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Five tricks to take "Strawberry Fields" from good to great on the guitar


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of "Strawberry Fields Forever," the landmark single that will forever be the defining marker in John Lennon's musical career. There is "B.C.," there is "A.D.," and then there is "Before Strawberry Fields," and "After Strawberry Fields."

Obviously, then, any self-respecting guitarist who plays The Beatles has to have this tune in the catalog, and I'm sure you already know the basic chords. (If not, try The Beatles Complete Chordbook, or ask Google.) Rather than go through the song chord by chord, let's look at a few tips and tricks for making your performance really pop next time you play it.

It's in the key of ...

Honestly? Who even knows anymore? There exists a demo recording of John playing this song alone on his guitar, and he's playing in C major. Much later in the recording process, there's the famous story of John wanting to blend two different recordings of the song, even though they were in different keys and tempos. By speeding up one recording and slowing the other down, Geoff Emerick was able to meet John's demand, but that mish-mash of recordings resulted in a final product that sounds in the neighborhood of B flat major.

It's not, of course, not completely. Play along with the recording using a perfectly tuned guitar and you'll find that your guitar is somewhere in between -- the recording isn't quite high enough to be in B flat, but it's not quite low enough to be in A major either.

Here's the deciding factor for me: the one bar electric guitar riff at the end of the song. Have a listen:


That's a bend-and-return, followed by a ringing low note that is sustained throughout the rest of the riff. That's not a fretted note, it's an open note, so I'm going to go with the notion that this version of the song was recorded in A major. That riff you just heard, by the way, is one of the tricks you're going to add to your collection. It goes like this:


It must be (high or) low ...

During the final lines of verses two and three ("that is, I think it's not too bad," and "that is, I think I disagree"), some color and movement is provided by the low string section, and it creates something of a signature moment in this song. The notes are easily played while anchoring the top strings in a D chord and an A chord, using these fingerings:


Using the index finger to bar the top strings in both of these chord voicings leaves your other fingers free to execute the riff. The low riff at the end of the second verse goes like this:


And the variation at the of the third verse runs like this:


You did bring a swarmandal, right?

At the end of the second and third choruses, the Indian harp/zither known as the swarmandal provides a series of high descending notes -- again, this is another signature sound of "Strawberry Fields," and while it's a bit tricky to replicate on the guitar, it's worth the effort to learn it.

Use this fingering for the first part of the riff, locking down those top strings with your index finger to let the notes ring out and make the transition easier:


The riff itself plays out as follows:


The last three notes are accomplished by shifting to this fingering:


This diagram is somewhat misleading -- there's no need to fret the low E or the middle G strings with the index finger, you really only need to bar the A and D strings. I constructed the diagram in this way simply to show that the index finger is laying across the 12th fret. You also won't be fretting the A and D strings with your pinky finger simultaneously.

Let's walk through those final four notes to get the fingering right, starting with the D string at the 14th fret. Use your pinky to fret that note, then pull off to the 12th fret, which is already being barred by your index finger. Then use your pinky to fret the A string at the 16th fret and pull off again to your index-finger bar at the 12th fret.

As I said, it's something of a challenge to navigate those two fingering positions at first, but it does get easier the more you work at it.

That magical intro

It may be played on a Mellotron on the original recording, but that classic introduction and its descending chromatic notes can quite easily be voiced on the guitar to give your performance that extra note of authenticity. Try it like this:


Don't forget the outro

As the song ends and approaches its first fade-out, a sitar rings out a sequence of haunting high notes. We're going to take advantage of our low open A string and a high neck position voicing of the A chord to pluck out those notes and bring this song home. Use this chord position (you'll recognize this as a D chord shape, but played up at the 9th fret):


And the final riff goes like this:


Put it all together and you've got yourself a fun arrangement of "Strawberry Fields Forever" for one guitar that incorporates most of the signature sound elements that make this song so great.

1 comment:

  1. Thx for all this info. Very much appreciated

    ReplyDelete

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