A Hard Day’s Night (Album) Pitch Analysis For Accompaniment

This short piece is part of a project seeking to clarify devi­ations from concert pitch evident in Beatles songs, in this case the album A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Some potential reasons for the mastered pitch discrep­ancies evident in many early Beatles songs briefly are dealt with in another article upon Please Please Me. Again, my source material is the stereo remaster released in 2009 (not mono versions, digital or other­wise, which may potent­ially differ).

The Beatles performing on Dutch TV in June 1964.
The Beatles performing on television in the Netherlands in June 1964. Source: Beeld En Geluid (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision).

The major technical devel­op­ment in A Hard Day’s Night’s production compared to its predecessors was the use of a Telefunken four track tape machine for session record­ing rather than emi’s btr (British Tape Recor­der) twin track and mono machines. Four track record­ing was available at emi Recording Studios (Abbey Road) from 1959–60 but rarely was used for pop music—and not on Beatles recordings until late 1963.1Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, Record­ing the Beatles, Houston, 2006, pp. 214–21. However, the older but well regarded btr2 (mono) and btr3 (twin track) machines continued to be used for mastering and other purposes through­out the 1960s.

While the great majority of songs on the first two Beatles albums fall flat of concert pitch, a number on A Hard Day’s Night are slightly sharp (see the list and notes below for details). As noted in my first article on Please Please Me, all these small discrep­ancies likely were inadvertent and resulted from the vagaries of the early gener­ation tape recorder technology used in 1964 (as opposed to delib­erate varispeed manip­ulation, which was commonly deployed for various purposes on Beatles recordings from about 1966). While accompaniment consonance will vary from song to song, you should be able to get excellent results with ‘If I Fell’ and ‘Things We Said Today’ (also ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ once the mastered pitch discrepancy is accounted for).

The approximate mastered pitch of each song is listed below (in Hertz and cents: one semitone equals 100 cents); song keys are also noted. As you can see, six tracks on A Hard Day’s Night conform to concert pitch and can be accompanied with a normally tuned instrument with good results. For the rest, you’ll need either to retune your instrument to each song or use DAW or other software to pitch shift the song to A440. When doing the latter, input the opposite figure in cents to those quoted below to shift songs from mastered to concert pitch.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

key: g major
pitch:
A4=442 Hz  (+8 cents)

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER

key: g major
pitch:
A4=440 Hz

IF I FELL

key: d major
pitch:
A4=440 Hz

I’M HAPPY JUST TO DANCE WITH YOU

keys: c sharp minor; e major
pitch:
A4=444 Hz (+16 cents)

AND I LOVE HER

keys: e major/c sharp minor; f major/d minor
pitch:
A4=438 Hz (–8 cents)

As Alan Pollack points out, there’s some ambiguity over the major or minor character of the home key (which also modulates a semitone at the start of the lead guitar part). The mastered pitch falls slightly flat of the A440 con­ven­tion but you should get good accom­pani­ment results once this dis­crep­ancy is accounted for.

TELL ME WHY

key: d major
pitch:
A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)

The guitar panned to centre doesn’t seem to be tuned to the piano as well as it could be resulting in a slightly dissonant chorus-like effect but 443 Hz is a reasonable compromise for accom­pani­ment.

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE

key: c major
pitch:
A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)

Partly recorded in Paris and London,2Ryan and Kehew, Record­ing the Beatles, pp. 323–24. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ is also slightly sharp of concert pitch in final form.

ANY TIME AT ALL

key: d major
pitch:
A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)

I’LL CRY INSTEAD

key: g major
pitch:
A4=437 Hz (–12 cents)

THINGS WE SAID TODAY

keys: a minor/a major
pitch:
A4=440 Hz

WHEN I GET HOME

key: a major
pitch:
A4=440 Hz

YOU CAN’T DO THAT

key: g major
pitch:
A4=444 Hz (+16 cents)

I’LL BE BACK

keys: a major/a minor
pitch:
A4=440 Hz

Surviving Beatles session and master tapes reportedly are in good con­dit­ion but there’s some obvious wow/flutter, tape stretch or a similar issue intruding in ‘I’ll Be Back’ as its pitch wobbles quite audibly in a few places (at least in the 2009 stereo remaster).3For tape condition see Sam Inglis, ‘Remastering the Beatles’, Sound on sound, October 2009. That said, quite good accom­pani­ment results can still be achieved.

© 2018–2022, Andrew Messner. All rights reserved.

Don`t copy text!