A rare Beatles song written by the one and only George Harrison, “Something” is one of the greatest ballads of all time and features a fantastic chord progression, vocal melody and guitar solo. Taken from the Fab Four’s “Abbey Road” album, “Something” is the second most covered Beatles tune of all time, with over 150 artists having recorded their own version of the song. The song is allegedly written about Harrison’s ex wife Patti Boyd and, as I hope to demonstrate in this online guitar lesson, is a complete masterpiece. In this article, we will look at the chords, the perfect guitar solo as well as a complete music theory analysis of the piece.
“Something” – Chords
I usually start these lessons with the chord diagrams, however, due to the complexity of this tune, let’s first have a look at the full chord chart for “Something” before breaking down each section one by one.
Now that you’ve got a general idea of the chord sequence, let’s have a look at the chord diagrams for the intro. I think the suggested voicings below are probably the easiest to play, as they involve the least amount of movement on the guitar in between each chord:
Now it’s time to examine the verse chords. I really like the sound of the open position voicings for this section, and it is also the easiest way to fret each chord on the guitar:
For the A minor section in bar 8, I have given you two different ways to voice each different Am chord. First, here are the chords in the open position on the guitar as per the verse chords on page 1, before moving up to fret 5 for the D9 chord:
Below are alternate voicings for the chords shown above. If you can fret chords with your thumb, you may prefer to fret these chords in the 5th fret, in order to better set up the move to D9:
Finally, let’s look at the chord diagrams for the chorus. I really like the sound of the first 4 chords voiced on the highest 4 strings of the guitar, and have chosen to include them on the diagrams below:
You may opt to copy Paul McCartney’s bassline on guitar instead of playing the A and C chords at the end of the chorus sequence. Here is the bassline transposed onto guitar over the A chord in bar 15:
Here is the bassline transposed onto guitar over the C chord in bar 19:
“Something” Chord Progression – Music Theory Analysis
“Something” by The Beatles features an extremely sophisticated chord progression, with some advanced music theory concepts which you can borrow to use in your own compositions. Although it is primarily in the key of C Major, it makes use of plenty of borrowed chords, as well as a nice modulation in the chorus. Here is the scale of C Major, harmonised in triads as a reference:
Here is the same scale harmonised in 4 note chords as an additional reference:
Harrison starts out on F chord, which is the IV chord of C. Immediately, this is followed up with an Eb chord, which is borrowed from the parralel minor key of C Minor. Finally we have a G7 chord with its 5th note, D, in the bass. The G7 sets up a perfect cadence to the first chord of the verse, C, as it is the V chord in the key of C. We also have a really nice bassline that descends through F, Eb, D and finally landing on C for the verse, which feels very natural and part of the reason why these chords were chosen.
The verse begins on chord I, with 3 different C chords in C, Cmaj7 and C7. C and C Maj7. Here, we have a fantastic example of a music theory concept known as “chromatic embellishment of static harmony.” To put that simply, we have a C chord which remains static throughout, with one note moving inside the chord each bar to create a new chord type. While the basic C major triad remains the same throughout each chord (C, E & G) the octave in the first C Major chord descends a semitone from C to B to create the Cmaj7 (C, E G & B) before descending another semitone from B to Bb to create the C7 chord (C, E, G & Bb.) You can see this concept in “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder and “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer, which both feature similar chord progressions.
As you can see from the chart above C7 is not in the key of C Major, so we have another borrowed chord. It is in fact the dominant chord of F in bar 4, and it exists to create another perfect cadence to this chord. F is chord IV in the key of C, which then moves to chord I again with C/E. Here, the 3rd of C, E, is placed in the bass. This is to create a smooth bassline which descends from F, to E and then to D in bar 5.
Bar 5 contains both D and D7, which are also not diatonic to the key of C Major. I prefer to see both these chords as creating another perfect V-I cadence to the G chord in bar 6, as D is chord V in the key of G Major. Next, we have the relative minor of C in A minor in bar 8, as well as another fantastic example of the chromatic embellishment of static harmony concept from before, this time with the 3 different A Minor chords in bars 8 and 9. A Minor contains the notes A C E. The octave, A, descends a semitone to G# to create AmMaj7 (A, C, E, G#) which is borrowed from the A harmonic minor scale. The G# then descends another semitone to G in order to create Am7 (A C E G.) This is a very common chord progression and can also be seen in the jazz standard “My Funny Valentine”, “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin and the James Bond Theme, to name a few. The G in the Am7 chord then descends another semitone to F#, with the root note also changing to D, giving us the D9 chord seen in bar 9 (D, F#, A, C, E.)
The chorus of “Something” features a great modulation to the key of A Major. Here is the scale of A Major harmonised in triads:
The key of A Major is the relative major of C, which is part of the reason it sounds so good. the chorus starts off on chord I of the new key, before moving to the same chord with a G# in the bass, creating an Amaj7 sound (A, C#, E & G#.) This unusual bass note helps create another smooth, descending bassline from A, to G# through to the F#m chord, which is chord VI in this key, before finally arriving at F#m/E. We then have another temporary key change a whole tone lower to the key of G, with chords I (G) and V (D) respectively, before modulating back to A. The second time round, we return to the original key of C instead.
Guitar Intro Tab For “Something”
George Harrison’s guitar playing on “Something” by The Beatles is simply immaculate. For this next section, I wanted to provide you with the tab for both the lick at the start of the piece, as well as a complete tab for the perfect guitar solo after the chorus. We will also analyse Harrison’s note choices and how they relate to the underlying chords. Let’s start with the intro lick:
Part of why the intro sounds so good is Harrison’s use of chord tones. He starts out by playing the 3rd of F (A) before bending up to the 5th (C.) Over the Eb chord, he emphasises the 5th (Bb) before moving up a semitone to B, which is the 3rd of B, before finishing off the chromatic movement with the root note of C. Masterful!
“Something” – Guitar Solo Tab
Below is a transcription of Harrison’s perfect guitar solo on “Something.”
Guitar Solo – Theory Analysis
As mentioned above, part of what makes George Harrison’s playing so good on this tune is his constant use of chord tones and making a habit of landing on the right notes at the right time. Below is a table showing every note that makes up every chord in the verse progression to “Something” which Harrison solos over:
|C||C E G (R, 3rd, 5th)|
|CMaj7||C E G B (R, 3rd, 5th, 7th)|
|C7||C E G Bb (R, 3rd, 5th, b7th)|
|F||F A C|
|C/E||E G C|
III V I
|D||D F# A|
I III V
|D7||D F# A C|
I III V bVII
|G||G B D|
I III V
|Am||A C E|
I bIII V
|AmMaj7||A C E G#|
I bIII V bVII
|Am7||A C E G|
I bIII V bVII
|D9||D F# A C E|
I III V bVII IX
Below is the same tab of George Harrison’s solo from earlier, however in this version I have labelled each interval that he plays in relation to the chord he is playing over, in order to give a clear perspective of his note choice and the notes he targets:
As you can see from the tab above, Harrison has a great habit of landing on chord tones for the majority of his solo, favouring 3rds and 5ths in particular. These are great notes to hit, as sometimes landing on the root note of the chord can sound a little too obvious. You can apply this concept to your own playing by figuring out what chords you are playing over, working out what notes are in the chord and planning your phrases out to land on either the 3rd or the 5th of the chord. Of particular interest is all the ‘outside’ notes that Harrison plays over the G chord in bar 6. This is a very unusual phrase, and the use of the all the altered notes, such as the b5s and b13s sounds like something a jazz guitarist would do, likely inspired by Django Reinhardt, who has been cited as one of Harrison’s early influences. I feel this lick has been done to create tension before the bending lick in bar 7. It is masterfully done and, despite the unusual note choice, still very melodic.
I hope you have enjoyed this online Beatles guitar lesson and music theory study. “Something” is well worth learning for both the unusual chord progression and very melodic guitar solo, and I hope you have discovered some concepts in the analysis to apply to your own songwriting and improvisational repertoire. The Beatles were such a great band and I plan on analysing a few more of their records in the future.
Until next time,
2 Thoughts to “Guitar & Music Theory Lesson: How To Play “Something” by The Beatles – Chords & Tab”
Thanks so much for the in depth analysis!
You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting.