What’s the opening chord in “Hard Day’s Night”?

by on February 26, 2009 at 12:55 pm in Music | Permalink

It's sometimes called "the most famous chord in rock n' roll."  I have wondered about this question for thirty-four years (all this time I'd been thinking it is an odd hybrid G7/9/13).  Here is a history of thought on the controversy, including a list of nominated chords.  It now turns out there is an answer.  A mathematician applied Fourier transforms to break the sound into its constituent parts.  Here's the bottom line:

The Beatles producer [George Martin] added a piano chord that included an F note,
impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar. The resulting
chord was completely different than anything found in songbooks and
scores for the song, which is one reason why Dr. Brown’s findings
garnered international attention. He laughs that he may be the only
mathematician ever to be published in Guitar Player magazine.

Here is a pdf of the researcher's findings.  I thank Eric H. for the pointer.

1 LP February 26, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Finally, a use of Fourier transforms that I can get behind.

2 a student of economics February 26, 2009 at 1:41 pm

For those who actually want to hear it again in addition to discussing the Fourier transform.


3 Shaun February 26, 2009 at 3:24 pm

As the history link shows, it was a combination, McCartney’s D bass note played on the 12th fret, Ringo slightly hitting the high hat, John also playing a Fadd-9 on an acoustic 6-string, that is largely responsible for the unique sound. Harrison said as much. Watch this live performance from Shea in ’65 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yuUAj2WwuM&feature=related ). You can clearly hear Paul’s bass note and Ringo’s splash cymbal after the count-in.

4 Michelle Dawson February 26, 2009 at 5:48 pm

He could have asked Derek Paravicini.

5 rhhardin February 27, 2009 at 3:51 am

It sounds doubtful you can get anything from Fourier transforms. Musical instruments are all harmonics with critical phase relations that are not exposed by Fourier analysis.

For sung notes, there may even be no energy at all near or at the pitch frequency.

You can, if not analyze, at least make a show of the procedure, though.

6 Konstantin February 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

Spectral picture for musical instruments’ sounds differ a lot. Singing is completely different from guitar. And in the latter case yes, you can pinpoint base frequency of the note, given that you also account for its higher harmonics. It’s even noticeable visually on a spectrogram

7 Craig February 27, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Cool story, but like the poster above, I wonder why they didn’t ask George Martin or McCartney?

8 Johan March 4, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I was somewhat worried by the paper. I found its discussion of the relationship between chords and frequency too simplified. Most musical notes aren’t just a funamental frequency and some integer multiples of it. Spectrally they are frequently much more complex than that with a starting period when the sound is not even approxiametly periodic, and containing non-rational multiples of the fundamental frequency even in the quasi-periodic part.

There are plenty of scientists who study music seriously from a mathematical and physical viewpoint, I would be curious what they think.

9 Paul Donnelly May 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Chord is this sorry never tabbed a chord before, don’t know what it (Sounds like a G & ? hybrid that’s 7th.. I think) is but sounds good on a twelve string and is defiantly the one used at the start of the song.
E| 3
B| 3
G| 5
D| 3
A| 5
E| 3

10 ryan October 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm


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