One summer day in 1968, Paul McCartney recorded “Blackbird” while John Lennon looped tape for “Revolution 9” in another studio. Though these tracks sound about as similar as Sting and Stravinsky, they ended up on the same album—the Beatles’ self-titled double album (aka the “White Album”).
McCartney’s unusual fingerpick-and-strum technique gives “Blackbird” its distinctive sound. Try strumming across the strings with just your index finger and you’ll get a sense of McCartney’s feel. Unlike a strum that uses your whole arm, these mini-strums are all done with your hand in the same place: your index finger moves from the base knuckle joining your finger to your hand.
Look at the first measure of “Blackbird” and see that McCartney grabs each note of the tenth intervals on the beat with his thumb and middle finger, filling in the upbeats with index-finger plucks. In measure 2, he slides all the way up to the tenth and 12th frets, grabs two strings again with his thumb and index finger, and does a quick index-finger strum—down and up—on the second half of beat 1. He then plucks the G note on the tenth fret of the A string with his thumb and follows that with a quick index-finger strum—this time going up before coming back down. He repeats this pattern for the second half of the measure. Once you get these two measures down, you’ll have the right-hand technique you need to play the whole song.
Aside from that slide up to the tenth fret in measure 2, the trickiest left-hand maneuver is in measures 5 and 7, where you have to alternate between the E and B strings for the high melody notes. Try fingering these sections the way they’re notated, and practice them carefully on their own if you need to.
This article originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine and was reprinted in the September/October 2020 issue.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the September/October 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 78.