Mental Floss

Humming a Song You Can’t Remember the Lyrics or Title To? Your Phone Can Help

Ellen Gutoskey
Google doesn't care if you're pitch-perfect.
Google doesn't care if you're pitch-perfect. / blackCAT/iStock via Getty Images

If you can remember a key phrase or two from an unknown song, a quick Google search will almost definitely 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: As of October 2020, 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 the past—your best option has probably been to hum the tune to your most music-savvy friend and hope they can solve the mystery. Now, however, Google is happy to take that burden off music-savvy friends across the globe.

In late 2020, the tech giant rolled out 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.

“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. “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.”

In other words, it’ll still work if you’re a really horrendous singer.