Paul McCartney Offers a Short Tutorial on How to Play the Bass Guitar

It sounds like a cliché, but if I learned any­thing in grad school, it’s that I know very lit­tle. I apply the same insight to music. While I’ve played guitar—six string and bass—with some con­sis­ten­cy for over twen­ty years, I’d be the first to say that my room for improve­ment is infi­nite­ly large, and I’m always keen to sit at the feet of a mas­ter and beg, bor­row, or steal what­ev­er I can. So when I dis­cov­ered that Paul McCart­ney had an instruc­tion­al video on Youtube I leapt at the chance to see what I could pick up.

Right­ly renowned for his mas­tery of every rock instru­ment, McCart­ney plays near­ly all the parts on most of his solo albums (and on many Bea­t­les tracks as well). He does so on “Ever Present Past” from 2007’s Mem­o­ry Almost Full, and he released tuto­r­i­al videos for each part of the song as part of the pro­mo for the album. In the video above, Sir Paul teach­es the bass part, casu­al in jeans and t‑shirt and wield­ing his clas­sic Hofn­er vio­lin bass (“me lit­tle baby”). The over­ar­ch­ing les­son? Keep it sim­ple.

As McCart­ney says, the bass part is “real­ly sim­ple,” and glo­ri­ous­ly so. While McCart­ney has writ­ten some very com­plex music, his play­ing style is on the whole very straight­for­ward and melod­ic. On “Ever Present Past,” he plays most­ly root notes on the bass, eschew­ing flour­ish­es and “fid­dly bits,” though he encour­ages you to add them if you wish. First, he shows us the notes on bass alone, and an inset in the video shows their posi­tion on the fret­board. Then, a full track comes in, and he plays along (hear the stu­dio ver­sion in the offi­cial video above).

The tuto­r­i­al was pro­duced by “Now Play It,” a “new and excit­ing way to learn and play your favorite songs” by artists like KT Tun­stall, Blondie, Cold­play, Radio­head, and many more, often with the orig­i­nal musi­cians as teach­ers. You’ll have to pay for most of the con­tent on the site, though there are some nifty free pre­views. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it appears that the full “Ever Present Past” les­son—with McCart­ney teach­ing his drum and rhythm and lead gui­tar parts—is no longer avail­able on the “Now Play It” site (you can see a teas­er trail­er here). But you can watch a snip­pet of the acoustic gui­tar les­son above. And if you’re eager to see more of McCartney’s range of instru­men­tal skill, check out the clip below from a 1997 episode of Oprah in which he plays the song “Young Boy” from that year’s Flam­ing Pie, while pro­ject­ed on screens behind him are three more McCart­neys on bass, drums, and lead gui­tar.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Tay­lor Gives Free Acoustic Gui­tar Lessons Online

Learn to Play Instru­ments (and Also Some Music The­o­ry) Online

“Hum­ming­bird,” A New Form of Music Nota­tion That’s Eas­i­er to Learn and Faster to Read

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (12)
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  • Ric says:

    What I have always admired about McCart­ney’s bass lines is that he sticks to the fun­da­men­tals of the role of a bass (not gui­tar).
    Rhythm and leave room for the oth­er instru­ments.
    The first les­son for any­one is under­stand­ing the role, func­tion and voice of bass, and it helps if you call the elec­tric alter­na­tive to a dou­ble bass by its cor­rect name. It is an elec­tric bass, not a bass gui­tar.
    Get that right and the whole approach to play­ing bass falls into place.

  • Terry says:

    I’ve been try­ing to see if he uses a pick-he does­n’t seem to here, he’s using his thumb. But if he just uses his thumb edge all the time- it would sure­ly hurt and get cal­loused after a few gigs???

  • Paul says:

    Beau­ti­ful, nobody does it bet­ter. I would just like to say thank you Mr McCart­ney for your time… you are an inspi­ra­tion.

  • Jeff Berlin says:

    An impor­tant point to con­sid­er is that Paul McCart­ney’s video was­n’t edu­ca­tion­al, but actu­al­ly a piece of enter­tain­ment. If the author of the arti­cle who stat­ed that his “room for improve­ment is infi­nite­ly large,” I would sug­gest that there are way bet­ter and much more impact­ful ideas to both observe and prac­tice than show­cased here. I love Paul McCart­ney but will sug­gest that play­ers for the most part are not improv­ing and while I don’t state that McCart­ney is in any way respon­si­ble for this, cer­tain­ly the peo­ple that present videos like this one should recon­sid­er what is enter­tain­ment and what is aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly mean­ing­ful. Bass edu­ca­tion is in trou­ble and for some rea­son, the peo­ple that try to improve its con­di­tion aren’t pre­sent­ing the right mate­r­i­al. But, this can change! Jeff Berlin

  • Cly Rosas says:

    Jeff Berlin, me gus­taria saber que pon­drias vos?.…
    Quisiera saber si mano de piedra seria edu­car con el bajo.
    Como dijiste Mc Cart­ney no tiene nada que ver, pero te voy a decir algo: Mc Cart­ney es Un Bea­t­le, dejó una obra gigante, es un bajista que influyó gen­era­ciones, con lin­eas de bajo real­mente intere­san­tisi­mas y muy com­ple­jas, de hecho las toca­ba y canta­ba sobre ellas, me parece que fijarte en éste solo video es negar.
    Creo que aunque los de la acad­e­mia se equiv­o­quen como vos decís,ése tipo del video te enseñó a vos y a otro mil­lón de bajis­tas, espero que subas algo que vos con­sid­eres cri­te­rioso y de tu obra para que se vea cual camino hay que ver según tu propia lente, Mc Cart­ney hace años no toca por dinero ya lo tiene hace 40 años.…
    Y si lo pusieron en el video es porque Es un ver­dadero BASSLINE.

  • Dr. Rob Burns says:

    Can’t argue with that Cly. Jeff is enti­tled to his opin­ion. But it is disin­gen­u­ous to cri­tique some­one whose lines have inspired so many.


  • Peter Laman says:

    Rob Burns, why should any­body have the priv­i­lege of nev­er to be crit­i­cized, only because of his achieve­ments? No mat­ter how famous peo­ple are, they’re still peo­ple. First you say Jeff Berlin is enti­tled to his opin­ion and then you imme­di­ate­ly con­tra­dict your­self by say­ing McCart­ney may not be crit­i­cized. Free­dom of thought, but no free­dom of speech? Strange.

    Jeff Berlin ful­ly acknowl­edges the mer­its of Paul McCart­ney and he does­n’t actu­al­ly crit­i­cize him. All he says is that the edu­ca­tion­al val­ue of the video is zero and I agree with that, except per­haps for some­one who has hard­ly touched a bass before. One does­n’t learn music from just look­ing at how some hero plays his tunes. I myself am a gui­tar play­er and when I was young I watched videos (VHS at the time) to see how my gui­tar heroes played their licks. I did­n’t real­ly learn any­thing from that. The only thing you can learn from that is how to be a copy cat, but it does­n’t give you any insight in the music itself, it does­n’t help you to find your own way of play­ing and to under­stand how to make your cre­ativ­i­ty actu­al­ly work.

    So yes, I agree with Jeff the video is nice enter­tain­ment, but no valu­able edu­ca­tion to any­one seek­ing to become a bet­ter play­er.

    And real­ly, I do respect Paul McCart­ney. To me Lennon/McCartney wre among the best song­writer teams in pop music ever.

  • len miller says:

    sir paul is an amaz­ing musi­cian, has had an amaz­ing life, and has influ­enced mil­lions. i still remem­ber learn­ing to play by lis­ten­ing to paul and learn­ing bass parts note for note. some of the most melod­ic bass play­ing ever. what a bless­ing to have played with all those folks over a life­time.!! thank you sir paul, for all the great music and enter­tain­ment.


    leonard miller

  • Yücel says:

    ım kon­tra­bass play­er

  • Barry says:

    Thanks for the les­son Paul! Notice the sound ‚punchy bass ,
    keeps it sim­ple, knows when to push the melody when needed,the key to bass is stay close to the rythm,watch your timing,riffs when required,get com­fort­able with a fin­ger tech­nique you like but hope­ful­ly ide­al.
    and Chase the gui­tar parts when needed,meaning leave a lit­tle bit of space between the gui­tar and bass ‚bass com­pli­ments and sup­ports the gui­tar as do drums,Let the bass breathe via a bit of seperation,chase the melody of gui­tarist and singer.
    Nice bass sound com­ing thru that amp.

  • Art says:

    Keep­ing it sim­ple is good advice for any musi­cian when in doubt about what to play. That said, lis­ten­ing to his bass play­ing on the White Album and lat­er Bea­t­les albums, as well as som of the Wings stuff…it is far from the basics.

  • Art says:

    Basi­cal­ly, he plays what the song needs. Sim­ple pop num­bers get very fun­da­men­tal bass grooves. I’ve also seen him real­ly work the fret­board dur­ing some of his more rock­ing tunes. I think Paul has a thor­ough under­stand­ing not only of each instrument’s gen­er­al role, but also their roles spe­cif­ic to each par­tic­u­lar piece of music. He is def­i­nite­ly a mae­stro.

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