Beatles mystery solved with Fourier transform

November 9, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

Regular readers of this blog know that, while it’s mostly about indie pop, there’s also a healthy dose of geekiness, and today we are departing from our usual musical genre to amp up the geek quotient.

I was intrigued to hear that the mystery of the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” (which you can hear in the video, above) was finally solved. For forty years, it’s vexed guitar players because no one could replicate the sound. But a Dalhousie University mathematician, Jason Brown, used a Fourier transform to figure it out. This mathematical technique can be used to decompose the sound into its component frequencies, and Brown showed that there was one frequency that couldn’t be accounted for by George Harrison’s 12-string, Paul McCartney’s bass, or John Lennon’s guitar. This extra note was a clue that the missing element was a piano chord, played by ‘fifth Beatle’ George Martin.

There’s a nice post on Noise Addicts that includes links to a PDF of the paper and to additional information about the chord.

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