Web site helps people name that tune

by Jeannine Aquino

It’s one of life’s little annoyances: the elusive title to that one song that’s been running through your head for the past week.

While some people might use Google or a musically inclined friend in their efforts to figure out the name to a song, students now can add songtapper.com to their arsenal of song-finding tools.

Songtapper.com is a Web site that allows the user to identify the name of a song and artist by tapping out the melody on the space bar. The program was developed by three undergraduate students at Simon Fraser University as part of a class project.

Michael Schwartz, a computer science senior, said the program works by storing a user’s input as a string of letters. This string is then compared to the list of strings in the database so the program can provide the user with a series of possible song titles.

“The string matching algorithm is fairly standard. It’s not our invention,” he said. “How we’re applying it is different.”

Songtapper.com started with 30 children’s songs in the database, but that number since has grown to more than 17,000. This is largely because of a feature that allows the user to add new songs that might not be available on the current list.

A recent songtapper.com search for “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” found the right title, but also yielded “London Bridge” and Mozart’s “Turkish March.”

Schwartz said the program takes into account people playing variations of the same song.

“Since we operate from people’s melodies rather than the original performance from a CD or other recordable device, different people will remember it slightly differently. Some people play it faster or slower when they tap in the space bar,” he said.

Instead of looking at how long someone taps a beat into the space bar, Schwartz said, the program would look at how the notes in a tune change.

Since it was posted online in June, the Web site has seen an average of 20,000 hits each day, Schwartz said.

J. Anthony Allen, a graduate student who teaches the Introduction to Music Software and MIDI (MUS 5950) class, said there are a lot of similar programs available to find music. One notable program is Themefinder, which uses pitch to find songs written in musical notation, Allen said.

“(Songtapper.com) is a smart tool. I think it’s more practical,” said Allen, who was asked to try the program. “It’s more likely that someone can tap (a song) out than sing it.”

Mike Mello, a music and music performance sophomore, was skeptical that songtapper.com would work.

“Music is meant to be interpreted and tempo is flexible,” Mello said, explaining that a conductor could easily choose to play a piece faster or slower. “I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Horn performance senior Tara Hochstatter thought the Web site sounded cool, but it could be flawed depending on a person’s skill.

“If you don’t have a good sense of rhythm, you could make an error yourself and be misled into thinking it’s the song (you’re looking for),” she said.

However, Matt Renz, a horn performance and music education junior, was more open to the program after he tried it.

“It would be a fun game to play at parties,” he said, after a recent search correctly yielded Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” a song Renz said often is stuck in his head. “It’s one more thing to waste my time when I should be doing homework.”