After hard days and nights, a mathematics professor decodes a Beatles classic

Ross Lord
Global National; CanWest News Service

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

HALIFAX - Mathematics professor Jason Brown claims to have decoded one of rock 'n' roll's enduring mysteries -- how the Beatles played the opening chord of their 1964 classic A Hard Day's Night which was also included in the campy movie of the same name.

The self-proclaimed Beatles' fanatic, challenged the 40-year-old assumption that George Harrison played the chord on his 12-string, Rickenbacker guitar.




Prof. Jason Brown

"I decided to take that guitar chord, digitize it, and I ran a certain mathematical process on it," explained Brown in his unassuming office on the campus of Dalhousie University in Halifax.

For six months, Brown analysed the chord, decomposing the sound into original frequencies, using a combination of computer software and an old-fashioned chalkboard. His conclusion?

"The key was, it wasn't just George Harrison playing it and it wasn't just the Beatles playing on it. There was a piano in the mix."

A piano played, he suspects, by Beatles' producer George Martin, the man credited with nurturing the lads' infinite curiosity for finding new studio tricks to record their infectious songs.

"George Martin and the Beatles have maintained a shroud of secrecy around this one guitar chord, because it is arguably the most famous guitar chord in rock 'n' roll,"says Brown, clearly gleeful about his findings.

But not everyone thinks such musical mysteries need to be solved.

Martin himself has suggested listeners need not know the intricate details of Beatles' recordings, as long as they enjoy the music.

In Toronto, amateur musician and Beatles' admirer Ben Eng agrees.

"Maybe none of us will really, the mathematics aside, ever discover the true nature of it. And honestly, I would prefer that, because I want that mystique to remain with the Beatles. That's part of what makes them so great," says Eng, following a jam session with his band, who bash out Beatles standards in their spare time.

Brown, however, sings a different tune.

"You can sit back and enjoy it, but, there's an enjoyment that comes from trying to figure out the mystery."

The Canadian Mathematicians' Society will publish Brown's findings in an upcoming issue of CMS Notes, its trade publication. Even the mainstream music publication, Guitar Player, plans to credit Brown in its January issue.

Brown's next challenge is deconstructing other Beatles classics, to explore what common characteristics they share that make them so irresistible to fans.

The Edmonton Journal 2004

Note to file for the reader: If you have landed on this page by using a search engine, though an interesting report, please note that Professor Brown was not the first to unlock the mystery behind what instruments were used on the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night. For further information as to who did, please visit our "News" pages at:

The Ottawa Beatles Site