In the spring of 1968, the Beatles attended a lecture on Transcendental Meditation in India, and the experience served as a source of rich inspiration for some of the group’s finest work.
“Mother Nature’s Son,” credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney but written primarily by McCartney, was released on The Beatles (“The White Album”). The song reveals that McCartney plays the acoustic guitar just as deftly as he does the bass guitar.
Based in the key of D major, “Mother Nature’s Son” is packed with all kinds of interesting harmonic ideas for you to consider. McCartney embellishes the I chord (D) with two kinds of suspensions—sus4 (in which the fourth, G, replaces the third, F#) and sus2 (in which the second, E, sits in for the third). This lends a melodic quality to the accompaniment.
In the intro and the verse, in bars 1–2 and 9–10, McCartney plays a jazzy progression with common tones. The second-string D and first-string F# remain constant, while a descending melodic line creates the progression of Bm–Bm/A–E9.
Oppositely, the constant tone is in the bass—specifically, the open D string—during the interlude. Here the D acts as a pedal tone—a note that stays the same while the chords above it change. There are some choice harmonic ideas in this section. In bars 23–25, check out how the chromatically descending line on string 3—from D to C# to C natural—creates a D–Dmaj7–D7 progression. And then there’s a little mode mixture: In bar 25, the Gm/D chord is borrowed from the parallel minor key, D minor, for a piquant effect. (Same goes for the Dm7 chord at the verse’s end.)
As for the picking hand, McCartney plays the song fingerstyle. To cop his approach, pinch the notes on nonadjacent strings, like on beats 1 and 3 of bar 3, with your thumb and index or middle fingers; strum the chords with alternating strokes (down-up) of your thumb. But, as with any tune, after you’ve learned “Mother Nature’s Son” note for note, try putting your own imprint on this Beatles classic.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue Acoustic Guitar magazine. The notation for “Mother Nature’s Son” is available in the issue.