Chords as Math: Solving a Musical Puzzle

November 12, 2008


Believe it or not, nobody ever knew what the first chord of “Hard Day’s Night” was. It’s a clangy, jangly thing played on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, and kicks off one of the most famous songs in the Beatles’ extremely famous catalog. Despite repeated efforts and sophisticated methods, it remained a mystery sound–A stack of notes that couldn’t be identified for sure.

Until now.

The great blog NoiseAddicts has the whole story here. I won’t spoil the surprise outcome, but it involves a mathematical calculation called Fourier transform and James Brown.

It illuminates yet another way music influences mathematics, and vice versa. Some argue that music is simply audible math, but this doesn’t hit on the emotional power of the art. Still, math is the set of rules governing reality, and sounds are certainly real. But both math and music are intangibles; you can’t see or touch them, which makes them more like one another than other aspects of reality.

As the article points out:

“They’ve found that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways. The best music is analytical and pattern-filled and mathematics has a lot of aesthetics to it. They complement each other well.”

Also, further evidence that the Beatles were geniuses.