18. July 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Ramble

Ever play that game? Someone plays a few notes of a tune and you try to name it. It’s a little more difficult with some of the music I play … but of course if we play four notes of a particular famous symphony you’ll get it, piece ‘o cake. (Maybe even with fewer of those notes, eh?) If there’s singing it might be easy as well, yes? (If you heard the first three (two?) notes of Carmen singing this wouldn’t you know what it was?)

Someone tested a few apps that kind of play the “name that tune” game.

What these services haven’t been able to do, however, is to analyze classical music. I’ve tried a few times. Shazam says the Beethoven Fifth Symhony is “unrecognized.” What would Ludwig say? After humming the piece into Midomi, I got the strangest country folk song in response. This isn’t surprising. There are very long phrases in classical music and it makes even die-hard fans puzzle as to “what was that piece?” Having these services decipher classical music presents a lot of challenges. First, recordings of pieces are almost nearly indistinguishable especially if you only had a 12-second sample of them. Also, unlike pop music, where there is one artist performing one song (sure there are cover versions), with classical you have hundreds of ensembles, conductors and performers spanning 50 years of audio recording doing the same ‘song’ over and over again. For example, there are more than 200 recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony alone!

I sometimes play this game when I turn on the radio. Trouble with me is, I can sing through an entire symphony (or at least sing the oboe part) and I still might not remember what the work is.

Is that pathetic? Sigh.


  1. A friend of mine who is quite a good percussionist had a snippet of Beethoven’s 8th on her answering machine, followed by the statement that “If you can tell me the name of the piece I’ll give you a million dollars” (hey, this was late ’80s, early ’90s when you could still buy two whole houses around here for a million dollars – well, depending on the neighborhood). I happened to recognize it and said (in my message) “That sounds like Beethoven’s 8th” and then, being the weenie I am, I actually went and played a recording of the thing (I had, at that point, a set with Berlin playing all nine of ’em – on LP, no less, although I might’ve put ’em all on tape by then). I then called back and claimed the million, but she said it didn’t count because it was me. If she’d really had a million dollars I might’ve made a fuss…:) I don’t think I’d recognize it today, though – other than the nice horn duet in the third movement (which, for a wonder, is actually in F, as I recall).

    Ok, weenie-confirmation: I looked in an excerpt book and it seems that I recalled correctly. I can only claim, in my defense, that other than that duet the horn part is brutally dull, particularly in the second movement (which basically just sucks all the juice out of your chops before the high – but soft – duet).

  2. Does she have a million NOW ..? Maybe it’s time to claim it. Hmmm?