The secret to 2 classic Beatles keyboard parts

Do you want to know a secret?

Thats actually an obscure pun and a misnomer, accomplished in just 8 words(!)

It’s a pun because it’s a Beatles song title and a it’s misnomer because there aren’t too many secrets left about how the Beatles recorded their songs. It’s all been documented time and again and if there are any real secrets left, then my guess it that at this point they’ll probably always remain secret!

But here’s something you might not know about how the Beatles recorded some of their keyboard parts:

They slowed down the recording speed, played the piano slowly and an octave lower, and then sped up the tape to the correct speed thereby also raising the pitch back up an octave to what we hear now.


Well, the Beatles may have been extremely creative, but neither they nor their producer, George Martin, were accomplished pianists. Yes, Paul McCartney could play catchy piano intros, but even he wasn’t technically accomplished as an improvising piano soloist.

So on the night of October 22, 1965, when John Lennon asked George Martin to do something “Baroque-sounding” on the interlude to “In My Life,” what was he to do? Martin simply wrote out the now-famous piano solo (which actually sounds more like Mozart than Bach), slowed down the tape speed, and played the piano slowly and down the octave. When he finished, he just returned the speed to normal and violá! A classical piano interlude! If you listen to the piano solo with this in mind, you’ll hear how the rhythm sounds slightly mechanical. This is characteristic of music that’s recorded slow and then sped up on tape. The speed change also altered the piano’s timbre a little, giving it a harpsichord-like sound that perfectly suits the intended delicateness.

The second song I want you to hear, my personal favorite, is truly “wild and crazy!” On the song “Baby You’re A Rich Man,” they slowed down the tape again. This time, John Lennon sat down at an exceedingly cool keyboard called a clavoline. Lennon clearly had fun with this, wiggling his fingers almost randomly on the white notes. But his musical instinct was “spot-on” as the resulting part perfectly evokes the sound of middle eastern wind instruments. It’s musical, exciting, and almost out-of-control. Lennon knew he didn’t have the piano chops to pull this off at regular speed so he slowed it down. By this time (1967) the Beatles had developed into masters of studio technology and used technology to serve their expressive goals, not the other way around. (This is an important point.)

BTW, “Baby You’re A Rich Man” is not currently on YouTube to my knowledge so I couldn’t link to it, but have a listen on a streaming service; you’ll enjoy hearing Lennon wail on the clavoline!

For me, knowing a little about how they recorded these keyboard parts brings an added dimension to our listening experience. I still enjoy “In My Life” and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” for their wonderful sounds, but at the same we can have fun picturing George Martin and John Lennon playing slowly, at half-speed.They clearly enjoyed the act of playing the keyboard on these incredible songs!

Here’s a fun Beatles story you’ve never heard anywhere else.

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