The Beatle’s “Hard Day’s Night” opening chord mystery solved with mathematics

The recorded version of the song opens with that weird bell chime and then kicks in with one of rock n’rolls most mysterious chords.  For the past 40 years people have been attempting to recreate that strange sound to almost no avail.

George Harrison played it on his 12-string Rickenbacker and has even told people the chord he played was f3, f4, a3, a4, c3, c4, g3, and g4.  Though it’s assumed he was having fun with other people or strangely tuning his guitar because even knowing what the chord supposedly was, people still couldn’t replicate it.

Go figure that it would be a mathematician who figured it out and not a musician. 

jason-brown-and-his-ibanez-guitar1Five years ago, Jason Brown was inspired by reading news coverage about the song’s 40th anniversary – so much so that he decided to try and see if he could apply a mathematical calculation known as Fourier transform to solve the Beatles’ riddle. The process allowed him to break the sound into distinct frequencies using computer software to find out exactly which notes were on the record.

What he found was interesting: the frequencies he found didn’t match theinstruments on the song. George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, John Lennon played his 6 string, Paul had his bass – none of them quite fit what he found. He then realized what was missing – the 5th Beatle. George Martin was also on the record, playing a piano in the opening chord, which accounted for the problematic frequencies.

“I started playing guitar because I heard a Beatles record—that was it for my piano lessons,” Brown told Noise Addicts. “I had tried to play the first chord of the song many takes over the years. It sounds outlandish that someone could create a mystery around a chord from a time where artists used such simple recording techniques. It’s quite remarkable.”

George Martin added an F note on the piano, impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar.  So how was the chord played, you might be wondering?

George Harrison was playing the following notes on his 12 string guitar: a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney played a d3 on his bass; producer George Martin was playing d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon played a loud c5 on his six-string guitar.

So there ya go.

Also: Here is a PDF of Jason’s findings and here is a really good discussion of the chord, what people thought it was, and what it really is.

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