelle" and "Taxman" Solo

It’s easy to love Paul McCartney. At some point or another, most of us can say that we’ve been hit from just the right angle by his genius. Whether it was hearing his rock ‘n’ roll vocals on "I Saw Her Standing There," or being frozen in place by the emotional composition and performance of "Yesterday."

Yes, "The Cute One" has gifted us many beautiful songs to say the least.

But make no mistake, "cute" most definitely refers to his looks alone. His songwriting technique and awareness carries a natural brilliance that "cute" just doesn’t quite cover.

So in celebration of Paul McCartney's birthday this Sunday, we wanted to take a closer look at how to play two of his most seminal contributions to the Beatles' catalogue.

The Beatles "Michelle" Verse Chords by Paul McCartney

When I heard "Michelle" for the first time, I remember thinking that the tune was absolutely timeless. While many other Beatles songs had that "‘60s pop thing" or that "late ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll thing," "Michelle" seemed to exist in a place outside of those genre–defining constraints.

It wasn’t until college that I actually transcribed the chords and melody of the tune, and in doing so, felt that I had unlocked some secrets. With some songwriters, we hear many of the same ideas. With others, we get surprises, twists, and turns. With a lovely tune like "Michelle," we get to have both.

We get one of Paul’s go–to moves, the I major to IV minor. But even within this move, a new twist still occurs, because it’s actually a IV minor 7th. Why is this a new twist? What does that minor 7th on the IV minor chord do?

I’ll give you a hint: that flat 7th is the minor 3rd of the key (flat 7th of Bb minor is Ab, which is the minor 3rd of F). Immediately after establishing F major as the key, Macca takes us into minor territory (and not even relative minor, we’re talking parallel minor...ish).

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So we get a Paul signature move, and then we also get some surprises, like the diminished resolutions surrounding the V chord. This part of the progression allows us to physically sway side to side, comfortably anticipating a chord resolution. The cute one is also clever.

No matter what type of song we are picking apart, we are learning something about the way we internalize these musical colors. In addition to that already beautiful idea, we are also learning how our songwriting heroes choose to speak the language.

We can speak with simple, easily attainable melodies. Or we can speak with complex, deceptive resolutions. Mr. McCartney has taught us that it’s okay to combine both. And sometimes, it is even preferred.

It's important to note that while McCartney most often plays Michelle with a capo on the fifth fret, in this video I'm playing a rendition in standard tuning with similar chord voicings, for a more full-bodied solo performance. With a couple of exceptions, the finger placements and notes played are virtually identical with or without the capo.

Paul McCartney's "Taxman" Solo

Sometimes a tune comes along that you just have to learn. And sometimes, you have to throw away your carefully learned musical intuition and finesse in order to do so. Use your ears, but not the "solfège" parts. Use your hands, but not the muscle memory parts. And use your heart, but not the reserved parts. Don't hold back.

Now you're on the offensive, driving the tonalities out from a deep chamber inside your guitar against its very will. Aggression is key here. The neighbors will just have to deal with the noise, because your pilgrimage to discovering the ins and outs and the shakes and wobbles of the "Taxman" solo is, at the moment, more important.

This may sound a bit intense, but it's how I learned how to play this solo. I forgot about consonance, dissonance, chord tones, and tensions and just attacked the piece. This was the approach required to pull off this manic guitar part, and it was fun.

I hope you have fun with it, too. And I hope that you take this approach and apply it to a solo of your own, because that's another meaningful dynamic of these lessons. When we learn how to access a musical idea, we also may discover a process that is new to us.

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So take your time, stay focused, think about the chord structure and resolutions in "Michelle." Now turn around, perhaps un–think a little, and attack the "Taxman" solo. Then take another step back, and check out how different those processes were.

Most importantly, run wild with both of them. Anything is possible.

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