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Mathematics, Physics and "A Hard Day’s Night"

Mathematics, Physics and "A Hard Day’s Night"

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Published by Chris Nash
In this article we shall use mathematics and the physics of sound to unravel one of the mysteries of rock ’n’ roll – how did the Beatles play the opening chord of "A Hard Day’s Night?" The song may never sound the same to you again.
In this article we shall use mathematics and the physics of sound to unravel one of the mysteries of rock ’n’ roll – how did the Beatles play the opening chord of "A Hard Day’s Night?" The song may never sound the same to you again.

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Published by: Chris Nash on Nov 11, 2008
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Mathematics, Physics and
A Hard Day’s Night 
Jason I. Brown, Dalhousie University
In this article we shall use mathematicsand the physics of sound to unravel one of the mysteries of rock ’n’ roll – how did theBeatles play the opening chord of 
A Hard Day’s Night 
? The song may never sound thesame to you again.
1 Introduction
It was forty years ago that the Beatles ushered in anew era in pop music with the opening of 
A Hard Day’s Night 
. The importance of the opening chordwas clearly apparent to the Beatles. In
The Com-plete Beatles Recording Sessions
[3], author MarkLewisohn quotes the Beatles’ producer, George Mar-tin, “We knew it would open both the film and thesoundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strongand effective beginning. The strident guitar chordwas the perfect launch.” This seemed to close thediscussion about the origin of the chord but shouldit have?Many a guitarist (whether professional or ama-teur) has tried to reproduce the chord, but the voic-ing of the chord has remained a subject of much dis-cussion over the past 40 years. If you browse musi-cal transcriptions for the chord, you will come acrossthree common ones (note that guitar parts are scoredas usual an octave up from where they sound):
Version 1: G C F Bb D G (a favorite by itsease of play; just play a barre chord at thethird fret).
Version 2: G D F C D G (another favorite, andone that often appears on Internet sites as the“one” that George Harrison (GH) played).1
Version 3: This one has George, John Lennon(JL) and Paul McCartney (PM) playing, withGeorge (on his twelve string electric) playing GD G C D G, slightly different than in version2, while John plays D G C G and Paul plays Don his bass (this is the transcription from [1]).Is there any way to tell which of these three ver-sions is the right one? Mathematics will help directus to the answer.
2 Musical Forensics
We need to discuss briefly the physics and mathe-matics of sound (see [5, 2] for more details). Puretones have a frequency, which corresponds to itspitch, and an amplitude, which corresponds roughly(but not exactly) to the loudness of the tone, and aremodelled mathematically by sine and cosine func-tions. All sounds are made up of pure tones, whichadd together to give you complex tones and chords(that is, the functions of the latter are linear com-binations of the functions for the pure tones). Asingle note sounded on an instrument is made upof a fundamental (main) pure tone plus other tones,called harmonics, whose frequencies are multiples of the fundamental tone’s frequency. All of the ampli-tudes are added together in this “mix” that we hear.When a sound is digitized for a CD, the amplitude issampled 44,100 times every second. What is hiddenin the process of recording music are the individ-ual frequencies, and how they were played. FourierTransforms can be used to dissassemble the sampledamplitudes into the original frequencies.After the song
A Hard Day’s Night 
was openedin a sound editing program on a computer, a seg-ment of approximately one second was selected inthe middle of the chord. The sound was saved as afile, and using some Mathematica subroutines from[2, chapter 14] a Fourier Transform was run on thelist of data. There were 29,375 frequencies present,which included not only the notes being struck, butalso harmonics, as well as any other frequencies thatmight have arisen during the recording.We are after the loudest notes, as these corre-spond to the fundamental notes being struck (thoughthere will probably be some of the louder harmon-ics present, along with possibly some other loud rat-tles). A threshhold was chosen which kept the soundfaithful to the original. The table shows the 48 fre-quencies with amplitude 0
02 or larger.2

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