Continuing my summer of Beatles songs, I’m working now on the ballad, “Till There Was You.”
“Till There Was You” was the only Broadway show tune the Beatles recorded; the song was written by Meredith Wilson for the 1957 musical The Music Man.
Paul said about this song, "I could never see the difference between a beautiful melody and a cool rock 'n' roll song. I learnt to love all the ballady stuff through my dad and relatives – Till There Was You, My Funny Valentine – I thought these were good tunes. The fact that we weren't ashamed of those leanings meant that the band could be a bit more varied. (As quoted from Paul McCartney / Anthology on the Beatles Bible website)
The tutorial below was made by the late Mike Lynch, aka Ukulele Mike, who had a sweet style of teaching and singing/playing. In the YouTube comments many people referred to him fondly as “grandpa.” As he said in the tutorial, this is a good song to work on if you are tired of playing the same ole chords and instead want to play some “delicious chords”—interesting diminished, minor, and augmented chords (none are difficult to play but they really do sound wonderful). He plays the song with a kind of a rolling strum using his thumb on down strum and index finger on up strum, which I’m still working on.
I’m continuing my summer Beatles theme by learning a fingerpicking version of “Let It Be” that I found on YouTube. Unlike some Beatles songs, “Let It Be” has easy chords and a slow, steady tempo, so it’s a good song for beginners.
"Let It Be” was written and performed by Paul McCartney. The lyrics refer to a dream McCartney had of his late mother in which she reassured him that everything would be ok and that he should just “let it be.” When I first heard the song in 1970, however, I figured Mother Mary was the Mary--the song does have somewhat religious overtones. But as McCartney says, listeners can interpret the song however they want.
Here’s the YouTube lesson from TenThumbs Productions. The fingerpicking isn’t difficult, and the riffs are fun, especially the last “walk down” that starts on the 12th/13th fret and moves down to the 1st fret. This is a good lesson—he goes step by step, repeats the tricky bits several times, counts out the rhythm, and so on.
I grew up on Beatles music and have many favorite Beatles songs. Yet I don’t go out of my way to play Beatles songs on the ukulele. Many of their songs are surprisingly tough to play—the chord changes are complicated and not typical. Lately, though, I’ve begun to appreciate the richness and harmonic complexity of their music.
I’m learning to play the song “Blackbird” from excellent YouTube video tutorials by Cynthia Lin (the tutorial is divided into three videos). This song isn’t easy and yet if you can play barre chords, you’ll be alright. There are no chords that twist your fingers into pretzels. She takes you step-by-step through the song, which has two fingerpicking patterns that are pretty straightforward.
You can download the chords and tab for fingerpicking from a link that’s with her video and donate what you want, or get it for free. (I donated $5 but it’s worth a lot more.) I am so impressed by what she’s put together. Not only does she give you the tab for the fingerpicking parts (and the counting patterns for the rhythm) but she also gives you the fingering for the chords (left hand), divides the songs into its various parts (intro, bridge, verses, etc.)
It turns out that “Blackbird” is based on a bit of Bach’s Bourrée in e minor. John and Paul liked to play this well-known Bach piece on the guitar to show off at parties. The lyrics were inspired by the civil rights struggles at the time in the US, and as Paul has said, it’s a song of empowerment: take these broken wings and learn to fly.
So in honor of the song’s fiftieth anniversary (written in 1968), I’m excited to tackle it on the uke.
I plan to revisit more Beatles songs this summer, but this one will keep me busy me for a while.
Playing fingerstyle ukulele, with information about the songs and where to find the ukulele tablature so that you can play these songs yourself.