Whilst studying music at school some(mumble, mumble) years ago (pre Internet really) I remember there being an old book on the shelves alongside the vinyl recordings of classical music that fascinated me. It was a music dictionary. Not in the sense of a dictionary of music words, but in the sense of being a dictionary of musical themes.
Basically, how it worked, was you thought of a tune, transposed it to start on a C, and then spelt out the letter names of the tune and looked it up. So, for example, the National Anthem would go CCDBCDEEFEDCDCBC once transposed, so you’d flick through for the C section, then find the entry CCD… and so on, as they were all listed in alphabetical order, and it would tell you it is the National Anthem.
There were tens of thousands of well known classical themes in that book and I always wanted a copy, but never, ever found one to buy.
As I started to find my way onto the largely textual Internet in the early 1990s, I always thought that this kind of thing would make a great website, but instead of typing in letter names, why not submit a MIDI file with the pitch values, do the transposition automatically and then return the results. Of course, this never happened, it got binned in my “might think about it one day” pile and forgotten.
Well technology has a habit of spawning useful applications and of course, these days there are now a number of services that let you look up a tune by various means. I heard a tune over a tannoy system today that I’m sure is a fairly recent pop song, but not one I know. The kids didn’t recognise my poor rendition of it either, so I turned to the Internet.
If you have a mobile handy to record an extract, then you have a number of very good apps that will tell you what it is. Shazam is one of the most popular, and available on the major platforms. However, I belive it will only work for the actual legitimate recording of the song – I don’t think you can play the tune on a piano, for example, and ask it to recognise that.
However, musicpedia and MelodyCatcher do aim to do just that. You can play in the tune on a virtual keyboard, creating the equivalent of the CCDBCD… above and if it recognises it, it will tell you what results have come back in its search. Musicpedia is best for classical themes whereas MelodyCatcher appears to support a wider range of styles.
But the applications that have given me the most entertainment this evening are WatZatSong and Name My Tune. These both allow you to record and extract, post it on the site and wait until someone listens to it and posts and answer if they recognise it. WatZatSong has a number of snippets of poor quality, but largely recognisable recordings. There are people singing, playing guitar, capturing recordings on their phones. And the site allows you to browse both submissions and answers and vote to agree or dissagree with the identification.
But nothing beats Name My Tune for shear entertainment value. It will only accept uploads via a microphone, and it is quite amusing listening to all the attempts at whistling, huming, singing in “la”s or “dum”s, playing on old casiotone keyboards, playing on a recorder, penny whistle … you name it. I’m sure I heard a stylophone for one! It is great! The only downside is that it doesn’t have any of the social features of other sites. You click though the sound clips (a bit like a one-way, audio version of chatroulette) and if you know one, can fill in the author and title and click “send” and off it goes on its merry way. There is no way to know if you were correct or satisfied the questioner’s query as far as I can tell.
But if you want a peculiar way to spend an evening, that is guaranteed to make you smile, do take a look. It was quite a lot of fun.
But I still don’t know what my tune is …