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  • Gabby Maresco

The Beatles: No Music Theory Needed for Beginner Songwriting

Musician or not, regardless of age— the task of composing orginal music can be intimidating. To create a song you’ll need a chord progression, melodic lines, structure, lyrics, orchestrations, and perhaps even more. It seems like a thorough understanding of music theory is required to achieve all that.

I’m here to challenge this and argue that with little to no musical knowledge, anyone can write music!

Numerous chart topping musicians are unable to read music, for instance…The Beatles!

The Beatles, the best selling band in history, with more than a billion units sold worldwide, 10 Grammy Awards, 3 Brit Awards, who hold the current record for hold the record for most #1 albums on the UK Album Chart, most #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and most singles sold in the UK, had very limited musical knowledge. John Lennon, the band’s co-lead vocalist/songwriter, and rhythm guitarist remarked that “None of us could read music… None of us can write it” in a 1980 Playboy interview.

Then how did the Beatle’s main songwriters, the iconic Lennon-Mccartney write so many hits?

Paul McCartney, the Beatle’s co-lead vocalist/songwriter, and bassist, talks of how he learned to play and compose on piano as though it were simple. McCartney would put his fingers into position to play a singular chord (three white keys, spaced out by one white key), and from there, simply moves his hands, maintaining that position, until he found a chord progression he liked. From there, he could experiment with black keys, whilst keeping the same hand position and just moving around the piano. McCartney didn’t have to know what he was playing, he just moved his hand in familiar positions until it produced a sound he found agreeable. This process is how Eleanor Rigby and Let it Be came into existence. Similarly, McCartney also expressed that with the guitar, in order to learn new chords, all of the Beatles would watch other guitarists, and copy their finger positions. Through observation, discussion, and experimentation, they were able to use a wide range of different chords.

A simple way to get your foot in the Musical doorway is to simply sit in front of a keyboard and experiment with hand positions to form chords. Figuring out the exact notes you’re playing doesn’t have to be the first step— you can notate at a later time. Start off by finding chords that sound cool.

Though Lennon-McCartney often entered a songwriting process with the intention of finishing one song, one day’s work was far from being a finished product. As you attempt to write a tune, challenge yourself to finish a piece’s chord progression in a day, however, deciding on a melody/lyrics is a task that can wait!

As you gain more musical knowledge, theory can be used as a tool to create more complex sounds, but it’s completely normal to start out with practically no knowledge of how to read music nor different musical concepts— just like the Beatles!

Work Cited


Couldn't You Play it Straighter?”. McCartney 3,2,1, created by Paul McCartney

season 1, episode 2, Hulu, 2021


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