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Tune down for what: "Strawberry Fields Forever"

In just a couple of weeks, the "Strawberry Fields Forever" single will be back on the market as a the limited edition release for Record Store Day 2017. As long as we're all thinking and talking about this song again, let's take another look at a guitarist's approach to playing the chords, and try something a bit different.

In a previous post, I looked at five tricks for adding some pop and polish to this song, but all of those five tricks assume that you are playing the song using A major chord voicings. There is another way to skin this cat, and one that gets us a bit closer to the original recording.

John's original demo tape of the song reveals that it was first composed and played in C major, and early takes of the song make it clear that this is how the guitar track was recorded. The very first take sounds in the key of B major, and Take 2 comes down even further into A major territory, but in both cases the guitar track is quite audible and quite clearly using chord voicings from C major.

In fact, in the first take, the usual chord progression in the verses (which also serve as the intro to the song) which typically centered around a chromatic descent against the V chord (e.g., G, Gmaj7, G7) are voiced with completely different chords by the guitar:

Takes two and three of the song, with their very isolated guitar tracks, are even more revealing. As the song winds down and approaches the repeated refrain, "Strawberry Fields forever, Strawberry Fields forever, Strawberry Fields forever," the guitar sits on a series of low, "crunchy" notes to fill out the backing track, but the voicing is quite familiar:

Of course, none of this will sound quite right unless we use the old trick from "Yesterday", "Rain", "I Will", and others. Instead of playing in standard tuning, the strings must be de-tuned a full step so that they sound as D-G-C-F-A-D.

This tuning allows us to get those nice, bassy low notes on the IV and V chords, and it also allows us to voice the VI7 chord ("nothing is real") with a much more open-string-friendly A7 shape.

As to whether or not The Beatles themselves were using an alternate, drop-step tuning, I don't believe they were (not that it matters at all for what we're trying to accomplish). The strongest evidence that the backing track was recorded in the home key of C major and simply got slowed down to the point where the guitars sound in A or B-flat major (the final recording is somewhere between the two keys), is the fact that the Mellotron part is also slowed down.

The introductory chords played with the "flute" setting on the Mellotron sound, on the final recording, around an F major chord, followed by the Fmaj7 and then the F7. But on multiple occasions, Paul McCartney has demonstrated how he played this riff, using the original Mellotron from the recording, and in every single instance he plays the chords a step higher, going from G major down the scale to the G7.

There's a lot here pointing to the fact that the song's basic tracks were recorded in C major, so have at it! De-tune that guitar a full step and see what new opportunities appear when you're working around C major as the home key.

1 comment:

  1. For a week or so I have been on a mission to figure out the electric guitar part heard in the first 60 seconds. I tried playing it in A with drop D tuning and in several keys in standard tuning. Nothing I tried worked out until I tried tuning down a whole step and playing it in C. Bingo! All the slides and hammers work perfectly with basic shapes and positions. Thanks for the suggestion!


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