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Going solo with "Michelle"


The seventh track on The Beatles Rubber Soul album, "Michelle" is a sweet-sounding acoustic piece by Paul McCartney featuring all sorts of weird and wonderful chord progressions. The "home key" is F major, but that doesn't stop Paul from throwing in all sorts of borrowed chords, diminished chords, and going so far as to start the verses in F minor. Why not?

There are many ways to approach this song, but the most popular way seems to be with a capo at the fifth fret so that C major becomes the home key. This is how The Beatles Complete Chordbook describes the song, and indeed, this is how Sir Paul himself performed the song live at the White House back June of 2010.

I, however, prefer to slide that capo back a couple of frets and lock it in at the third fret, so that the home key is now D major. The key of D major allows us the use of a few more open strings and fewer ham-fisted chords, and above all else, it gives us a very accessible way to play the beautiful solo part while still holding down the rhythm chords.

I like to form that Gm7 using my thumb to pin down the bass note, but use whatever is most comfortable.

(Click the image to enlarge)

(Click the image to enlarge)

One last bonus note: at the end of each verse, when Paul sings "until I find a way," "oh what you mean to me," or "I'll get to you somehow" (depending on the verse, of course), I like to use a series of "Blackbird"-style chords to climb the musical scale, so we're getting a bit of the bass movement in there as well.

Starting with the second beat of the measure (i.e., "un-til I find a way," or "oh what you mean to me") that ascending series of chords is as follows:


That's fun, isn't it? Very McCartney, very "Jenny Wren" or "Blackbird" with those shapes and voicings. I think it fits "Michelle" very well.

Extra points if you play the song while wearing a beret and a black turtleneck.

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