Another Breakthrough using Modern Mathematics to Understand Music
In October of 2008, a math professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia revealed an astonishing discovery: He had used math to understand the music of the Beatles!
The specific song that this professor of mathematics and statistics (and musical enthusiast) Jason Brown had decided to analyze was the classic tune, “A Hard Day’s Night.” Even more specifically, Brown had sought to understand the exact musical composition of just a single chord: the song’s bizarre opening sound, which had puzzled musicians for years.
Solving the Musical Puzzle
Brown, with his unique skill set, was able to recognize where previous musicians had failed in their attempts to recreate this difficult sound – they had been working with the wrong tools. Generally, a musician with a good ear and a talent for recognizing various sounds has the ability to recreate most traditional musical pieces, but there is a point at which this breaks down. When sounds are compiled using layered sounds and a variety of instruments, it can often be difficult (or even impossible) to fully recreate them using standard instruments.
Brown saw that this was the case with that opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night,” and so decided that he would use his mathematical abilities to help him solve the puzzle.
To begin with, Brown turned to modern technology to help him break the chord down into its various frequencies. Using a computer, he was able to determine the exact combination of harmonic frequencies which George Harrison had implemented (perhaps unknowingly) into the sound. From here, the construction of the chord merely consisted of finding a combination of tones which would create this same pattern – a mathematical puzzle.
An Answer After 40 Years
So what did Jason Brown finally discover after his long search for the truth?
Nothing quite as remarkable as many people had hoped, but an answer which garnered international attention. Brown found that the chord in question could not be explained by merely George Harrison’s 12-string guitar, John Lennon’s 6-string and Paul McCartney’s Bass. There was a sound containing a frequency which could not have been played on any of these instruments, which made it impossible for the sound to be truly recreated in a traditional sense.
While it may seem simple, and rather trivial, for such a journey to be undertaken in the first place, the journey of one mathematician to solve a generation-old Beatles riddle demonstrates still another important aspect of mathematics – its ability to transcend disciplines and sciences and to be made useful in even the most bizarre places.