Whether you examine their work as TWO of the Fab Four or in their subsequent solo careers, the contributions of Lennon and McCartney to popular music cannot be overstated. However, they differed greatly in just about every aspect of their craft, including their piano playing. While McCartney clearly had more experience playing piano (and consequently built up more technique and harmonic knowledge), Lennon’s ability on the instrument was more about getting right to the core of something beautiful without “dressing it up.” Let’s take a closer look at how their piano styles differed from one other.
1. McCartney’s “Madonna”
Paul McCartney had a piano in his house when he was growing-up and spent a fair amount of time playing it. He was also familiar with many kinds of music, such as show tunes and Savoy opera, so his ear was accustomed to all sorts of harmonic and rhythmic styles. No stranger to the music of composers such as George Gershwin and Gilbert and Sullivan, McCartney developed an ear early for complex sonorities that eventually found their way into his music. A good of example of this is the intro to the song “Lady Madonna,” with its sophisticated, bouncy octaves in the left hand against syncopated chord stabs in the right. Ex. 1 is in the style of that classic piano introduction.
2. Lennon’s “Imagine”
John Lennon did not grow up with a piano in his house, so he didn’t start playing the instrument until later in his development as a songwriter. (No doubt he picked up a few things from his more accomplished partner.) John did have a great ear for melody and harmony, however, and was able to convey it through very simple ideas that didn’t require a lot of technique. A good example of this is his song “Imagine.” The piano part is simple, with beautiful voice leading in the right hand. Ex. 2 is in the style of this elegant piano part.
3. McCartney on “Martha”
Another showcase for Paul’s piano playing is on “Martha My Dear.” Note the independence between the hands where he, again, favors a bouncy but steady left-hand part against syncopated stabs of the right-hand melody. It’s a wonderful example of Paul’s compositional ability on the instrument. Ex. 3 is reminiscent of that song.
4. Lennon on ”Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
An exposed piano moment from John can be found in the intro of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It starts with a fanfare-ish rhythm played with both hands together, and then descends into an infectious and driving “Oompah” rhythm. This is another great example of Lennon’s preference of simplicity over sophistication that lends a rousing, down-home feel to the track. Ex. 4 is in this style.
5. McCartney on “Maybe I’m Amazed”
Paul’s brilliance lies in his ability to write beautiful and poignant songs while bringing in exciting harmonic and rhythmic elements. To illustrate this genius, Ex. 5 is in the style of his piano part on the song “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
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