In 2017, as part of a 50th anniversary tribute to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I had the golden opportunity to recreate George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” onstage. Years ago I’d studied Indian music—specifically tabla drumming—in California and in India, and singing “Within You Without You” with a full Indian ensemble and string quartet was an extraordinary experience. While learning the tune, I began experimenting to see if I could bring this haunting and complex song to life on guitar. (Harrison reportedly played guitar on the Sgt. Pepper’s track, but it’s buried deep in the mix.) This arrangement is the result.
Like the Indian traditions it’s based on, “Within You Without You” has no chord changes—the melody unfolds over a drone (roots and fifths played on the tambura). To simulate that sound, I wound up tuning to C G D G B D with a partial capo on the top five strings at the fifth fret—giving me open-string pitches of C C G C E G, an open C tuning. The Sgt. Pepper’s track is in C#, but the song was actually recorded in C and then sped up, so this arrangement is in the original performance key.
Throughout Harrison’s track, the dilruba, an Indian bowed instrument, doubles the vocal, so that’s what the guitar does here. Play the melody initially on strings 5, 4, and 3, then up an octave on the final verse/bridge. (For space reasons, the last verse isn’t tabbed out, but the melody travels primarily up and down the second string, as in the instrumental.) In a few spots, such as measures 31–32 and 47–49, the guitar picks up melodic fills played by the string section. I use a flatpick and play open-string drones around the melody notes. You could easily adapt this arrangement to fingerstyle, or play it as a solo guitar piece.
Rhythmically, the vocal sections are in tintal, a 16-beat cycle, rendered here as 4/4 time. Measures 7–10 establish the rhythm; on the backbeats, thump your picking-hand palm on the low strings by the bridge for a little extra percussion. The instrumental on Sgt. Pepper’s is in the 10-beat cycle jhaptal—my arrangement simplifies this section with a shortened solo that remains in 4/4.
Clearly “Within You Without You” stretches way beyond conventional pop/rock song form, but it has many irregularities that break the rules of Indian music, too. Harrison created a true hybrid, boldly leading the way toward all the global-music fusions to come.
Many of the teachers who contribute lessons to Acoustic Guitar also offer private or group instruction, in-person or virtually. Check out our Acoustic Guitar Teacher Directory to learn more!