If you can remember a key phrase or two from an unknown song, a quick Google search will usually reveal the title and artist. And if you’re planning to open the song on Spotify after that, you can just skip the Google search altogether: You can find a song by its lyrics right in the Spotify search bar.
But identifying an earworm without recalling a single word has admittedly been pretty difficult in decades past—your best option has probably been to hum the tune to your most music-savvy friend and hope they can solve the mystery. These days, however, Google can take that burden off music-savvy friends everywhere.
How to Use Google’s Hum-to-Search Feature
The tech giant has a feature that lets you simply hum or whistle a tune and find out which song it belongs to. To use it, open the Google app on your smartphone, tap the microphone icon, and either say “What’s this song?” or hit “Search a song.” Then, hum or whistle the tune for 10 to 15 seconds, and a list of possible matches will pop up. If you have a smart speaker, watch, TV, or any other device with Google Assistant, you can use the feature that way, instead—just say “Hey Google, what’s this song?” before your wordless performance.
How Google’s Hum-to-Search Feature Works
“When you hum a melody into search, our machine learning models transform the audio into a number-based sequence representing the song’s melody,” Google Search senior product manager Krishna Kumar explained in a blog post. “Our models are trained to identify songs based on a variety of sources, including humans singing, whistling or humming, as well as studio recordings. The algorithms also take away all the other details, like accompanying instruments and the voice’s timbre and tone. What we’re left with is the song’s number-based sequence, or the fingerprint.”
Then, the program simply takes the fingerprint from your hummed (or whistled) performance and finds matches in its database of equally stripped-down songs. And, yes, it should still work if you’re a really horrendous singer.
A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.