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Math Prof Uncovers Secret Chord 177

chebucto writes "The opening chord to A Hard Day's Night is famous because for 40 years, no one quite knew exactly what chord Harrison was playing. Musicians, scholars and amateur guitar players alike had all come up with their own theories, but it took a Dalhousie mathematician to figure out the exact formula. Dr. Brown used Fourier transforms to find the notes in the chord, and deduced that another George — George Martin, the Beatles producer — also played on the chord, adding a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar."


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Math Prof Uncovers Secret Chord

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  • by syrinx ( 106469 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:10PM (#25572831) Homepage

    That David played, and it pleased the lord,
    but you don't really care for music, do you?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:16PM (#25572927)
    Decent idle story. Not completely retarded, though still generally meaningless. I can appreciate this kind of stuff, instead of the utter crap idle started out with. I guess it's getting better.
    • by stormguard2099 ( 1177733 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:53PM (#25573459)

      the problem is that /. designates idle to be full of crap. all of the good articles get shoehorned into other categories. For example, the article about how Heinlein responded to fans with a preformed checklist was under entertainment. Something like that is much better suited to idle and it would make the section worth reading.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hansamurai ( 907719 )

      This is interesting, but the CSS used is still obnoxiously bad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jd ( 1658 )
      Not sure about meaningless - it says ensembles can play chords that either don't exist or cannot be reached on a single instrument. That's quite an interesting observation that has a practical application.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jonadab ( 583620 )
        Theoretically that depends on the instrument, although most of the major instruments in the standard western music tradition share some of the same limitations, not least that at any given time they are either well-tempered or else justly intoned for a specific key, not both, and certainly not justly intoned for multiple keys at the same time. It is possible to design an instrument that can overcome these limitations and, for instance, play just intervals in multiple keys. But it isn't usual.
      • hmmm -- take a flute and a tuba. There are cords they can play together that neither can play alone. That is a big DUH!

        Musicians have known this for ages; nothing new here...so the 'discovery' in that context is meaningless.

        The fact that the good doctor was able to identify the cord is not meaningless in and of itself - and allows guitarists to relax and not go crazy trying to do something that is clearly impossible alone. Plenty of meaning there.

  • Umm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:19PM (#25572973)

    Why didn't anyone just ask Harrison?

  • the brown note... that should be some interesting math.
  • Simple Solution (Score:1, Redundant)

    by SageinaRage ( 966293 )
    Why didn't anyone just ask him?
    • Maybe they did and he wouldn't tell. Of course, like most /.ers, I didn't RTFA.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by neildiamond ( 610251 )
      Too late!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:37PM (#25573247)

      You want to talk to a human -- a musician -- when you could be performing a discrete Fourier transform? You must be new here.

      • by mapsjanhere ( 1130359 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @06:52PM (#25576827)
        well, it's a dead human, that ups the challenge
        • by Alsee ( 515537 )

          Ranking the options on the geek scale:

          Asking someone for the answer: Easy -, boring -, requires human interaction ----. Rating -40.

          Doing a discrete Fourier transform on a digital recording: Technical +, challenging +, mathematical +, cool +, involves a computer and no human interaction ++++. Rating 50.

          Getting the answer from the mind of a dead body: Technical+, extremely high challenge value ++, requires Nobel Prize Winning new breakthrough in science +++, requires an actual science lab outfitted with cutt

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      go ahead and ask him. see what he says.

    • "He's dead, Jim"
  • Well, perfesser, what the frell's the chord?

  • by Pantero Blanco ( 792776 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:23PM (#25573041)

    Stories like this are actually interesting and have a math/science side to them, instead of being mindless humor that everyone has already seen elsewhere. This is something that a math teacher could show her students to make them interested, more so than all the silly posters and videos they used when I was going through grade school.

  • by CelticWhisper ( 601755 ) <celticwhisper AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:26PM (#25573083)

    The Moody Blues have been in search of that little bastard since 1968. Can someone call them and tell them it was finally found?

  • Hang on. (Score:1, Troll)

    by Khyber ( 864651 )

    I've always known there was a piano in the song. It's actually kind of hard to miss if you ever played one before.

    But then again, I do have hearing that's sharper than most. at age 26 I can still pick up about 25+KHz frequencies.

    • by afxgrin ( 208686 )

      Does that mean 25 single frequencies in the kHz range? Or do you mean you can hear over 25 kHz?

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        I can hear frequencies above 25kHz. Just ran another test and so far I'm able to easily hear 28kHz tones. Get to about 30kHz and it's just pressure in my ears, no tone.

  • Not so secret (Score:2, Informative)

    It's a G7sus4 chord. It's never been a secret. http://guitar.about.com/library/blchord_g7sus46.htm [about.com]
    • Re:Not so secret (Score:5, Informative)

      by Progman3K ( 515744 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:09PM (#25573695)

      It's a G7sus4 chord. It's never been a secret.

      Not really, the piano is playing a Dsus4.

      If it was as simple as you say it is then people would have been able to recreate it long ago and no one did.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tompaulco ( 629533 )
        I'm trying to picture it in my head, and It seems like you could get all of the notes from a G7sus4 and a Dsus4 in one chord on a guitar. Those would be F, G, A, C and D. Such a chord could be played with a Barre chord all on the 10th fret with or without muting the low D.
        Maybe it sounds better with the piano though.
  • by 0x537461746943 ( 781157 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:45PM (#25573355)
    Then we will know for sure. It is probably the red and blue chord.
  • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:49PM (#25573401) Homepage Journal

    Dr. Brown's work on the opening chord of Hard Day's Night is four years old. His paper is at:

    http://www.mscs.dal.ca/~brown/n-oct04-harddayjib.pdf [mscs.dal.ca]

    (Note the "oct04" date in the URL).

    His recent work is on the same song, but it's not about the opening chord. It's about the guitar solo (which was actually a duet with the piano), which Harrison played an octave down, at half speed, and then sped up. Which he proved by noticing where the piano notes went from double-strings to triple-strings, as seen by tiny mis-tunings between the strings.

    It's pretty interesting work:

    http://www.mscs.dal.ca/~brown/AHDNSoloJIB.pdf [mscs.dal.ca]

    (Note: slashdot is just reporting the article, which is new. But it comes from Dr. Brown's own school, so I don't know why they're reporting the wrong story, except to guess that the older story was a well-known mystery among guitarists.)

    • by cecille ( 583022 )
      Actually, I thought his most recent work was on "In my life", trying to figure out who wrote it. I just think maybe he doesn't have too many results for that research yet, but people were interested, so they started talking about his old stuff too.
  • So What's the chord? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jordan314 ( 1052648 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:53PM (#25573463)
    The article doesn't actually say what he thinks the chord was. I do music transcriptions (http://jordanbalagot.com/musictranscriptions.html ) and to me it sounds like G7 sus 4 / D. Or actual pitches: D1 G2 G3 C3 F3 G3. I do hear the F in there...If it's not playable on guitar it's possible the Beatles combined two recordings at once of different takes. They used all sorts of innovative recording techniques like that.
    • I just closed the PDF of his math paper where he does state his theory of what was played by George, John, Paul, and George Martin. Harrison played (in tab notation, from low E to high E): x0001x
    • by Bazman ( 4849 )

      Beatles fans might find Alan Pollack's notes on every Beatles song ever very interesting. Try his comments on Hard Days Night [icce.rug.nl]

  • The impossible note (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:12PM (#25573745) Homepage Journal

    ...adding a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar.

    There are no notes that are impossible to play on a guitar. However, you have to tune the guitar to a nonstandard, non eagbde like Led Zepplin did on a few songs (an example is Black Mountain Side [wikipedia.org] on their first album.

    I have an incredibly hard time playing a B chord; I have to kind of fake it and not hit all the strings. But then I'm no virtuoso, it took me twenty years to learn Starway To Heaven.

    • by 2names ( 531755 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:34PM (#25574063)
      And apparently even longer to spell it...
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by bfandreas ( 603438 )
        No. Starway to Heaven by Creme Brulee. Great band that. Did all the hits. It's a shit business; I'm glad I'm out of it.
    • Sure there are. You can play at most six notes at once on a guitar; besides that, there are plenty of notes that are off the bottom of the guitar's range.
      • by Rary ( 566291 )

        "Sure there are. You can play at most six notes at once on a guitar; besides that, there are plenty of notes that are off the bottom of the guitar's range."

        That's assuming it's a six-string guitar, and it's tuned normally, neither of which are necessarily valid assumptions. Especially considering George did not play a six-string guitar (although, admittedly, a 12-string isn't that much different from a six-string, it just doubles 2 strings exactly and 4 of them an octave higher).

    • by LSD-OBS ( 183415 )

      Dude [photobucket.com]...

  • From Wikipedia (Score:2, Redundant)

    by bgspence ( 155914 )

    Opening chord

    "A Hard Day's Night" is immediately identifiable before the vocals even begin, thanks to George Harrison's unmistakable Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string guitar's "mighty opening chord".[12] According to George Martin, "We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch"[8] having what Ian MacDonald calls "'a significance in Beatles lore matched only by the concluding E major of "A D

  • So let me see if I got this straight: for 40 years Beatles fans have been fighting over what combination of frequencies were used in this chord, but not one of them thought to check what frequencies were being used in the chord until now?

    For non-EEs out there, a Fourier transform is a basic algorithm to translate from the time domain to the frequency domain. Any audio program or player or graphic equalizer that displays the frequency spectrum instead of the actual wave coming out the speakers is using this

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Graphic equalizers often cheat, actually.

      I think the problem is a little more interesting than the story makes it out to be. As you point out, you should be able to recognize the overall chord pretty easily with an FT, but it's not quite as trivial to figure out who's playing what. For that you have to analyze the ratios of the harmonics, which turns into a nasty little decomposition problem when you've got more than one instrument playing the same note.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      When involve ins a 'religous' war no one likes to check for any fact, it might mean they're wrong.

    • That was basically my mathematician husband's response to this article: "Wait, if they weren't using a Fourier transform to figure it out before, what on earth were they doing?"
  • by brouski ( 827510 ) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @06:46PM (#25576759)

    What did he play in concert?

  • This would have been a great test for Direct Note Access software. http://www.celemony.com/cms/index.php?id=dna [celemony.com]
  • I find the premise of this story too difficult to believe. Anyone with a decent ear can hear what is going on; close your eyes and listen to the song, and you will hear beyond a doubt the twelve string and also the piano. There is no mystery there, and careful listening would allow anyone to pick out individual notes in the chord--musicians do this all the time, to the point of memorizing chord sequences by ear and what notes they contain. Also, one second on youtube showed me live footage of Harrison actua

  • "...an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar."

    For every tuning? Every string is independent and can be tuned to any note. Nor does a given string position require that the normally used string be installed there. And just because it's a 12 string doesn't mean the secondary strings have to be tuned to the note, octave, or any given relationship since they're equally independent. All 12 positions can be filled with any string and that string tuned anywhere within the range in which it m

  • Immediately! This is exactly the sort of thing the Ig Nobel folks are looking for.

Forty two.