Paul McCartney is a living legend. On his latest album, he plays every instrument himself. I was giving it a listen the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice that Paul’s voice sounds, well… like that of an elderly man. But the remarkable thing is, the guy still sounds good. So does Paul McCartney have perfect pitch?
Here’s what I discovered:
Paul McCartney does not have perfect pitch, which is the ability to sing a note without accompaniment or a reference tone. But despite that, he’s still one of the most impressive singers of our time!
These days, he sounds old. He sounds like maybe he’s had a few too many cigarettes in his life. He sounds like he’s been singing for over sixty years.
I was surprised to discover that he doesn’t. He’s just a damn good musician who has trained his ear and worked his voice throughout his impressive career.
I decided to explore the idea of Paul McCartney’s imperfect “perfect pitch.” Along the way, I got distracted learning about the musical training of the Beatles and came full circle back to what the “cute” Beatle is doing these days to stay relevant and keep busy.
Here’s what I discovered.
What Does Perfect Pitch Mean?
Perfect pitch – which is sometimes called ‘Absolute Pitch’ – is the ability to hit a note perfectly in tune without having any kind of reference point. Singers that have perfect pitch can simply belt out a ‘C’, for example, without having to hear it played on the piano or strummed on the guitar first.
Interestingly, someone with perfect pitch may only know that they have it by having spent some time studying music.
They should be able to:
- Name the key a piece of music is played in.
- Name a musical note that they hear without any reference notes to go off of.
- Name the musical pitches of common sounds like bells or sirens.
Music, as it is written, is a language of its own.
Each note has a name, and every note in between each note has its own name too. There’s also a name for when certain notes are played together. The study of this musical language is called ‘music theory’.
If you do not know this language, you cannot express or describe what you are hearing.
This is why it is next to impossible for someone who has perfect pitch but has never studied music theory to prove that they have it.
John Lennon George Harrison Paul McCartney
The #Beatles via @izumiman1961 pic.twitter.com/4ALYOcokMZ
— Beatles Archive (@BeatlesArchive2) June 26, 2021
Did Any of the Beatles Know Music Theory?
None of the Beatles officially studied music theory before they launched themselves into becoming rock and roll stars. In fact, not one of them actually knew how to read or write music.
This had been a common rumor forever, but in 2018, Paul McCartney admitted it publicly.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Paul McCartney said, “I don’t see music as dots on a page. It’s something in my head that goes on.”
In the same interview, he later said, referring to the group’s ability to read or write music, “… none of us did in the Beatles. We did some good stuff though.”
That’s a bit humble, Paul.
Every member of the Beatles was self-taught. Maybe the fact that they learned music outside of the confines of strict music theory was what allowed them to be so innovative and groundbreaking?
2021.6.18 Paul McCartney 79th Happy Birthday! pic.twitter.com/c4jj1pjlLp
— 多羅尾案内 (@tarao0728) June 17, 2021
What Type of Voice Does Paul McCartney Have?
Paul McCartney has a perfectly clear tenor voice with such a strong lower range that some people label him as a ‘baritenor’. He most often took the high part in harmonies and was known for a range that spanned at least four octaves at the peak of his career.
Paul McCartney shone as the ‘cute’ Beatle, and for many, had the best singing voice of the quartet.
Much like his equally famous counterpart, John Lennon, he had a few different styles of singing that made it sound like he had distinct ‘voices’. Sometimes he would sing in a manner that was light and airy, soft and gentle, screaming, or downright gritty.
He was and still is an amazing vocalist who showed absolute control over his voice.
Paul, of course, was famous after the Beatles for his band Wings which he started with Denny Laine and his late wife Linda. Sadly, Linda died from breast cancer in 1998.
But did Linda McCartney know she was dying?
I get into that and the surprising answer, in a recent article. After all, most people don’t die from breast cancer. So was she aware it was terminal? Was Paul? And what treatments did the renowned vegetarian try to beat it?
Just click that link to read it on my site.
The man of a thousand voices. ✨
📸: Paul McCartney, 1961/2021.
Aged 19 / 79. 🙌🏻 pic.twitter.com/YN4w7ONCh6
— Sir Paul McCartney (@page_sirpaul) June 19, 2021
Do Any of the Beatles Have Perfect Pitch?
Despite being arguably the most successful rock band of all time with 4 members who all took turns singing, none of the Beatles had perfect pitch.
I looked into this when I did an article recently about whether or not John Lennon had perfect pitch (You can read that article here).
It turns out that the Beatles, each and every one of them, were just really good musicians with natural talent and an uncanny ability to play music.
They never actually learned the official “grammar” of the language they were working with.
They had strong ears but could only find their notes by referencing an instrument or each other. They had remarkable talent when it came to creating legendary harmonies.
But singing in tune was a talent they developed with practice.
Dear Sir or Madam: Paul McCartney memoir coming November 2021https://t.co/6nku2M5Fco pic.twitter.com/yVPm10XoIw
— KSDK News (@ksdknews) March 4, 2021
Does Paul McCartney Use Autotune?
Autotune was not invented until 1997, but since its inception, Paul McCartney has utilized it in moderate degrees on his recordings. He has released 6 albums in that time.
With well over half a century of experience under his belt, Paul McCartney’s pipes have been receiving more criticism these days.
Lots of fans (and haters) have noticed that the old guy just doesn’t have the same range as he used to. There are also lots of comments in fan forums claiming that Paul has a hard time staying in tune during live performances these days.
First off, I think that these criticisms are absurd considering how old the man is and how long he’s been in the business.
If his voice sounds tired, it’s because it is! I think we should all be grateful that he continues to record new music and contribute to society with his work.
But there is a recent recording that is raising the eyebrows of Paul McCartney fans everywhere. It seems that Sir Macca is using autotune. If you thought this was just a rumor, I hate to tell you, but it’s true.
Can you hear the collective gasp of disbelief?
Autotune is a tool ubiquitous in modern music that is used to mask lackluster vocals and makes any song feel overproduced. So why in the world would one of the best vocalists in history need to use a tool to “correct” his voice?
This is what the man himself has to say about it,
“Come on, man,” says McCartney. “You can’t be so straitlaced to not expose yourself to experiences in life.”
In a 2018 interview with GQ Magazine, Paul explains how he embraces this modern technology that is dismissed by many music enthusiasts. He says, “You know what? If we’d had this in the Beatles, we’d have been—John, particularly—would be so all over it.”
Take a listen to the song Get Enough to hear a heavily autotuned Paul croon away. Personally, I’ll take his old and tired voice any day over the autotuned version.
Paul’s use of autotune may be controversial, but it is proof of his willingness to experiment. This open-mindedness is precisely why Paul McCartney has managed to stay relevant.
So does Paul McCartney have perfect pitch?
Does it matter? Having perfect pitch means that a vocalist can always sing in tune, but it is not a requirement to be a top-notch singer.
This man could switch to using autotune on all of his future recordings, and while that would be really disappointing, it wouldn’t change my opinion that he is one of the best vocalists of all time.
At his age, Paul McCartney can slip out of tune all he wants. His voice can crack, his range can diminish, and I will still be grateful for every piece of new music this man produces.
Photo which requires attribution:
Paul McCartney by Aurelien Guichard is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.