Did the Beatles know much about music theory?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by johnny33, Feb 15, 2007.

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  1. johnny33

    johnny33 New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    usa
    This thread is inspired by the other thread about Revolver. In the thread a member writes about the mixolydian mode being used by the Beatles. And Ive read how they used funny unorthodox chord progressions in a even humorous way at times. George used a drone type mode in song.Paul said that they purposely tried to write a song on one note. Several other examples of pretty in depth musical structures were used too Im sure.

    The more I read about it .. the theory side.. the more I am struck to how complex this music is.Now I realize that the Beatles were not musicians in the classical sense.But I find it hard to believe that they just stumbled upon the unusual things they were doing by accident .Dont think any read music.But I wonder just how much they were aware of and studied the theory behind what they did. Or even before they did it? Or was it mainly just something they were soaking up like sponges by ear? How much did Mr martin perhaps " teach" them in this way? Or other real musicians ( dont get offended..the Beatles WERE musicians) that they were around inthe studio? I wonder if John ever looked over at a music stand and said.. " Ohh.. I like that mode.. what is that?".. or " What does that mean? as far as the theoretical aspect goes?

    What do you guys think?
     
  2. Dave D

    Dave D Done!

    Location:
    Milton, Canada
    Zippo. George might have been more schooled thru Ravi Shankar, but Indian music is mostly improv. He got a good sense of weird time signatures and stuff thru Indian music, but the rest of them, nothing.

    There's the famous story of Paul and John taking a bus to go learn the B Major 7th chord off a guy! :)
     
  3. RobertKaneda

    RobertKaneda New Member

    Location:
    Paris, France
    I think they were naturally gifted, came up with melodies, rhythms, harmonies, chords to fit their ideas, and played what made sense to them in terms of what they were trying to accomplish. When experts marvel at how a song can contains passages in 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, etc., and "strange" modes like the mixolydian, it's all after the fact. I don't think they were aware of any of this and just went with what felt right.

    Have you ever seen a note-for-note transcription of a Jimi Hendrix solo? It's like, who could possibly think of this? Well, he didn't. He just played, and someone else later figured out how to put it on paper and took note of its significance in terms of music theory.

    I think this stands in strong contrast to Beethoven. When he was deaf, he could hear all this music in his head, and I think he must have had not only an incredible "inner ear" but also complete mastery of what he was doing musically.
     
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  4. punkrok78

    punkrok78 Forum Resident

    Its well quoted that in the early days once they learned a new chord they would have an instant connection to a new song.
     
  5. Maxbialystock

    Maxbialystock Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Correct. The Beatles were innate musicians rather than trained. The unusual chord progressions, unexpected harmonies, time signature switches all emerged organically from them rather than in any considered, planned way. They were the product of their relentless curiosity and quest to constantly come up with something "different" than they had just accomplished.

    In this respect - which was a reflection of the creative mood of the mid-1960s - there was a difference to what had gone before in pop music.

    Prior to this era - pop musicians aspired to improve of course - but to get better AT THE SAME THING. For example Chuck Berry would want to write a better song in the same vein as a previous one he'd written. But he was not fueled by a fire to come up with a new sonic texture for each song.

    From 1965 onwards - it became a matter of personal pride for the Beatles to approach the recordng of each new song with a fresh perspective. They looked for ways to come up with something that would sound perhaps just a little different than what they'd just done. And that quest to be different and new each time sparked their innate creativity.

    It came to regarded as "progressing" - a term not previosuly employed in pop music - where the creed had always been "improving"
     
  6. dbz

    dbz Bolinhead.

    Location:
    Live At Leeds (UK)
    The point about the Mixolydian mode (uses a flatted 7th in the scale) is that this came from America and is staple of Swing, Ragtime and blues music.
    I believe it was G.I.s who first brought these records to the UK during WWII. Liverpool was lucky in so far as it was a major port, so cool records from the USA were more common than they would have been in other parts of the country.

    The UK musicians had never used a flatted 7th scale (which is kind of bluesy) as their usual scale of choice would be a major scale. So The G.I. and Glen Miller etc introduced this to Britain. I guess the young Beatles would easily have assimilated this into their playing style early on-particularly when you look at their influences.
     
  7. johnny33

    johnny33 New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    usa
    I was going to comment. But I am enjoying the comments thus far. Some pretty smart dudes in here !
     
  8. RobertKaneda

    RobertKaneda New Member

    Location:
    Paris, France
    I don't want to appear to be arguing (and I'm not), but wouldn't the British musicians have had some exposure to flatted 7ths (and flatted 3rds) by virtue of exposure to American jazz and blues before WW II? Basie, Armstrong, Ellington were well known around the world by the time of the war, and I would think that some of that would have reached the UK.

    The mixolydian scale, by the way, is the one that you would play if you played the octave from G to G without any flats or sharps. G major would have F# (the 7th) at the end.
     
  9. Maxbialystock

    Maxbialystock Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Correct. Jazz was popular in the UK from the late 20s and early 30s on. There were home-grown dance bands - eg The Savoy Orpheans - mainly playing American material. And the music flowed into Britain way before WWII. Blues had a more limited impact. That was a bohemian sub-culture.
     
  10. Eli

    Eli Party Coordinator

    Location:
    Isle of Lucy
    That's also true of the '50s, the '40s, and the '30s. You may not perceive or value the innovations of those eras, but they were equally creative and different from earlier times in music.

    That's simply not true. Just look at Elvis' evolution from rockabilly to the operatic "It's Now Or Never." There is great variety among Chuck Berry's recordings, too -- it's inaccurate and insulting to characterize him as having written the same song over and over again.
     
  11. dbz

    dbz Bolinhead.

    Location:
    Live At Leeds (UK)
    No on the contrary-I agree. My old guitar teacher sited the old jazz/ swing/ Big Bands as having a major impact on UK music. I'm not saying it only happened in 1939 to 1945. I'm saying that American music-was very hard to come by in the UK-but the flood gates opened with the introduction of G.I.s . I've also heard McCartney say for a fact that they could get cool records from USA easier in Liverpool than most of the rest of the country (post war).

    As for the Mixolydian-we may be interpretting it differently. As a mode or scale on a guitar. The mixolydian mode-well I will refer you to this(but you and I are correct). I think the different interpetation comes from the key your in. To a guitar player in the key of C, Mixolydian mode would give a flatted 7th on a G Chord.

    Mixolydian scale for guitar
    The Mixolydian scale, or mode, is the fifth of the seven musical modes. It is similar to the major scale except for the lowered seventh. The Mixolydian scale is the scale that appears when a major scale is played with the fifth note (fifth scale-degree) as the root. Thus, a C major scale played from "G" is a G Mixolydian scale. This is why the term "mode" is more appropriate than "scale".

    The G Mixolydian mode is the same as a C major. So what's the difference? There is no difference; it's the chords that create the magic. Playing a G Mixolydian scale over a C major chord will sound exactly like playing a C major scale (because they are identical). However, playing a G Mixolydian scale over a G major chord will sound "Mixolydian".


    The other thing to note is that a Flatted 7th is a "Blue Note" and changes the sound accordingly.
     
  12. Chief

    Chief Over 11,000 Served

    John said an Aeolian cadence sounds like some kind of bird. That is a pretty well known quote. Technically speaking I think George knew the most, but I don't think any of them could read or write music on the staff. Its one of the things that I feel differentiates them from Bacharach (not better or worse, just different).
     
  13. RobertKaneda

    RobertKaneda New Member

    Location:
    Paris, France
    No qualms about mixolydian. We just described it somewhat differently. And I do agree that the presence of all those GIs during and after the war probably augmented the more limited exposure British folks had had of jazz and blues.
     
  14. dbz

    dbz Bolinhead.

    Location:
    Live At Leeds (UK)
    I would guess even Grappelli and Django R. were not widely recognised in the UK:shake: Thanks Robert :righton:
     
  15. brainwashed

    brainwashed Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    I believe Paul's dad was in a Trad Jazz band before, during and after the war. American jazz/Big Band artists like Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and especially Duke Ellington were huge in Europe before and after WWII. I think McCartney meant that Liverpool, being a port city, got more obscure R&B and early rock 78's and 45's, not that other areas in the UK weren't getting the big hits.

    As far as theory goes. The Beatles could not read, nor write proper music notation. They had an inate ability (well John, Paul and George) to use unique chords, time signatures and measures that often enhanced a song. Often this came about when writing on the piano. Apparently, they didn't always know what a particular chord was, and used it because they liked the sound, not because it fit a proper chord progression, or was an actual chord at all. And as always, never underestimate George Martin's contributions. He DID know theory and he must have been mighty impressed as their songwriting advanced. Ron
     
  16. bluesbro

    bluesbro Forum Hall of Shame

    Location:
    DC
    I've got two words for y'all: George Martin.
     
  17. Maxbialystock

    Maxbialystock Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I may not have expressed that as effectively as I intended.

    Firstly there are some differences in the creativity of those who interpret and those who also write material.

    Secondly - of course artists in prior eras CHANGED. But Elvis for example changed musical GENRES. And he certainly improved as a vocalist. But did he break musical barriers and change the structure of any of the genres in which he sang?

    Chuck Berry was a brilliant pioneer. He (and the undersung Johnny Johnson) invented some of the building blocks on which rock 'n' roll was constructed. But how far beyond the structure of 12-bar blues did he go? He got more and more inventive about mining that particular seam. And kudos to him for that.

    But he was unable to create a "Strwaberry Fields" or "Day In the Life" He didn't have the musical inspiration to break beyond the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, lyrical and aural/sonic patterns that he created.

    By muse, curiosity and passion to grow - the Beatles (and some other artists) did. They couldn't have done it wihout the pioneering work of those who came before them. But not all musical developments are of equal dimension. And the progress in the 1960s expanded the vocabulary and syntax of music.
     
  18. Surfin Jesus

    Surfin Jesus New Member

    Location:
    NYC USA
    while I think that they did not have formal schooling in it, I think it is obvious that they did study music like crazy, however and where-ever they could

    whatever talent they possessed didn't happen through mere osmosis - they worked to figure out what made their favorite tunes so great and how to use those tools to make their own music great

    so yes, I think they did know much about music theory, but it wouldn't have been considered "formal" knowledge
     
  19. Ryan Lux

    Ryan Lux Senior Member

    Location:
    Toronto, ON, CA
    They may not have been able to read or write music but that doesn't mean they didn't understand it, the same way someone can speak english without reading or writing it. Remember, they had the best education of all: learning and studying 100's of songs during the Hamburg period. Their ability with intersting chord changes came from emulating jazz standards like "Till There Was You".
     
  20. Chief

    Chief Over 11,000 Served

    Another reason why George Martin was so important. I'm using Burt Bacharach as my point of comparison because he was a great songwriter (melodic) and he also wrote the music (on the staff) for multiple instruments. Sometimes he even wrote the arrangements. John and Paul had the melodies, and they learned more chords and types of progressions as their careers progressed but George Martin filled the Burt role. When The Beatles moved from straight rock into integrating different instruments, George Martin made it possible because he could interpret John and Paul's humming and singing of violin and horn parts and turn them into music that could be played by professional musicians.

    Now, compare all of them to Brian Wilson who also could not read or write. He had all the parts in his head and taught them to each musician. I think someone (not sure who) was helping him write stuff down so the musicians could play the parts over and over. I see Brian as a combination of the Bacharach approach and the The Beatles/George Martin approach.
     
  21. Chief

    Chief Over 11,000 Served

    If you put a piece of sheet music in front of McCartney right now, he couldn't play it. He wouldn't know what any of the notation meant. He could dream up such things and play, but he couldn't read it or write it. Learning hundreds of songs has nothing to do with it. They used to listen to records and figure out the chords. Thats how they learned all those songs. They didn't buy sheet music. That's not to belittle their ability. Its just the way rock was/is usually done. One can get away without knowing music theory, or how to read, and still be very very good.
     
  22. Surfin Jesus

    Surfin Jesus New Member

    Location:
    NYC USA
    :agree:
     
  23. Eli

    Eli Party Coordinator

    Location:
    Isle of Lucy
    Yes. Unlike most, if not all, of the rockers who came before, Elvis embodied a form of rock & roll that could not be readily classified as pop, country, or R&B. His success, more than that of any other single artist, necessitated the advent of "rock & roll" as a separate genre.

    That's like damning Edison because he didn't invent the iPod. By your reasoning, The Beatles should also be criticized for failing to "break beyond the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, lyrical and aural/sonic patterns" that they created. They simply lacked the vision to break free of the strictures of rock music and create hip-hop.
     
  24. Dave D

    Dave D Done!

    Location:
    Milton, Canada
    I didn't learn Voodoo Child on guitar by reading sheet music.:)
     
  25. brainwashed

    brainwashed Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    And just what did Hendrix do in the 3rd measure... he bent and de-tuned all in one fell swoop. How is that notated ;)
     
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