The answer to the great question: What is the mystery chord?

Guitars play Fadd9    103213

Bass plays D    0500

Piano plays Gsus4 (with pedal)    keyboard

We can all hear the chord and recognise the sound, but in order to discern what was actually played we need to consider the instruments used, how they are played and recorded, and what notes are likely to have been played in the context.

There are also anecdotal recollections from the musicians involved and visual records of performances available for reference.

...and then there is discrete fourier transform - a mathematical process which determines the audio frequencies present in a recorded signal.

The following discussion presents the most probable voicings based on the empirical evidence of sound and Beatle-lore and then uses spectrum analysis to verify the assumptions.

While a purely scientific method may appear decisive it won't actually tell us what notes are being played on a musical instrument. Effective interpretation of the audio spectrum requires ancillary knowledge: the physics of sound, the nature and significance of overtones, the harmonic series, musical intervals, pitch perception, tuning.
Research any/all of those terms and come back tomorrow or else read the spectrum analysis primer for a quick overview of the principles used.

Spectrum analysis for this document is provided by Andy Robinson's excellent Transcribe! software. The program translates the frequencies (numbers) into a graphic depiction of spikes aligned with notes on a piano keyboard. Below is the chord in question in glorious remastered mono.


Before analysing this tiny section note that in the entire recording there are two important considerations:

  • Tuning - Bass Guitar is tuned about 30 cents sharp
  • EQ - low frequencies are rolled-off sharply below 90Hz

Most of the energy of the fundamental frequencies of the notes in the bass part are effectively mixed out. Nevertheless the brain still perceives the low notes when the overtones are heard.

The stereo mix provides some separation of the various instruments contributing to the sound of the opening chord and is therefore the basis of this analysis. Live concert and BBC performances are additional references. The mono mix is of little use but the "LOVE" remix proves crucial.


George Harrison 12-string Electric Guitar plays Fadd9


F2   A2   F3   A3   C4   G4
F3   A3   F4   A4   C4   G4

The distinctive 'chime' comes from the cluster of F G A in the 4th octave. The close voicing occurs as a result of the 3rd and 4th-strings being doubled an octave higher - simplifying what would require a wide stretch on a regular six string guitar.
This voicing has been described by George as "F with a G on top" and is clearly seen in the spectrum. It is precisely the same fingering as that used in the Acoustic Guitar part (whose voicing is irrefutably confirmed below) and in the remainder of the song.

Paul McCartney Bass plays D2


The spectrum suggests D3 is played however a full set of overtones from the lower octave is present.

The black vertical lines indicating the harmonic series are generated by the Transcribe! software. They appear in the correct proportion to display the series relative to any point selected in the view - note that the grid is shifted sharp to align with the spikes suspected as being the out-of-tune Bass playing D2.
Furthermore, the note sounds the same as the D-notes played throughout the song and Paul plays D2 in all the live concerts and BBC sessions.



John Lennon 6-string Acoustic Guitar plays Fadd9


F2   A2   F3   A3   C4   G4

This voicing is completely isolated in the "LOVE" remix using the phase cancellation or 'karaoke' technique. (Invert the phase of one channel then sum the two channels)



Spectrum analysis of the right channel of the original stereo mix reveals complete sets of overtones for additional notes D2 and G2 but no fundamental tones. These are from the Piano played by George Martin with the bottom again EQ'd out of the mix.


Additional research involved notch-filtering to locate upper harmonics and compare with the isolated Acoustic Guitar. The harmonic content of each instrument is different largely due to the respective striking/strumming point on the string - all of the harmonics are much stronger in the piano than in the guitar.
The spectrum was also compared with that of a recording of a piano playing the suspected voicing.


Examining several partials around E6
There is a lot of activity here...

. Most in tune with 12tET are from A2 and A3 in the Guitar
. Others are from D2 and D3 in the Piano
. Slightly flat E6 is most likely from C4 in the Piano
. Strong very flat E6 is 13th-Harmonic of G2 in the Piano
(note that two strings are evident)
. Slightly flat Eb6 is from F3 in the Guitar
Weak amplitude suggests there is no F3 in the Piano

Combining this information with aural perception the Piano notes are likely:

D2 G2 D3 G3 C4


This voicing of Gsus4 is musically appropriate since it creates clusters of F G A in the low octaves, doubles the Bass part and doubles the C for good measure.


Harmonics are responsible for the tone and the pitch we perceive but are not heard as separate notes. However, in this chord the harmonics are actually audible because of the way the piano was played.
By hitting the chord with the sustain pedal down all of the strings of the piano are able to vibrate in sympathy. These strings produce numerous audible pitches which correspond to the harmonics of the notes played.
Example: D3 will induce pitches of A4 and A5 respectively in the strings A2 and B2
The tones are in just tuning and clash with each other as well as with the equal temperament of the played notes creating an extremely rich sound which cannot be reproduced any other way.


The full voicing is chord
D2 F2 G2 A2 D3 F3 G3 A3 C4 F4 G4 A4
Arranged across the instruments as score
A3 C4


A3 C4 F4 G4 A4
A3 C4

Bass D2

Piano D2

N.B. In the score all guitar parts are notated one octave higher than they sound.


  • The chord name is Dm7add11

    G9sus4 on D
    G11 on D
    F6/9 D-bass

  • Despite time having associated the chord with George Harrison and the Rickenbacker 12-string the original 'claang' idea is likely Lennon's and the distinctive voicing another brainchild from the Lennon/McCartney canon.
  • The Piano is a very important element in the sound even though it does not add any extra notes to the chord and its lowest frequencies are filtered out. It is the richness of its harmonics which distinguish the recorded version from any guitar only renditions. The presence of the low G and D notes is so strong that a single 12-string guitar playing G7sus4 sounds very much like the ensemble while the actual chord of Fadd9 does not.


  • The same chord ends the song. The D-root implies some kind of dominant relationship to the key of G however such analysis is redundant. Rather, the F-chord as the Flat-VII is very typical of rock progressions and is used throughout this song: under the lines corresponding to "working like a" "sleeping like a" it appears ten times.
    The 'add9' voicing occurs because the little finger is held on the 1st-string at Fret-3 through each of the G C and F-chords. This fingering along with the thumb over the top of the neck fretting the 6th-string enables quick, smooth changes without the need for a barre.
  • Contrary to published sources John Lennon does not play Electric Guitar on the released version taken from Take 9 although he was playing on earlier takes. His Acoustic Guitar and the Piano were overdubs - each on a separate track. Recording sheets indicate Lennon played acoustic guitar on the original rhythm track but it is inaudible.
  • While there is no conclusive evidence either way Paul may also be playing the octave (D3) at Fret-7 on the 1st-string.
  • The requisite reverb and compression on the instruments and the mix introduce some variation in the sound over the duration. In particular the Bass increases in volume as the compressor responds after suppressing the initial attack. Most perplexing is the audible B-note in the right channel midway through the sustain. Notch filtering identifies the pitch as B4 (slightly flat) - 5th-Harmonic of G2 in the Piano. ...and it is audible because the sustain pedal allows the note to be produced on the undamped E2 string.
    Sample includes several C5-notes of differing pitches - 7th-Harmonic of D2 is significantly flatter than 2nd-Harmonic of C4 which in turn is not quite the same as 3rd-Harmonic of F3 and 6th-Harmonic of F2.
  • Ringo Starr adds a percussive strike (typically kick/snare/crash).
  • Notable differences in live performances are the missing low-G-notes from the piano part, the second guitar (Lennon) is an electric, and sometimes the 6th-string-pair of the 12-string is muted.


    Click on pics to enlarge or click HERE to view video [mp4 420kb]

  • For a simulation of the ensemble on either 12-string or 6-string guitar try these voicings of F6/9

    100213     100013