Posted in Humor, Music, Physics

Honda Needs a Tune-Up

This is the story of how Honda engi­neers screwed up a big expen­sive project with a sim­ple arith­metic mis­take, tried to fudge their result with sound edit­ing soft­ware, and con­grat­u­lated them­selves for being totally awesome.

When I was a kid, my fam­ily used to drive up to The Pin­ery in Ontario, a beau­ti­ful park by Lake Huron. Very scenic. My favorite part, though, was a stretch of road a half-hour out­side of the park. To dis­cour­age reck­less Cana­di­ans from bar­rel­ing past the houses and barns, the local gov­ern­ment carved five sets of grooves in the road before every stop sign. Drive over them, and the car would vibrate: “vbvb­vbvb… vbvb­vbvb… vbvb­vbvb… vbvb­vbvb… vbvb­vbvb.” The faster you drive, the higher the pitch.

My Dad is a musi­col­o­gist, with a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in tun­ing. So there was no way he was going to pass up the chance to exper­i­ment with this instru­ment. Every time we approached some grooves, he’d start fast over the first set, and try to slow down by the last set, to play a descend­ing scale: G-F-E-D-C. If there was no oncom­ing traf­fic after the stop sign, he’d swing over to the other side of the road and play an ascend­ing scale as we sped up.

Ratios of speeds cor­re­spond to ratios of vibra­tion fre­quen­cies, which cor­re­spond to inter­vals between notes. To play an ascend­ing scale C-D-E-F-G, you need to drive at these ratios to your start­ing speed: 1 — 9/8 — 5/4 — 4/3 — 3/2 (for exam­ple, 24 — 27 — 30 — 32 — 36 mph)[1].

Play­ing a scale with a ’95 Toy­ota Pre­via is not easy. The notes tend to come out a lit­tle wonky — we’d get the half-step between E and F too wide, and with not enough space between F and G. It usu­ally sounded kinda modal… but still awesome.


So imag­ine my delight when I heard about this musi­cal road [CNET] that Honda built in Lan­caster, CA.. A team of engi­neers carved some grooves into a high­way that were care­fully spaced to play the William Tell Over­ture as you drive over them at a con­stant speed. Awe­some, right? The prob­lem is, it’s spec­tac­u­larly out of tune.

Here’s the orig­i­nal melody:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

And here’s the Honda road again:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Honda ver­sion isn’t sim­ply “out of tune”… the notes are just wrong. The orig­i­nal starts with a ris­ing 4th, F-B♭[2], and even­tu­ally reaches an octave above the start­ing note before descend­ing to the tonic F-E♭-D-B♭.[3] But Honda’s ver­sion starts with a ris­ing major 3rd, and its top note is a major 6th above the start­ing note. Some might have noticed that the last few notes in Honda’s com­mer­cial sound OK. That’s because they edited over them! I can prove it.

Basic melody in the William Tell Over­ture (schematic)

The CNET arti­cle above spec­u­lates that Honda designed the road specif­i­cally for the Honda civic dri­ving at the speed limit, and other cars might need to drive at a dif­fer­ent speed to make it sound bet­ter. But if you’re going at a con­stant speed, all that mat­ters is the spac­ing between grooves. Speed­ing up or slow­ing down just trans­poses every­thing. It would be the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble to “cor­rect” the melody by dri­ving at dif­fer­ent speeds (like on the road to the Pin­ery). But the notes on the musi­cal road are too closely spaced for all but con­sum­mate musi­cian Mario Andretti.

It also doesn’t mat­ter what car you drive[4]. The vibra­tion fre­quency is f = v/d, where v is the car’s speed, and d is the dis­tance over which the road pat­tern repeats. There’s no place in the equa­tion for wheel spac­ing, tire size, side-impact airbags, etc. All of these things affect the qual­ity of the sound, but not the pitch.

So why is the musi­cal road so unmusical?

The Error

Honda posted a series of 5 ridicu­lous videos: [Part 1][Part 2][Part 3][Part 4][Part 5], in which they talk about all the hard work they did and con­grat­u­late them­selves for being so awe­some. There are lots of com­pli­cated sound­ing num­bers, there’s a “Mathematician/Musician,” and plenty of experts. I’m sure some peo­ple behind the project under­stood what was going on. But I think they failed to antic­i­pate a basic mis­un­der­stand­ing on the part of the groove-designers.

In the fourth “mak­ing of” video, they men­tion that the ini­tial note, a low F, has a spac­ing of 4 inches (4in) between grooves (1:47):

From the video, it looks like the grooves them­selves are about 1in wide. Now, sup­pose you want to make the B♭ a 4th above F. A per­fect 4th is a fequency ratio of 4/3, so you should mul­ti­ply the width by a fac­tor of 3/4… But the width of what?

Based on the Civic’s 106.3 inch wheel­base, we can see from this pic­ture that s+g is about 5 inches. Honda says the low­est note has a 4 inch spac­ing, so that’s con­sis­tent with 1 inch grooves.

The width that really mat­ters is the total width of the spac­ing plus groove (s+g). That’s the dis­tance over which the road pat­tern repeats, so that’s the dis­tance over which the car com­pletes one vibra­tion.[5] Sup­pose you didn’t know this, and only changed the spac­ing, from s = 4in to s’ = 3/4 × 4in = 3in. Then the fre­quency ratio is (s+g)/(s’+g) = (4+1)/(3+1) = 5/4, a major 3rd, not a per­fect 4th. What about the octave above the start­ing note? An octave is a fre­quency ratio of 2/1, but if you only changed the spac­ing to s’ = 1/2 × 4in = 2in, you’d get an actual ratio of (s+g)/(s’+g) = (4+1)/(2+1) = 5/3, a major 6th, not an octave.


mak­ing an octave, incorrectly

There are two ways you could cor­rect this problem:

  1. Adjust the groove width g as well as the spac­ing s. For instance, to make an octave, use a spac­ing s’ = 2in and a groove g’ = .5in, giv­ing a fequency ratio (s+g)/(s’+g’) = 5/2.5 = 2/1. This is prob­a­bly hard with typ­i­cal cut­ting tools. Also, the engi­neers may have found that they need to make the grooves big­ger than some min­i­mum width to get a good sound. So on to method 2…
  2. Over-adjust the groove spac­ing so that the total g+s is cor­rect. For instance, to make an octave, adjust the groove spac­ing to s’ = 1.5in, so you get a fre­quency ratio of (s+g)/(s’+g) = 5/2.5 = 2/1.

mak­ing an octave, correctly

The Coverup

Armed with this the­ory for why the musi­cal road sounds so bad, I crunched some num­bers in Math­e­mat­ica, and was able to repro­duce Honda’s result, sort of…

Here’s Math­e­mat­ica play­ing the cor­rect William Tell Overture:

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And here’s Math­e­mat­ica pro­grammed to make the mis­take I think Honda’s engi­neers made:

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And here’s honda’s com­mer­cial ver­sion again:

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Notice that a few notes in the com­mer­cial sound dif­fer­ent from Mathematica’s ver­sion. Par­tic­u­larly at the end. Honda’s last few notes are sort of… in tune! Turns out that’s a bit of Hol­ly­wood magic. Here’s a record­ing I stole from a dif­fer­ent video of some­one dri­ving down the Musi­cal Road[6]:

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What hap­pened to the end­ing? It’s all funky again. Go back and lis­ten to the Math­e­mat­ica ver­sion that mim­ics Honda’s mis­take. Same funky end­ing[7]. Who­ever put together the Honda com­mer­cial must have edited over the end­ing, assum­ing that as long as the last few notes were cor­rect, no one would notice any­thing wrong.[8]

What I don’t under­stand is: if they were going to doc­tor the sound, why didn’t they just cor­rect the whole thing? It’s not that hard. My dad did this ver­sion in about 20 minutes:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


I learned some­thing else kind of ridicu­lous from this analy­sis: if Honda didn’t doc­tor the over­all pitch of the melody in their com­mer­cial, then they were speed­ing. The open­ing fre­quency is about 238Hz, which cor­re­sponds to a speed of about 67mph if the road pat­tern repeats over 5in. But they men­tion in one of the videos that the speed limit is 55! Crap.

In fact, in this youtube video, where they explic­itly state they’re going 55mph, the melody starts a minor third below the Honda com­mer­cial. A minor third is a fre­quency ratio of 6/5, so this is con­sis­tent with Honda’s dri­ver doing 6/5 × 55mph = more than 10mph over the speed limit…

Another funny point is that some of the inter­vals you get from Honda’s mis­cal­cu­la­tion are pretty bizarre. The D, a major 6th above the start­ing F, should have a fre­quency ratio of 5/3 above the start­ing fre­quency. Instead, it has a ratio 5/(4 × 3/5+1) = 25/17. This isn’t really in the west­ern scale. It’s about 2/3rds of the way between an aug­mented 4th and a pure 5th. Micro­tonal com­posers like Easley Black­wood might have found a use for it, but I don’t think it’s what Honda was after.

If I were them, I’d seri­ously con­sider paving over the road. In fact, it seems like some local res­i­dents might do it for them. There is another option, though. If they bring in the bull­doz­ers, and shuf­fle around a few chunks of asphalt at the end of the road, they might get a decent ren­di­tion of “When The Saints Go March­ing In.”

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Update [12/30/08]: Added pic­ture com­par­ing grooves to Civic wheelbase

Update [5/2/11]: I am both sorry and delighted to hear that they rebuilt the musi­cal road (see, e.g., here), and they fixed noth­ing. Here it is on April 28, 2011:

Just… wow.

  1. If anyone’s won­der­ing what hap­pened to the 1/12th pow­ers of 2 in this whole tun­ing dis­cus­sion, I’m using what’s called Just Into­na­tion, which is an (often better-sounding) approx­i­ma­tion to the Equal Tem­pera­ment sys­tem most peo­ple know. Actu­ally, it’s really the other way around: the rea­son we use 12 equal semi­tones is that it lets us approx­i­mate nice inte­ger ratios like 3/2, 4/3, 5/4, etc.. This is a long story that I’m not going to get into here. []
  2. Actu­ally, the start­ing note in the record­ing is around a B♭. I’m going to pre­tend like every­thing is in the key of B♭ (so the start­ing note is F), since that’s the key they talk about in the making-of videos.a picture of Honda's scorea pic­ture of Honda’s scoreSorry to the perfect-pitch peo­ple. []
  3. The orig­i­nal melody actu­ally has a run down to the B♭: F-E♭-D-C-B♭. Honda appar­ently decided this was too com­pli­cated and used a sim­pli­fied ver­sion. That’s what I’ll stick to here. []
  4. With one excep­tion that can’t fix the tun­ing. See my com­ment, below. []
  5. More pre­cisely, once you know the force dri­ving the vibra­tions is peri­odic with period T=d/v, it fol­lows that the vibra­tions them­selves have that peri­od­ic­ity, so the Fourier trans­form of any resul­tant sound is only nonzero at inte­ger mul­ti­ples of f=1/T. For more expla­na­tion, see the sec­ond com­ment, below. []
  6. I’ve actu­ally trans­posed it up to be in approx­i­mately the same key as the other record­ings in this arti­cle. By the way, there are hun­dreds of such videos on Youtube. []
  7. Aside from a sin­gle pass­ing note. If I change the clos­ing notes from F-E♭-D-B♭-D-B♭ to F-E♮-D-B♭-D-B♭, and apply the Honda mis­cal­cu­la­tion, it sounds almost exactly like the undoc­tored record­ing of the musi­cal road. So it appears that there are two errors at work here: the groove spac­ing mis­cal­cu­la­tion, and replac­ing an E♭ with an E♮. []
  8. It seems like Honda fixed up some of the other notes, too, to get a more pleas­ant sound. Some might object that it’s easy to make the notes sound bad by speed­ing up or slow­ing down as you drive down the road. How­ever, I don’t hear any­thing like that in the ran­dom person’s record­ing. The melody returns to pre­vi­ous notes with rea­son­able accu­racy, which it wouldn’t do if the speed were vary­ing. []

38 Responses to “Honda Needs a Tune-Up” Comment Feed, Trackback.

  1. Jeremy Heilman says: Dec 24, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    Bril­liant work, David. I must have just come home from church choir prac­tice when I first heard this com­mer­cial, because I recall shout­ing at the TV, “You think YOU have tun­ing problems.…”

    In addi­tion to your point that it is the total period (space + gap) that deter­mines the pitch, the ratio of space/gap will alter the over­tone series and the tim­bre of the road. For instance, if the gap and space were always equal (and half the total), the over­tone series would be that of a square wave (given by a Fourier series http://www.numerit.com/samples/fours/doc.htm) with the loud­est com­po­nents grouped near the fun­da­men­tal. I would think this would be the best reflec­tion of most instru­ments you could get from a road (but likely still pretty poor). How­ever, using a big space and a lit­tle gap (or vice-versa) would result in many of the high­est fre­quency har­mon­ics hav­ing large ampli­tudes, for a “tinny” sound. If any­one has ever dri­ven a Civic, they know it sounds pretty tinny already, and doesn’t need any help from man-made potholes!

    The other gross over­sight (this would have actu­ally got­ten them some major awe­some points in my book) would be to cut the grooves on a diag­o­nal, such that no two tires are in the same point with respect to the pat­tern at the same time. Then, each tire would sound indi­vid­u­ally, and you would have a rub­ber quar­tet play­ing in uni­son. Or cut half the pat­tern on the left side of the road and half on the right, to make diads!

    Of course, I think if the music you make sounds worse than the begin­ning band, you’d be bet­ter of sell­ing insurance.

  2. davidsd says: Dec 24, 2008 @ 4:50 pm


    Some good ideas! I can’t imag­ine what coun­ter­point would have sounded like if they didn’t get a sin­gle melody straight…

    Some peo­ple have asked me about some­thing that you touch on in your com­ment, so I thought I’d answer it here. There is a way that the kind of car can affect the pitch: the peri­od­ic­ity of the road guar­an­tees that only inte­ger mul­ti­ples (called “har­mon­ics”) of the fun­da­men­tal fre­quency f=v/d can appear. The rel­a­tive strength of these har­mon­ics deter­mines the qual­ity or tim­bre of the sound, and it can depend on what shape the grooves are, the dis­tance between the front and back wheels, etc.

    An extreme case of this (as my friend Matt points out) is that the fun­da­men­tal fre­quency f can be sup­pressed or even dis­ap­pear. For instance, if the wheel spac­ing is a half-integer times the groove dis­tance d=s+g, the road would vibrate the car at twice the rate, and it’s pos­si­ble that the fre­quency 2f would be stronger than the fun­da­men­tal (though I think it’s unlikely the fun­da­men­tal would dis­ap­pear entirely).

    This would make the melody jump up by an octave when­ever it hit a cer­tain note. This doesn’t hap­pen in any of the record­ings I’ve heard (the full range of the melody is only a major 6th), so it’s fair to say that this effect wasn’t part of Honda’s design. The key point, though, is that the peri­od­ic­ity of the road guar­an­tees that this is the only way that the make of the car can affect the sound, and it doesn’t hap­pen in prac­tice (nor could it fix the tun­ing at all).

  3. Dad says: Dec 24, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    Great post, and inter­est­ing com­ments about the pos­si­bil­ity of an upper octave being heard if the wheel­base is some odd mul­ti­ple of 2.5in.

    As it hap­pens, the 2008 Honda Civic does not fall into that cat­e­gory, hav­ing a wheel­base of 106.3in for the sedan, and 104.3 for the coupe. There are some cars where it could apply, how­ever: the new VW Tiguan has a “unique” wheel­base of 102.5in, and the 2007 Aveo has a wheel­base of 97.5in.

    That could affect the sound of the low­est (i.e., first) note, but other wheel­base lengths could affect other notes, could they not? Since the pro­por­tions used by Honda for this project are not sim­ple ratios for s+g, it would take some inves­ti­gat­ing to see what works on the road. Any­one out in Cal­i­for­nia with a Tiguan or an Aveo for starters?

    Come to think of it, this would only work for longer notes, I think — longer than the wheel­base, at least. If the note only cov­ers, say, 8ft of road, it would sim­ply extend the fun­da­men­tal pitch by hav­ing the back wheels vibrate after the front ones were done.

  4. Paul Rapoport says: Dec 25, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

    This is,in the words of a for­mer high school music teacher, a ruddy riot. (He said that when we squawked in a Honda tun­ing or an unrea­son­able fac­sim­ile thereof.)

    Rea­son­able that you con­sider a major scale to have a 9/8 major sec­ond. I’m sure you’re aware of the “sec­ond scale degree” prob­lem, its not being justly in tune with both the 3/2 and the 5/3, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of issues aris­ing from that.

    I like that you arrived one place at a 25/17. At 667.67 cents, it’s about 2/3 the way between cer­tain inter­vals, as you said, but I imag­ine there you’re think­ing in 12-tone equal. It’s a dif­fer­ent dis­tance (about 3/5) if you take the just aug­mented 4th of 10/7. All of which affects your point not a bit.

    As for Easley Blackwood’s inter­est in a 25/17, you’ll find some­thing very close in his 18-tone ET etude. But he’s never taken a com­po­si­tional inter­est in just tun­ings. Ben John­ston, on the other hand, has writ­ten music with har­mon­ics up to 32. Whether there’s a 25/17 any­where, I have no idea.

    Thank you once again for your les­son in Civics. Beats the usual kind. Do you think Honda’s ver­sion is any bet­ter if it’s painted in blues?

  5. Mano Singham says: Dec 29, 2008 @ 5:44 pm


    Very inter­est­ing post! It reminded me of some­thing I was told a long time ago but which I never tried to verify.

    You know those rum­ble strips by the side of a high­way that warn you when you are drift­ing off the road, say if the dri­ver drifted off to sleep? I was told that engi­neers once designed them so that they would say some­thing like “Wake up!” but found that on test­ing, it gave dri­vers such a shock to hear a dis­em­bod­ied voice that they aban­doned the plan.

    I sus­pect that this story is too good to be true but was curi­ous if you had encoun­tered any­thing like it in your research on this.

  6. davidsd says: Dec 31, 2008 @ 5:31 am


    I can’t seem to find any­thing about rum­ble strip voices, but I did come across this video about a musi­cal road in South Korea that was appar­ently cre­ated to keep dri­vers from falling asleep (unlike the one in Lan­caster, CA which was mostly an adver­tis­ing stunt).

  7. Robert K says: Mar 06, 2009 @ 12:16 am

    After see­ing the TV ad I was lit­er­ally furi­ous that Honda had made a self-congratulatory com­mer­cial about a project that had so obvi­ously failed. So I Googled it, but no one seemed to have noticed that the melody was totally wrong. I thought maybe I was going crazy. The worst part was that the math behind design­ing it should’ve been so sim­ple, I couldn’t under­stand how they could’ve screwed it up.

    I just wanted to thank you for post­ing this and for doing the analy­sis to con­firm what went wrong, although I’m still amazed that they could have made this mis­take. I don’t even really know what this blog is about, but I had to express my grat­i­tude. It’s good to know that some­one else noticed.

  8. Ben says: Mar 26, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

    Fan­tas­tic. I want to sec­ond exactly what Robert K said (boy, did I think I was going crazy!). So nice to know that there’s an expla­na­tion for what went wrong. As a foot­note, I used to sell blue cheese to Easley Black­wood on a sur­pris­ingly reg­u­lar basis.

  9. davidsd says: Mar 26, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

    @Ben, Thanks! That is awe­some about the cheese.

  10. Nick says: Apr 01, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    I’m so glad that this both­ered some­one else as much as it did me.

  11. Nosmo says: Apr 10, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    A coworker com­mented that there must be some sort of soft­ware that cor­rects pitch, and it could be that the cor­rec­tion they did was run the sound through that soft­ware and it just changed the fre­quen­cies to the near­est note? That may explain why the cor­rec­tion they did was not done prop­erly. Does this make any sense?

  12. coreopsis says: Apr 14, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

    Awe­some analy­sis! Some­one should have paid you to write this article.

  13. Adam says: Apr 15, 2009 @ 1:35 am

    I’m glad I found this. Only after watch­ing that advert about ten times did I even fig­ure out that it was William Tell. It sounded noth­ing like it until I used some imagination.

  14. Zach says: Apr 16, 2009 @ 12:36 am

    Excel­lent write up. I searched for an expla­na­tion to the screw up and found this site. The com­mer­cial always frus­trated me because it did not makes sense why Honda would choose a song that was not com­monly rec­og­niz­able. I fig­ured maybe the engi­neers were a bunch of indie rock lovers and picked some obscure cult song (p.s. i like indie rock). It wasn’t until about the 10th time hear­ing the com­mer­cial that I rec­og­nized the tempo of the song they were appar­ently try­ing for. This engi­neer­ing screw up clearly is not some­thing they should be mar­ket­ing at all let a lone dur­ing every com­mer­cial break on every channel.

  15. John says: Apr 18, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

    Amaz­ing analy­sis, David. Add my name to the list of peo­ple who had NO idea what the orig­i­nal Civic-produced ditty from the com­mer­cial was sup­posed to rep­re­sent. I didn’t even think William Tell Over­ture until I read it here. What a joke. In hind­sight, I par­tic­u­larly like the col­lege kids in the com­mer­cial cheer­ing in cel­e­bra­tion of sev­eral months spent pro­duc­ing a song which sounds absolutely noth­ing like the original.

    Remem­ber kids, real­ity is what the man on the TV told you. That is EXACTLY how William Tell is meant to sound, because the faux-college kids from Honda Adver­tis­ing TOLD you so. hahaha

  16. PJ says: Apr 19, 2009 @ 1:51 am

    Thank you! I needed to find some mean­ing or jus­tice behind the trash­ing of the William Tell melody. If they didn’t get this right, what does this say about their newest cars?

  17. Elliott says: Apr 19, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

    David — In the early 90’s Tim Sprunger who worked at Walt Dis­ney World at the time, built a musi­cal road as a demo project that Dis­ney never picked up on. He’s an artist/musician and went through all the same cal­cu­la­tions you list above. His road played Zip-py-do-da of course and has a video of the test­ing. His design used raised ridges made of a spe­cial aggre­gate and epoxy for­mula. He found, unless the grooves were made in con­crete the sum­mer Florida heat would soften the asphalt and almost erase the grooves in one sum­mer. Tim lives Kissim­mee FL

  18. davidsd says: Apr 19, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

    @Nosmo, That’s a good idea — they def­i­nitely could have used some­thing like that dur­ing the edit­ing process. They cer­tainly made sure each pitch in the com­mer­cial is a note on the piano (as opposed to the way it really sounds, which has funny micro­tones you can’t play on a key­board). But I’m not sure they always mod­i­fied the pitch to the near­est note. For exam­ple, at the end, the honda com­mer­cial goes B♭-D-B♭, but I think the near­est notes would be A-C-A. Sounds like they were being a lit­tle more lib­eral with the pitch doctoring.

    @Elliott, very inter­est­ing! I do remem­ber read­ing some­thing about asphalt being a dif­fi­cult “medium” in hot cli­mates. That’s cool that Tim fig­ured out a solu­tion. I won­der if the city of Lan­caster (which appar­ently has rebuilt the William Tell road as a tourist attrac­tion) is aware of this.

    Every­one, thanks for the kind words! I totally agree that it’s ridicu­lous that Honda is high-fiving them­selves on every chan­nel for such an obvi­ous fail. It really doesn’t sound any­thing like William Tell. I like Zach’s orig­i­nal thought that Honda’s engi­neers were just a bunch of indie rock lovers :). PJ, I hope this writeup pro­vides some form of jus­tice. Boy, does Honda deserve it.

  19. silverx10 says: Apr 19, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

    …It’s a car com­mer­cial. They use them to sell cars. All your effort is for naught.

  20. davidsd says: Apr 19, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

    Silverx10, thank you for that. I had a good time writ­ing this arti­cle, and obvi­ously a few peo­ple enjoyed read­ing it… so I dis­agree. And I don’t really care at all whether Honda sells more or fewer cars as a result of their com­mer­cial. I actu­ally like the civic a lot — my par­ents have had one for over a decade, and it’s a great car.

  21. Gooberlicious says: Apr 21, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    As a Lan­caster res­i­dent, I had to try it. It was in the West­ern part of the Ante­lope Val­ley (1 hr north of LA in the high desert) on Avenue K between 60th and 70th Streets West. So I drive over the grooves and found that I couldn’t make head or tail of what it was! I’m sort of a musi­cian (been piano-ing for 31 years) and thought, “OK, cool, now what was that?” Due to some cranky res­i­dents in the area and nut-job dri­vers, they have since removed the grooves and moved them to Avenue G between 30th and 50th Streets West, which is con­ven­tiently on my way home from work. I decided to drive the speed limit (55) and try it again and again. The new grooves sound even WORSE! I thought maybe it was my speed under­stand­ing fre­quency changes with speed in this case. Being the good engin­erd that I am, I decided to exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ing speeds, at 1 mph incre­ments. To no avail. A col­league of mine sent me this link and now I have my answer. It’s all mucked up!!!!

  22. William says: May 14, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

    Bril­liant analy­sis. Win for David, his think-outside-the-box dad, and the world at large. I really enjoyed the musi­cal com­par­isons. I don’t know any­thing about notes or stuff like that, but I can cer­tainly appre­ci­ate a good and sci­en­tific presentation.

    Thank you.

  23. Kenton says: May 29, 2009 @ 2:34 am

    I hope the con­grat­u­la­tions aren’t get­ting old — I just wanted to echo the same sen­ti­ments expressed above. I live in Canada and just started see­ing this ad online thanks to a proxy server that allows me to watch Amer­i­can pro­grams. It took two lis­tens for me to get fed up and track this down on Google.

    I still can’t believe the final ad in the series where the engi­neers high-five after lis­ten­ing to a clearly failed attempt — even worse when you con­sider they were hear­ing the “pre-re-tuned” ver­sion in the car as they con­grat­u­lated each other. But I’m sure they took a gam­ble that the vast major­ity of peo­ple wouldn’t notice, and judg­ing by the lack of search results on Google, I’d say they gam­bled right.

    Either way, your time on this was appre­ci­ated. It’s always nice to know your part of a crowd, even if it is small. ;)

  24. Chris says: Jul 22, 2009 @ 2:25 am

    that was really inter­est­ing. when i first saw the com­mer­cial i had no idea what melody they were try­ing to play with the car… it sounded like they just made it up

  25. Trevor Cox says: Mar 01, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    This is a great post and I’ve just used it on Sonic Won­ders, my new web­site about Sound Tourism.

  26. Peter says: Sep 16, 2010 @ 7:53 am

    Bravo! Ter­rific analy­sis. Must have been thrilling to find that the num­bers and pitches worked out when you pre­dicted their mistake.

    Too bad Honda got filched by the peo­ple they con­tracted. The whole con­cept is a cool idea – hope­fully some­one else will do it bet­ter… and maybe include a longer and more inter­est­ing melody.

  27. Pingback: Honda Needs a Tune-Up | Maszman Speaks! Jan 06, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    […] I’m sure you’ve seen the Honda com­mer­cial where they cut grooves in a road so that a Honda Civic plays a tune when it dri­ves over it at 55 mph. What you might not real­ize is that Honda made a mis­take in cut­ting the grooves and edited the audio to make it sound sort of corr.… […]

  28. David Edwards says: May 10, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    Hi David.

    Jeremy Heil­man raised the idea of using diag­o­nal grooves, or cut­ting dif­fer­ent grooves for each side of the car. That could be tried on the exist­ing road, by using a Renault 16 as the test car. This had two wheel­bases which dif­fered by 2.76 inches, so you would get a dif­fer­ent effect from each side — kind of like dri­ving at two dif­fer­ent speeds at the same time.

    Wikipedia has an arti­cle about this car; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_16

    David Edwards

  29. jeff says: May 12, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

    I have no idea what any of you peo­ple are talk­ing about.

  30. jeff says: May 12, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

    My friend James has no idea either. You peo­ple give me hope for the future.

  31. jeff says: May 12, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

    I didn’t mean the last com­ment sarcastically.

  32. Mike J. says: Aug 21, 2011 @ 3:39 am

    Late to the party but unfazed…

    How come the tire man­u­fac­tur­ers haven’t caught on? Your tires could play a wake-up mes­sage at all times! My tires already have a dis­tinct growl on hard turns, too, which could be adapted into a crit­i­cal warning.

    On the other hand, the reduc­tion in crashes from dri­vers falling asleep might be off­set by the num­ber of inten­tional ditch­ings by dri­vers dri­ven to insan­ity by the same three notes over and over and over and over.

  33. Larry Winiarski says: Aug 04, 2012 @ 7:06 am


    It’s obvi­ously not the William Tell over­ture.
    Maybe it’s the “Will you promise not to Tell overture”

  34. Pingback: Musical Road Oct 17, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    […] you prob­a­bly noticed, the pitches are off.  Some­one wrote an excel­lent arti­cle explain­ing why that’s the case. Some of the grooves cut out to cre­ate the […]

  35. Trevor Cox says: Nov 18, 2012 @ 5:09 am

    I vis­ited the re-made road in Lan­caster last sum­mer which is badly out of tune as well, if any­thing the high note is even flat­ter than the orig­i­nal. I took along a tape mea­sure and an audio recorder as well. I drove at at about 60 mph using cruise con­trol to main­tain con­stant speed.

    The grooves are 1″.

    For the low­est note there is a spac­ing of 3.846″ between groves, mak­ing a dis­tance between iden­ti­cal parts on the rum­ble strip 4.846″. This gave me 217 Hz, a note just below A3.

    For the high­est note of the melody the fre­quency was 333 Hz (clos­est note E4) when it should be an octave higher than the low­est note (434 Hz, A4). The dis­tance between iden­ti­cal parts of the rum­ble strip was 3.152″ when it should have been 2.423″.

    It seems that they didn’t half the spac­ing between the grooves, and if they had done that it would have been less flat (but still awful).


  36. Pingback: Joel Eaton » Joel Eaton Sep 14, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    […] Singing Road! If you drift off the side of a road and hit a rum­ble strip, you’ll get a dis­tinc­tive sound intended to alert you and pre­vent an acci­dent. The pitch of the sound you get depends on the spac­ing between the bumps or ridges. So if you make lots of ridges like a rum­ble strip and vary the spac­ing between the ridges cor­rectly, then dif­fer­ent musi­cal notes can be made. Close together ridges (say 6mm apart) give high notes, and far apart ridges (say 12mm apart) give low notes. Make the right pat­tern of ridges then as a car dri­ves over them, a tune is played. Here’s a story of how Honda tried this for an advert then totally fudged it up. […]

  37. Dave Scheivert says: Oct 07, 2014 @ 1:19 am

    David, seems to me you just have to change the notes that put this in a Minor key, and it would be pass­able. (and not make me crazy IF I have to drive over it)

  38. Pingback: Syngende veier i susende fart | ballade.no Oct 07, 2014 @ 3:13 am

    […] aller første gang, om syn­gende veier da Cox spilte en smakebit av bil­gi­gan­ten Hon­das forsøk på å få en vei i Cal­i­for­nia til å spille Rossi­nis William Tell […]

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